In homes that have a basement, it’s almost always the location of the HVAC equipment, so contractors spend plenty of time below grade. However, the basement is naturally prone to humidity problems, and while homeowners are often aware that a problem exists, they don’t realize their HVACR contractors can provide the best solution.

In fact, not all contractors realize this either, despite the time they spend in the basement. HVACR companies looking to raise their bottom lines should just follow their nose to an easy upsell opportunity.

The Smell of a Sale

Basements rarely smell great to begin with, and just a little bit of moisture and humidity buildup can create a pungent, musty, unenjoyable smell. If contractors get a whiff of mold and mildew, the homeowner can smell it, too. It’s the perfect starting point for a conversation about humidity control. Many contractors have seen or smelled this IAQ opportunity and are taking advantage.

Dave Krejchi, president of Dalton Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Inc. in Cedar Falls, Iowa, decided to push high-capacity dehumidifiers last spring. Krejchi mailed a flyer to consumers and ensured his technicians knew what to look for and what to say. The company also armed its techs with hygrometers so they could show homeowners how high the relative humidity was in the basement.

“We were able to say, ‘Your humidity is this and it should be that if you want to feel more comfortable.’ Or, ‘it smells a little damp in your basement. Have you ever thought about whole-house dehumidification?’”

Even an existing portable dehumidifier was seen as an opportunity — not an obstacle — for the sale of a high-capacity dehumidifier. “We would say: ‘We see you have a portable down there. We have a unit that’s more efficient. It’s built more commercially and will work during the cooler, damper days of the year.’”

And, grabbing a piece of the portables pie is a huge part of the equation.

Offer Solutions that Work

Contactors looking for proof that homeowners are concerned about indoor relative humidity can just review the figures for portable dehumidifier sales. “Based on historical figures, the market for portable dehumidifiers is around $300 million a year when you combine retail and Internet sales,” said Janis Rozenbergs, product marketing manager, Aprilaire. These units are primarily used in basements or crawlspaces, and it’s not rare to see one when out on a job.

It’s also not rare to see a portable dehumidifier on the curb. Smaller models can’t even come close to removing the proper amount of moisture in a tight, modest-sized home. Because they can’t keep up, they tend to cycle almost constantly, use a lot of energy, and tend to wear out very fast.

High-capacity units are longer-lasting and run more efficiently, which saves homeowners money on their utility bills. In testing, Aprilaire’s high-capacity dehumidifier cost as little as $27 cents a day to run. Operating costs were calculated by multiplying the average amount of actual daily run time and power consumption given the utility rate where the testing took place. In Madison, Wisconsin, this scenario led to $177.60 in annual savings on a homeowner’s electric bill.

Still, the contractor does have to ensure the consumer understands the value of a high-capacity dehumidifier, considering the difference in price. “Some homeowners will tell you they can buy one for $300 at the store. At that point, we let them know the dehumidifier we are offering will last much longer,” said Dan Kuepper, vice president, Horsch and Miller Plumbing and Heating in Slinger, Wisconsin. “We explain that it uses less energy, and they would have to use many of those portable units to do what this one does. Getting it in the house is the trick. Once customers have it, they love it.”

In-home Selling is Key

Kuepper suggests the product more or less sells itself once it’s installed or set up, but customers still need some nudging to understand the value. Contractors can accomplish this with literature, the correct in-home conversation, and even in-home trials. “We did a 14-day guarantee; we’d put it in and there would be no charge for 14 days. If they didn’t want it, they could return it,” said Kuepper. “None were returned.”

However, Kuepper said they only sold a few units this way because most customers were already aware of the moisture problems in their basements and ready for a real solution. He said the majority of people told the tech to “just install it.” It was something the customer already wanted and a product Horsch and Miller felt they could stand behind.

The secret behind selling isn’t really a secret at all. It’s a matter of showing the customer a problem and presenting a solution, just like any other product the contractor offers. That was the philosophy of Gary Shoemaker at Hardy Heating and Air Conditioning in Long Island, New York.

“A lot of customers trust the service man who’s in their house. If he goes down and says there is a mold and mildew problem in the basement, and he can fix it, well, that leads to a sale,” he said.

For contractors who already sell IAQ products or are just beginning to grow their businesses, high-capacity dehumidifiers offer a great opportunity to increase revenue. The problem is easy to spot, and the solution is easy to install. Most basement issues can be controlled without ducting, so simply rolling in a high-capacity freestanding unit is all that needs to be done.

“[A dehumidifier] is not something that we sold and promoted like we had a lot of the other Aprilaire products,” said Krejchi. “It was a real eye-opener to see what we could do.”

Publication date: 6/1/2015

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