SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The National Comfort Institute Inc.’s (NCI) mission is to help its members implement HVAC and home-performance contracting through easy-to-use strategies. That mission was accomplished at its recent annual summit, where the focus was on the best practices involved with selling and installing air upgrades.

Why air upgrades? Because proper air distribution is the cornerstone of performance contracting, and air upgrades can benefit virtually every customer. They can also be sold in very stealthy ways, which can help make contractors more successful.


In this case, stealthy is nothing nefarious — it simply means competitors are not usually involved, so multiple bids are not an issue, which results in less price pressure. An example of this can be air upgrades that are sold as a result of leads generated by maintenance or service technicians.

“Air upgrades can also be added to virtually every equipment replacement as affordable add-ons that will improve the customer’s comfort system,” said Dominick Guarino, chairman and CEO, NCI.

NCI defines an air upgrade as being a process in which contractors sell, design, and install basic improvements to an HVAC system that allow the equipment to deliver airflow within the manufacturer’s intended design. This can include everything from replacing supply and return plenums to installing proper duct supports to upgrading grilles and registers to replacing the entire duct system.

“It’s all about getting the right amount of air into the house or building,” said Guarino.

There are three main reasons why contractors should offer air upgrades, said Guarino. “First, an upgrade ensures there’s enough air to carry the Btuh in the supply and return ducts. Second, it protects the equipment from premature failure by running it within the manufacturer’s specifications. And, third, it significantly improves comfort and delivers efficiency at a very affordable price. Our goal at NCI is to help make it easy for contractors to incorporate an air upgrade strategy into their business models.”

To reinforce this message, each of the workshops offered at the NCI Summit covered a different part of the air upgrade process from sales to design to installation.


At the “Air Upgrades: Your Secret Weapon” workshop, speakers Don Steward, president, W.B. Steward & Son, Woodbury Heights, New Jersey, and John Puryear, instructor, NCI, focused on the process involved with selling air upgrades. As Puryear noted, “The process is easier if there’s a procedure. With a checklist in hand, there are many ways to involve maintenance techs, service techs, and/or salespeople in identifying and closing air upgrade sales opportunities.”

The first item on the checklist, regardless of the reason for being in a customer’s home, is to perform an airflow testing and diagnostic procedure. Puryear likens this to a regular medical check-up, where the doctor always starts by taking measurements, such as weight, temperature, and blood pressure.

“Always start by verifying airflow through static pressure,” Puryear said. “It’s the blood pressure of the system and is the first thing you should check. If you’re not doing that, then you’re leaving money on the table.”

Puryear cited an NCI study that showed the average Btuh delivery from a standard piece of HVAC equipment is 57 percent, which means most homes have some kind of airflow problem. These problems can often be identified by performing a thorough airflow testing and diagnostics procedure, which includes taking static pressure readings. Once the measurements are taken, technicians can show them to customers, let them know about potential areas of concern, and then recommend the proper air upgrade that will alleviate the problem.

As Puryear concluded, “An air upgrade is a simple and affordable initial system modification designed to solve customer comfort concerns by improving fan airflow, and it can be offered by contracting firms of any size. When implemented and used properly, air upgrades can be a contractor’s secret weapon for business success.”

In the “Price and Propose Profitable Air Upgrades” workshop, Charlie Dieringer, owner, Air Force One Heating and Air Inc., Canyon Lake, California, and David Holt, director of business training and coaching, NCI, suggested contractors should be proactive in identifying potential system upgrades before equipment breaks.

“Stop waiting for extreme weather or for something to break,” said Holt. “That’s a reactive approach that can create many problems for customers and contractors. Instead, identify renovation work ahead of time and schedule it when it’s most convenient for you and your customers.”

Using a proactive strategy involves employing airflow testing and diagnostics procedures that uncover hidden system improvement opportunities for existing customers all year long.

“You can solve problems before the competition even knows you exist,” said Holt. “These ‘stealth upgrades’ can keep you busy all the time, so you are generating revenue 12 months a year and not just sitting around waiting for things to break.”

Dieringer noted it is important to offer customers different options when it comes to upgrading their systems as some may not have the finances to do it all at once.

“Offer the upgrade in steps and give them lots of options,” Dieringer said. “Customers love to have choices.”

Another important factor is to make sure to price the air upgrade correctly, added Holt.

“The primary thing you bring to the table is skilled craftsmanship that will resolve a customer’s airflow problems,” he said. “This is a skill-based product that is unique to your company, and it should be priced accordingly. Time-of-year, whether the weather is extreme or mild, and the extent-of-job, whether it’s done with or without equipment, must play a role in your pricing. In extreme weather, charge more. For jobs that don’t include equipment, charge differently. Remember, skilled craftsmanship has no model number, so customers can’t comparison shop.”

The rest of the workshops at the NCI Summit focused on all things related to performance contracting with a specific emphasis on the value of offering air upgrades.

“In many circles, performance has become a buzzword, but, unfortunately, in most cases, it’s more lip service than anything else,” said Guarino. “By our estimates, contractors who know how — and are willing — to measure and prove performance still make up less than 10 percent of our industry. We need more in the industry bringing the message of delivering performance to our customers. We need to raise the bar for our industry, and we can do it with measurement and accountability, which will take the term ‘quality’ and give it real meaning. NCI is committed to doing just this.” 

Publication date: 5/29/2017

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