“There’s a lot of different ways to approach it — reduced utility bills and the availability of tax credits — but don’t underestimate the importance of comfort,” said Steve Lauten, president of Total Air and Heat Co., Plano, Texas.
“I do think there is a large interest in being environmentally responsible,” he continued. A select group of customers are seriously green; solar panels, rainwater collection, and carbon footprints all figure into their thinking. Even long-distance shipping can sway their sale, because of the increased carbon load due to the transportation of the unit, Lauten explained.
But most of his customers still rank their ultimate comfort at least as high as environmental and financial matters, like rebates and incentives.
Geo and Solar
As a Lennox dealer, the company is ready to get into that manufacturer’s solar offering. And as a Trane dealer, the company was excited to learn about its geothermal offering. The contractor has already been installing geothermal systems since about 1992, when local utility incentives became available.
“We’ve installed hundreds of geothermal systems,” he said, though not as many now due to the fall off in new construction. Lauten prefers new construction geothermal installations, he said, because it won’t disturb the existing landscaping. “You pretty much blow up their backyards,” he joked.
He still considers it a superior product for new construction with large homes (6,000 sq ft and up). The reason he prefers it is because there is no limit on the length of water line sets (the way there is on refrigerant line sets). And there also is architectural support for geothermal because there is no outdoor unit; it doesn’t disturb the backyard landscaping or detract from the home’s aesthetic value.
When it comes to replacements, these are simpler for the contractor because it doesn’t involve the yard anymore. “The well field is good for 100 years,” he said.
Are today’s tax credits and utility incentives driving a false market? “Tax credits for renewables are still 30 percent until 2016,” he said; even those that were reduced are still going strong, he added. However, “at the end of the day, it’s selling comfort that really matters.”
With various financing options available, Lauten said he keeps track of all those that could apply to the company’s customers, and advises the sales team on them regularly. “We hold sales meetings to announce it.” The company also has a policy stating that salespeople have to pay for their financing errors. “Trust me, they don’t get it wrong!”
One employee, however, has been tasked with managing financing, permits, inspection coordination, etc.: Carol Pruitt. “It’s really necessary,” said Lauten. “In Dallas we have to permit every job.”
The contractor also offers HomeEnalasys, a high-tech checkup that measures and analyzes a home’s HVAC system. Certified service technicians attach sensors to supply- and return-air registers throughout the home, in attic or crawlspace areas, and on the condensing unit outside the home. The sensors measure temperature, humidity, and airflow.
Data feeds back to the technician’s laptop, enabling them to collect real-time data from multiple sources, and analyze both the airflow and refrigeration sides of the system’s performance. The diagnostic tests include:
• Heating-cooling system performance;
• Heating-cooling system faults;
• Airflow and duct leakage;
• Outside condenser-refrigerant problems;
• Performance by room and by area.
Customers receive a complete report that details heating and cooling system performance and problems. Technicians discuss the results and if appropriate, they make recommendations to make the home both more comfortable and energy efficient.
Add in the improved comfort and reliability, and today’s incentives, and the deal can tip in favor of the renewables — and the contractor.
Publication date: 08/29/2011