It is no secret that the weak economy has had an impact on sales of high-end HVAC equipment, noted Dave Nark, director of product management, Lennox Intl. Inc. However, he believes that the combination of an improving economic outlook, lower unemployment rates, slowly improving consumer confidence, and a recovery in existing home prices in some areas of the country will help customers feel increasingly more confident in making the necessary investment in higher-efficiency HVAC equipment.

Customers looking to invest in more expensive heating and cooling systems have numerous options from which to choose, and most will result in better comfort and efficiency. But for that rare homeowner for whom money is no object, contractors may want to suggest manufacturer-recommended “dream” systems, all of which offer exceptional comfort, whisper-quiet operation, and super high efficiency.

(Un)Conventional Comfort

For John Gibbons, director of product and platform strategy, Carrier, the ultimate HVAC system would consist of the Infinity® 98 gas furnace combined with the Infinity 20 adaptable-speed heat pump, both with Greenspeed™ intelligence. He would also include an Infinity air purifier, which captures up to 95 percent of particles 0.3-1.0 microns in size, and a Performance™ Series energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which replaces stale indoor air with fresh outside air. To complement the system, he would add a Performance Series fan-powered humidifier to enhance air quality, as well as zoning, which can be accomplished through the Infinity Touch Control.

“The Infinity Series heat pump offers precise heating and cooling, unwavering comfort, uncompromising energy efficiency, and ultra-quiet cooling performance,” said Gibbons. “When combined with an Infinity gas furnace with Greenspeed intelligence, they create the hybrid heat dual fuel system, which saves money year-round. The Infinity Touch Control represents Carrier’s highest degree of comfort management, while the Infinity air purifier works silently in-line with the HVAC system to make the air in a home healthier.”

When it comes to ultimate home comfort, Tim Storm, heat pump product manager, Trane, recommends a variable-speed heat pump or air conditioning system. “Trane’s new technology delivers precise and efficient comfort by running heat pumps and air conditioners at the exact speed needed to keep a home at the ideal temperature, no matter the weather. Instead of cycling on and off at full capacity like conventional systems, our variable-speed technology runs at the lowest speed needed for the current weather conditions, helping homeowners save energy and money.”

Storm recommends coupling this system with the CleanEffects™ whole-house air filtration system, which removes up to 99.98 percent of particles and allergens down to 0.1 microns. He would also add the ComfortLink™ II Control and Nexia™ Home Intelligence, which provide consumers with remote access to their home’s comfort from anywhere in the world. “Our variable-speed systems provide the ultimate in comfort, efficiency, air quality, and peace-of-mind. This technology intuitively adjusts to a home’s ever-changing heating and cooling needs, providing a new level of efficiency. In addition, this technology is pleasantly quiet, as the variable-speed systems slowly ramp up when more heating or cooling capacity is required.”

Nark’s dream home would include the Lennox Ultimate Comfort™ system, which consists of a Dave Lennox Signature Collection XC25/XP25 air conditioner or heat pump, SLP98V gas furnace (or CBX40UHV air handler), the icomfort Wi-Fi® thermostat, PureAir™ air cleaner, and iharmony™ zoning. The XC25/XP25 air conditioner or heat pump features Precise Comfort™ technology, variable-capacity inverter-driven compressors, and efficiency ratings of 25 SEER and 23.5 SEER, respectively. The SLP98 gas furnace has a variable-speed motor that ramps up to speed, eliminating loud blasts of air during startup and operation, while the icomfort Wi-Fi thermostat coordinates communication between each system component, optimizing energy use, maintaining an accurate temperature, and diagnosing problems.

No home is immune to IAQ problems, which is why Nark would also install a PureAir air cleaner. “Many technologies only combat one or two classes of air contaminants. The PureAir is designed to combat all three for comprehensive air purification, including particles down to 0.3 micron, bioaerosols and microorganisms down to 0.01 micron, and odors and chemical vapors that come from cleaning supplies, solvents used in carpeting or furniture, paints, cooking smells, and pet odors.” He would also include an iharmony zoning system, which lets the homeowner customize the temperature in up to four different areas of the home.

High-End Offerings

A dream system is subjective, noted Lorie Quillin-Bell, director of go-to-market, commercial air conditioning, LG Electronics, as the definition may change depending on the home. For example, the requirements for an apartment located in the center of Manhattan will most likely be different from a sprawling ranch in the hills of Montana. For smaller homes, she would suggest the high-efficiency Art Cool Premier or Gallery Inverter, which provide advanced duct-free options with high-style indoor units. “They’re functional, but place an emphasis on elegance, so the indoor unit can go unnoticed in the décor of the home. In addition to being unobtrusive, they are remarkably quiet.”

