In most homes, ductwork carries conditioned air from the HVAC units throughout the house. But with as much as 40 percent of that air leaking out before it ever reaches the vent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), it seems there is still room for improvement in most customers’ homes.

Enter the HVAC technician. As the boots on the ground, your technicians are the face of your business, interacting daily with homeowners and turning them into loyal customers. But the best technicians not only solve the problem at hand — they also listen to the customer’s concerns, keep their customers’ best interests at heart, and recognize selling opportunities when they see them.

And for the many current and potential customers out there who have leaky, dirty, or improperly sized ductwork, contractors have nearly unlimited opportunities to improve efficiency, comfort, and IAQ in those customers’ homes while bringing in additional business.

Ductwork Distress

When replacing or servicing HVAC equipment, technicians have an opportunity to approach the customer about additional duct services, such as leakage testing. (Photo by Atchley Air, Fort Smith, Ark.)
When replacing or servicing HVAC equipment, technicians have an opportunity to approach the customer about additional duct services, such as leakage testing. (Photo by Atchley Air, Fort Smith, Ark.)
Historically, ductwork has not been a top concern for homeowners, despite the fact that the HVAC system is often the biggest single energy consumer in a home, according to Bob Reid, technical director for theSpiral Duct Manufacturers Association(SPIDA). And if that ductwork isn’t doing its job, that could mean significant energy loss as well as decreased IAQ and comfort.

The problem, Reid said, is that “nobody thinks about the ductwork.” For homeowners, the ductwork is “out of sight, out of mind,” he said, and so it’s up to the contractor and technician to bring duct issues to the homeowner’s attention. “There are so many things that are low-hanging fruit in this industry, all related to air movement,” he added.

Steve Tansey, owner of Arrowseal, Prescott, Ariz., said the ductwork is as integral to the HVAC system as the units themselves, and if it’s not performing, that’s a big issue.

“The duct system is the most egregious energy waster,” Tansey said. “People will change their heating and air conditioning system out thinking that it’s going to work better. Well, not really. Unless you go to the root cause, to the leakages, and tackle that, you’re not going to get the full potential of the new system you’re installing. It’s like taking a shower and putting your dirty clothes back on.”

Tansey added, “I think the smarter contractors out there know that, and they know they have to have their customers’ best interests in mind.”

Seizing Opportunities

Selling duct services can be as easy as striking up a conversation about allergies or comfort while out on a call instead of simply fixing the issue and calling it a day.

“When you do a repair, you can offer other services — not just get in, fix it, and leave,” said Sam Rashkin, chief architect of the Building Technologies Office in the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “If you’re in an older home, you can start by telling them that older homes usually have significant duct leakage.”

Dave Hutchins, owner of Bay Area A/C, Crystal River, Fla., said his technicians routinely offer to test the ductwork while out on calls, and he has even turned it into a way to bring in extra business throughout the year.

“We offer low- or no-cost testing when replacing a system, as this seems to be a good time to get the homeowners to think about the operating costs of duct leakage,” Hutchins said. “We also run specials for testing the leakage in the slower times of the year.”

Billy Prewitt, marketing manager at Carlisle HVAC Products, said taking “the three-legged stool approach” and emphasizing energy savings, increased thermal comfort, and improved IAQ is their recommended way for contractors to sell duct services. “Which one gets the primary focus is dependent on the individual situation and what issue that is top of mind,” he added.

Unico, a manufacturer of small-duct, high-velocity systems, said advertising helps them get the word out about their product, which in turn helps the contractor sell it.

“Many homeowners see our advertising in the various older home publications we advertise in, or they may have seen an episode of ‘This Old House,’ where we have been featured in over 20 projects over the last 15 years,” said Scott Intagliata, sales director at Unico. “Oftentimes, a local installing contractor will be the one to suggest our system to the homeowner.”

Tools + Training

In order for technicians to improve their success rates when it comes to selling duct services, having the right training and marketing tools is imperative. Many manufacturers realize this and offer training and support to their customers. Lane Jeffryes, president and CEO at Rotobrush, said his company offers its RotoMasters Certified Training, as well as 24/7 support, to technicians and contractors.

“We know from our research that 96 percent of homeowners are willing to purchase products to improve IAQ once they’re provided with a professional analysis of the problem and a recommended solution,” Jeffryes said. “Contractors and technicians can approach homeowners and close sales simply by educating themselves on the issues and solutions, and then educating their clients. The same applies to commercial building owners — education is the key to sales.”

Brenda Ritt, marketing manager at DuctSox, said they also offer support to those who are installing or servicing their products. “DuctSox services or repairs fabric ducting in our Peosta, Iowa, headquarters, and we also have a full design team to assist anyone on sizing and layout of a ducting system,” Ritt said.

Carlisle HVAC provides training videos and courses on the company’s website, in-house, in-shop, or through a distributor. The company will train individuals on the benefits of sealing ductwork, tips and tricks, and best practices, as well as understanding codes and energy savings.

“Carlisle HVAC also offers DuctSense, a program designed to show the return on investment on an improved duct system,” Prewitt said. “The kiosk model of this is available to anyone at, but the power of the program is obtained when a contractor becomes an approved applicator for Carlisle HVAC.”

Unico also offers assistance to contractors to help them make a sale. “We offer a free duct design service for a contractor, and we will also calculate the heating and cooling loads for them,” Intagliata said. “Additionally, we provide a variety of marketing materials including brochures, interactive CD-ROMs, a variety of merchandising items, and PowerPoint presentations.”

A Step Toward HPC

By treating the ductwork as an integral piece of the HVAC system, contractors and technicians are recognizing the value of looking at the bigger picture and taking a step toward home performance contracting (HPC). Melissa McDowell, office manager at McDowell & Son Heating and Air Conditioning, Hood River, Ore., said they have benefitted from that way of thinking.

“We are Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI) certified and take a whole-home approach to solving homeowner comfort issues,” she said. “We had a customer who had high heating bills and a musty smell in the house, and it turned out the ducts in the crawlspace were leaky. Once we tested and sealed the ducts, the home no longer leaked or sucked in the dirty air from the crawlspace.”

Gregg D’Atille, owner of Art Plumbing and Air Conditioning, Coral Springs, Fla., also stressed the importance of stepping back and evaluating the entire home before changing any aspect of it, including the HVAC system.

“Several times this year already, we’ve come across jobs where they complain of the house being muggy or smelly, never comfortable,” D’Atille said. “That’s because whoever they hired to replace the air conditioner didn’t do anything with the ductwork — they just put in a new unit.”

Unfortunately, D’Atille said, that is all too common in the field of HVAC. “Most a/c contractors, all they care about is putting in two new shiny boxes and getting in and out of that job,” he said. “The contractor has to be in the mindset of wanting to deliver total comfort. They have to be able to look at the whole home as a system, not just two shiny boxes.”

Neal Walsh, vice president of sales and marketing at Aeroseal, agreed that contractors and technicians will have to embrace HPC, or they will likely be left behind.

“My advice in general for HVAC contractors is that home performance is coming,” Walsh said. “You have to position your company for the future to take advantage of this. We know growth prospects aren’t great over the next few years, and HPC is a great opportunity for contractors.”

Publication date: 10/21/2013

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!