HVACR Contractors Zone in on Consumer Awareness
The current trends within the zoning industry
You don’t know what you don’t know.
And, when it comes to forced-air zoning, the general consensus among contractors and manufacturers is that the general public is largely unaware of the benefits it provides.
However, thanks in part to emerging technologies — the capability to sync home automation and zoning equipment, the emergence of app-driven software, and the ability to control different areas of a building or home via a single button push — people are starting to take notice.
Contractors well-versed in its capabilities insist zoning offers them numerous advantages over those who fail to offer it.
Russ Donnici, founder, Mechanical Air Service, San Jose, California, has been offering zoning for more than 20 years. He finds that educating customers and properly selling zoning benefits both contractors and clients.
“I think any contractor that doesn’t offer zoning as an option is missing an opportunity for a win-win situation,” he said. “Homeowners win through increased comfort and reduced energy use, and contractors benefit from the additional materials and labor.”
While zoning delivers comfort to consumers where and when they want it, it offers contractors many advantages, as well.
“Zoning will detect high static pressures in the system and be able to adjust equipment for proper airflow without redoing all of the ductwork,” said Travis Smith, owner, Sky Heating & Air Conditioning, Portland Oregon.
Marketing is important for contractors that offer zoning because consumers will never know it’s available otherwise.
Rob Minnick, CEO and president, Minnick’s Inc., Laurel, Maryland, is mindful of the way he does so to better pique a customer’s interest.
When asked how contractors should market connectivity, Minnick stated, “We market health, comfort, and efficiency. If that’s what the customer wants, zoning is one way to achieve this. Once that’s been determined, it’s up to contractors to explain why customers should select zoning.”
Connectivity is also a major trend when it comes to zoning. Nearly every one you know now owns a smartphone, tablet, or other smart device. People can now pay their bills, watch their favorite shows, and jam out to their favorite albums all within their smart devices. Connected technology is having a major impact in the HVACR industry, as well, and is now becoming a major component to zoning.
Zoning allows a system to be synced with a Wi-Fi thermostat. This is appealing to consumers, as they can control the temperature of each room in the home while present or away. It’s the ease of the process that makes for an excellent selling point.
“Connectivity can be very useful,” said Donnici. “At a minimum, the use of a Wi-Fi thermostat with a zoning system makes a big difference. The typical new homes we do are 5,000-20,000 square feet and cost $5 million to $80 million, so our market is a bit unique. Clients want comfort, reduced energy costs, and connectivity. The larger homes typically have significant home automation systems, so the client has full access to their lighting, HVAC, and audio-visual (AV) systems from anywhere in their homes.”
Smith agreed, stating the most frequent requests he hears from customers center on connectivity and ease of use.
“Connectivity benefits customers because it allows them to adjust temperatures from anywhere, turn the temperature down if they leave the house and forget to set it back, or turn the temperature up as they arrive home.”
But, it’s the way in which the contractors sell the customer on zoning that is critical. A well-informed technician will take the time to inform customers of how and why zoning is a fit for their homes.
“Contractors need to educate themselves on zoning systems either within their own research or by attending vendor training sessions,” Donnici said. “A word of warning: Education is extremely important. Most zone systems that we are called in to service have not been installed or commissioned properly. If contractors aren’t trained in proper zoning, the importance of duct sizing, etc., they’ll have a bad experience, which, more often than not, may cause them to stop offering zoning altogether. Therefore, when clients are informed of the benefits of a zone system from a properly trained contractor, they will typically choose one, if their budget allows.”
Zoning can be presented as a want or need, said Minnick.
“We advise zoning when the customer wants it or when the load requires it, especially if the customer wants to control temperatures in separate areas of a home,” said Minnick.
Dick Foster, president, ZoneFirst, stresses that not nearly enough contractors are utilizing zoning. He believes contractors that opt to learn zoning stand to benefit immensely.
“Offer it [zoning] on every job, and let consumers know it’s available,” Foster said. “Very few contractors offer zoning, never mind market the advantages of zoning. Almost everything today has the ability to be connected, so why not zoning? First, one must sell the benefits of zoning, comfort, and energy savings. The connectivity part of zoning is easy by simply using Wi-Fi thermostats.”
TRENDING WITH ZONING
Zoning has evolved immensely. From the days of large and pricey Wi-Fi thermostats, systems have evolved to include smart thermostats that may be adjusted from thousands of miles away.
“If you go back to 2007, that’s when you first started seeing Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats,” said Tom Jackson, CEO, Jackson Systems LLC. “At the time, they were clunky and expensive. So, with anything technological over the past 10 years, the whole interface and usability from the homeowner’s side has dramatically improved. From the technical side, we’re starting to build in a lot of those features that contractors have wanted, such as proper alerts, because we’re looking to discharge air temperature and things we can measure pressure-wise. Now, a contractor can get a notification ahead of time before they even get out to the building or home, so they have an idea of what is going on before they get there.”
It’s that connectivity factor that has many customers intrigued, and manufacturers are playing into that with the development of their zoning products.
“More and more customers are interested in app-driven controls,” said Rick Wilson, director of sales and marketing, Arzel Technology Inc. “They want something easy to install that’s reliable and nearly invisible to them, so they don’t even know it is there. Easy, quick, and reliable.”
Mike Reilly, president, EWC Controls Inc., agreed on the connectivity trend, stating, “Consumers benefit from the high-end, connected equipment because the comfort level is unsurpassed.”
Chris Jones, business development manager, Belimo Aircontrols (USA) Inc., markets zoning and connectivity to the thermostat as a co-existing entity.
“Smart thermostats have made revolutionary improvements in the last five years, and the next wave of multi-sensors should be successful as they promise to improve comfort and save energy,” said Jones. “However, these devices cannot satisfy the additional HVAC control requirements on their own to effectively deliver the designed air volume to the thermostat’s location in the home. Smart zoning, which is the control system that operates between the thermostat and the HVAC equipment, is needed to deliver optimal comfort and efficiency.”
The next trend is the ability to be more energy efficient, which appeals to customers looking to be environmentally conscious.
“Everything is so connected these days, the only part a homeowner wants to better control is the HVAC system when they’re not home to save energy and have it turn on when they come home,” Foster said. “The energy savings consumers get by remotely controlling their HVAC systems; that is where they see the benefit.”
Wilson said more consumers are looking to “go green” and lessen their carbon footprint than ever before.
“More people are getting energy conscious with their type of zoning. Our geothermal system seems to be growing in popularity quite a bit. People are more interested in saving energy, and they are doing what they can to use those types of products that are focused on energy conservation.”
Touting both connectivity and energy efficiency, smart zoning is a true win-win for customers and contractors. So, as an HVAC contractor, before you take a pass on adding zoning to your HVAC business services, consider all of the benefits that make it attractive to your business and customer base.
Publication date: 5/1/2017