For a larger home, Quillin-Bell would recommend the Multi F Max system, because it supports up to eight zones. In this inverter system, the variable-speed compressor technology is able to manage and maintain climates in each of the zones based on the need for the zone — no heating of rooms that will be warmed by the sun or uneven temperature swings due to the system continually cycling on and off. “Multi F offers a range of indoor unit options that can be customized based on structural design and application needs; systems can be configured with a variety of non-ducted wall mount and cassette, ducted horizontal concealed vertical, and mixed indoor units.”

John Clements, senior marketing manager, residential products, Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling and Heating Division, would choose an MXZ-8B multi-zone system, which features an inverter-driven compressor, zone control, allergen filtration, and the ability to connect up to eight indoor units to one outdoor unit. That would be paired with a RedLINK™ wireless controller kit, which has an easy-to-read display and a dual set-point control with system changeover, as well as a MCCH1 Portable Central Controller, which controls up to 16 RedLINK wireless controllers from one simple device.

“These systems are up to 40 percent more efficient than other types of HVAC systems, and since they are ductless, the energy lost through duct loss is eliminated, further increasing energy savings,” said Clements. “In addition, the advanced allergen filtration systems and washable filters eliminate contaminants from the air, and the system’s zoning capability gives customers individual control over their comfort in each room. And the systems are easy to install in both new construction and retrofit applications. They require little to no ductwork, and their small footprint takes up less space in the home, freeing up more usable space in new construction.”

“If we’re talking about dream systems, we have to talk about the 7 Series variable-capacity geothermal heat pump,” said Tim Litton, director of marketing, WaterFurnace Intl. “This system carries a cooling efficiency of 41 EER with a heating efficiency of 5.3 COP and is for those customers who only accept the very best. Its variable-capacity compressor is mated to a variable-speed blower and variable-speed circulator pumps, so the 7 Series can scale up and down over 12 speeds to precisely meet the conditioning needs of the home at that moment. Because the unit can scale down to 20 percent of full capacity, it needs very little energy to maintain temperatures and is also very, very quiet.”

To manage and optimize this new variable-capacity technology, WaterFurnace engineered a new platform of controls: Aurora Controls, which offer full two-way communication between components and provides support for true energy monitoring — both instantaneous and over 13 months — visible from the thermostat. Incorporating the upcoming Aurora Web Link (AWL) module also extends communication protocols to include the Internet, smart grids, and home automation networks. Aurora was also designed with the contractor in mind, said Litton. “Troubleshooting and setup can be done from the thermostat or optional AID tool, without having to open the unit and get on your hands and knees. The unit also features a swing-out control box for easy access to the compressor and piping.”

Selling Ultimate Systems

The weak economy has hurt the sales of high-end equipment of all kinds, said Quillin-Bell, but what it has also done is drive consumers to be smarter about their purchases and seek the very best solutions to meet their needs. “We believe that consumers are more interested in products that will not only work well now, but ones that will work well for many years to come, and be a significant upgrade to the products in their home. For duct-free or VRF [variable-refrigerant flow] systems, educating the consumer is key, because in order for consumers to adopt new technologies, they need to see the benefits, which requires an explanation of features like inverter motors, variable-speed operation, and zoning control.”

Successful contractors sell high-end systems on value over price, noted Litton, and educating homeowners on concepts like return on investment, cash flow, and total cost of ownership helps them see past the upfront costs and think about the larger long-term benefits. “For example, a geothermal system may cost more initially, but switching from fossil fuels provides utility savings large enough to offset monthly payments for equipment, resulting in a positive cash flow. When you add in a 30 percent federal tax credit, the financial returns are even higher.”

Storm noted that Trane’s goal is for contractors to be able to provide homeowners with the ultimate value and return on investment with its new variable-speed technology. “The concept and value proposition of these new systems is easily explained to homeowners — simply put, with variable-speed technology, you don’t have to run a 3-ton compressor at full capacity if you only need 1 ton of cooling. Dealers can use various analogies to explain how it works, such as a vehicle stuck in city traffic, as opposed to cruising on the highway at high efficiencies.”

Contractors should focus on the overall cost of operating the system over its lifetime, said Clements, who stated that Mitsubishi Electric systems can result in significant energy savings for the homeowner. “Our systems have a long lifespan and very low maintenance requirements. This results in less cost to maintain the system over its life span and more usable years out of the system before a replacement is needed.”

Emphasizing the efficiency of a high-end system, as well as promoting comfort and controllability can also be very strong selling points for contractors, said Gibbons.

