According to contractors who have had success with zoning, it’s generally not a good idea to make a hard sell for zoning or talk about the technical aspects of the installation with potential customers. Instead, they spend time talking about comfort with homeowners.

Recent product innovations and advances have simplified the design and installation process of zoning, and many contractors are now successfully marketing zoning to comfort-conscious consumers.

Keys to Success

When contractors guide consumers to talk about their level of comfort in their home, the conversation invariably turns to hot spots and cold spots.

John Traub, president of Thiele Heating & Air Conditioning, Indianapolis, said he starts the conversation with homeowners by simply asking, “Do you want your main level or your upstairs level of the house to be comfortable?”

Traub continued, “I can guarantee that every two-story house with one system has major comfort issues.”

Brian McDonald, general manager of Outer Banks Heating and Cooling, Nags Head, N.C., takes another tack. He explains the benefits of zoning to a potential customer, and he’s had a lot of success with his target market. His company specializes in high-end vacation homes and has been installing zoning systems for over 20 years.

McDonald tells customers, “You can have whatever temperature you want in any room throughout the day by putting a thermostat in each room. And then it will tell the computer, or zoning control panel, what to do.”

It’s also important to make a point of bringing up comfort issues and the benefits of zoning on every sales call. While it doesn’t guarantee a zoning sale, it moves the conversation in the right direction.

Dennis Borchardt, president of Interstate Heating and Cooling, Sussex, Wis., said he brings up zoning in every sales presentation.

“If you don’t present it, it will never sell, and customers always have the opportunity to say no,” Borchardt said. “We line item everything — including the zoning — and then they can make the decision.”

Tom Terry, vice president of Interstate, added, “You never know what people want to spend their money on, so you should never judge that.”

Plus, Terry noted that proper training of technicians is a key to success with zoning. Interstate has been selling zoning since the ’80s, and its technicians have received extensive factory training from Zonefirst.

“Customers have a comfort level with a service technician,” Terry said. “They don’t see him as a salesperson. The customers are comfortable with the information that technicians pass on, especially when it relates to the benefits of zoning.”

The Value of Comfort

Some contractors are hesitant to propose the addition of a zoning system because of the extra cost. But according to zoning experts, homeowners place a high value on comfort. Both Terry and McDonald noted that many customers are willing to invest $2,000 to $3,000 to achieve comfort in the home. They also cited examples where homeowners spent over $6,000 to gain the benefits of zoning.

“We are not talking enough about the benefits of zoning,” Traub said. He pointed out consumers are in their homes the majority of every day. He said they can be comfortable for $40 a month, which is less than the cost of dinner and a movie.

Moreoever, cost is usually not an issue when replacing multiple units in bigger homes with fewer units and a zoning system. In fact, contractors noted that installation cost savings are possible in many cases where zoning affords the opportunity to reduce the number of units and/or tonnage required while increasing comfort in the home.

Rick Ruehl of Rick’s Air Conditioning, Austin, Texas, specializes in the replacement market for upscale homes. According to Ruehl, one high-efficiency condensing unit or heat pump with a zoning system is often the best replacement for two units in bigger homes. Not only are the old units often oversized for the job, they fail to provide the proper cooling temperatures in the extreme heat in Austin.

Ruehl emphasized the need to do accurate load calculations to determine this. He relies heavily on Wrightsoft software and produces charts for his customers to show load calculations for each zone.

In almost every case, Ruehl said, the homeowner is “actually paying less and I am giving them more value.” And, he added, “Don’t try to low-ball this stuff because you are really adding value. Zoning is a niche for the small guy to go up against those that are just slapping it in.”

Interstate also incorporates zoning to downsize the furnaces necessary for heating in the severe Wisconsin winters. According to Borchardt, “It resolves money issues where you don’t need two furnaces and condensing units, but you need to get air to certain locations. We can accomplish the same thing with a furnace, air conditioner, and zoning system — and accomplish it at a lower cost to the customer.”

Learn From Others

According to contractors who successfully sell and install zoning systems, seeking out additional knowledge and training can aid those who are hesitant to offer this solution to their customers.

“All of the manufacturers I have dealt with have good staff, and they can walk you through problems,” McDonald said.

And learning about the benefits of zoning can make it easier to sell. “Start feeling good that you are really providing the kind of comfort our customers deserve,” Traub said.

Sidebar: Getting Started in Zoning

Here are four tips for contractors who want to get started in marketing and selling residential zoning systems:

1. Install a system in your own home or in a relative’s home so you can get comfortable with the variables associated with an installation and experience the comfort benefits. Talking about comfort from personal experience goes a long way in convincing a customer to invest in zoning.

2. Talk to a fellow contractor or contractors that have extensive experience with zoning. It can be as simple as picking up the phone or joining local, state, or national trade associations like the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) or Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

3. Seek out training and take classes that are available from zoning suppliers and from local distributors.

4. Don’t be afraid to profit from adding zoning to your job estimates.

Publication date: 5/14/2012