“The Infinity system offers the ability to keep a home at a steady temperature, despite the weather outside. The system doesn’t shut off to warm up a house and then turn on to cool it back down, giving
occupants swings in temperature. With a system that runs as efficiently as this, the payback time can be significantly shorter, due to lower monthly utility bills. In addition, rebate programs and financing options allow homeowners to manage their purchase of higher efficiency equipment, while creating a more affordable payment schedule.”

As can be seen, there are numerous options available for customers looking to purchase the “best of the best” HVAC system. Customers are educating themselves about these options in their quest to find a system that will save them money on their utility bills, while providing superior comfort. As Quillin-Bell noted, “Demand for energy-efficient products is more prevalent now than ever before, and HVAC manufacturers must lead the charge.”

SIDEBAR: Advice on Making the Sale

Even high-end buyers may have concerns over cost, which is why Dave Nark, director of product management, Lennox Intl. Inc., advises contractors to understand that price objections are merely opportunities in disguise. “They are a sign of interested customers performing their due diligence. Listen carefully to what they have to say, be patient, and do not interrupt. Understand the objection, and acknowledge their point of view.”

When handling price objections, contractors can make the value of the system obvious, he said, by highlighting how it will make the homeowners feel. “To do that, the comfort advisor must listen to the customers’ wants and needs early on in the conversation and help them make the connection of how the benefits of the proposed system will address those issues. It is also important to remember that systems must be designed specifically for the customers’ requirements, and not all customers will be target buyers for a high-end system.”

Following these tips, said Nark, will help contractors be more successful in selling high-end equipment:

1. Identify and target potential buyers. There’s always a market for top-quality products, and HVAC equipment is no exception. Luxury consumers who seek the best of everything are ideal targets for these types of high-end systems.

2. Sell the system. Try not to focus on specific pieces or parts.

3. Listen to your customers. You have to listen to understand what they want from their systems. Early in the sales call, encourage the customer to talk about what matters most to him.

4. Talk about benefits, not features. After listening to your customer’s need, be sure to link the benefits of the system to the customer’s requirements. Keep in mind that the customer can’t easily translate a feature into a benefit, so help him make the connection. So for example, instead of saying variable-speed motor, talk about how the operation is so quiet, it’s hard to tell the system is running.

5. Emphasize value. That doesn’t mean they’re looking for the lowest price but rather for products that can enhance their lives, particularly at home.

6. Close the deal. After you have wrapped up your presentation, ask for the sale. If they are not ready to commit, go ahead and schedule a follow-up meeting.

SIDEBAR: 5 1/2 Ways to Explain Comfort

The most common objection you hear when talking to customers about various levels of air conditioning systems probably has to do with price. While this is a challenging hurdle to overcome, many times customers fail to assign costs to aspects of their lives that are often overlooked, but greatly valued. One such aspect is comfort. When talking to a customer about his options, it is often helpful to talk less about product functionality and more about comfort. The following 5 1/2 tips can help guide you:

1. Define comfort. Sometimes the easiest way to define something is to describe what it isn’t. Ask your customer if he has temperature swings on humid days between cycles; has hot and cold spots in the home; or has trouble sleeping in the summer. By getting him to talk about comfort issues, it’s easier to define what life is like without exceptional comfort.

2. The concept of air quality. A properly sized system will enable the airflow within the home to remain fresh and well ventilated. This reduces the chances of stagnant air leading to poor odor or mold development.

3. Discuss efficiency standards. Let him know not only about minimum SEER standards but what higher efficiency means. Temperature consistency, energy efficiency, and humidity control are all aspects of systems that deliver higher comfort. In addition, discussing refrigerant standards such as the shift away from R-22 can open the door for more comfort-focused conversations.

4. Connect efficiency and comfort. Explain that modulated systems with over 16 SEER ratings provide superior comfort, humidity control, and better IAQ, which are not only good for the way customers feel, but for their wallets as well.

5. Define system tiers in terms of comfort. When explaining the differences between a 13 SEER and an 18 SEER system, for example, focus on the comfort factors — humidity control, consistent cooling, better air circulation — rather than just cost or machine performance differences. A customer might not care about what variable speed means, but he will want to hear that he won’t sweat or freeze at night.

5 1/2. Direct them to third-party information. There are several good online sources of unbiased information to which you can direct your customers. AC & Heating Connect (, as well as OEM sites or associations such as Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) all offer good information for homeowners.

Comfort, when properly defined and explained, can be a valuable selling tool and is often appreciated and overlooked by homeowners.

- Karl Zellmer, vice president of air conditioning sales, Emerson Climate Technologies

Publication date: 6/24/2013 

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