Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a tricky thing. Numerous studies and papers on the topic have been published over the years, so benefits of good IAQ in buildings are well known — healthier, more productive workers. However, the symptoms related to poor IAQ can be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses, such as allergies, stress, colds, and the flu. Even after installing IAQ products, it may take time before there is a noticeable difference inside the building. Because of this, building owners can be hesitant to purchase IAQ products. But, there are several factors HVAC contractors can present to increase their chances of making the sale.
THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMIDITY
According to Rick Tullis, president of Capstone Mechanical in Waco, Texas, the biggest IAQ problem or challenge his clients face is humidity.
“We’re in the hot, humid climate zone, so, ironically, humidity is our biggest IAQ problem that leads to other issues,” he explained. “A lot of that is driven by how much outside air we’re required to bring in by code, which, in turn, multiplies the humidity challenges we have. So, sometimes the code does make some allowances for using different UV [ultraviolet] air cleaner products in commercial systems as a way to decrease the amount of outside air you have to bring in, because you’re treating recirculated air as it goes through the unit — I’m seeing more and more of this.”
But, as far as Capstone Mechanical is concerned, air filters are still its No. 1 selling IAQ product.
Basic filtration is the biggest seller, according to Tullis, simply because every unit has a filter.
“When we sell commercial PMAs [preventive maintenance agreements] or when we’re doing design build work, it’s pretty easy to upsell someone to higher filtration because people get it,” he said. “It’s not difficult to understand that an air filter will keep the air cleaner.”
As for UV lights and air cleaners, Tullis sees them as a trend that is becoming more popular on the design build side.
“Whether it’s a job where we’re just doing the contracting, or if it’s a new job where we are the engineer and the contractor, we’re using UV as a strategy to minimize the amount of outside air we’re bringing in to get a more optimal equipment selection for the project,” he said. “With the case of UV, by decreasing the amount of outside air humidity, the economics make it a better option because in a hot, humid climate like ours, the additional cost to handle increased outside air is way more than the cost of the UV air cleaners.”
It’s not hard to convince building owners to make the purchase as it saves money.
“In the right situation, it’s not a huge upfront cost to the customer because you’re solving a problem and saving them money — they don’t have to buy as costly a system, and all the outdoor air humidity will be treated,” he said. “The air treatment price ends up decreasing the size of the equipment you have to put on the building. It ends up being a net gain for the owner.”
Killing TWO BIRDS with ONE STONE
According to Phil London, vice president of residential services, Thermal Concepts Inc., Davie, Florida, the main IAQ product his company recommends is UV lights or something similar.
“When the subject comes up, we’re generally dealing with two aspects — they’re either looking to make the air cleaner, or they’re looking to protect the equipment,” he said. “Our clients are a mixed bag. When it comes to air quality, we typically use a product on a UV light that we tie into the ductwork called Reme Halo. We’ve had some excellent results. And that’s designed more for air quality. Our focus on the commercial side has been very successful in using that product.”
Commercial building owners tend to appreciate how the product will impact their service requirements, London said. In other words, if the UV light is installed within close proximity to the evaporator coil, it keeps the coil clean, so it reduces their overall cost — they don’t have to shut down the system to have the coils cleaned, which, in turn, keeps the air cleaner.
But, no matter the circumstance, residential or commercial, London said the team at Thermal Concepts only upsells these products based on the needs of the customers.
“We talk to our customers and ask them what their challenges are,” he said. “Is there a problem with humidity, air quality, or dirty coils all the time? We have some medical facility clients that use UV lights to keep their system coils clean, which results in cleaner air quality than it would normally be without it. In that case, it addresses two challenges they have to deal with.”
Communication is key in these situations — the sales approach has to prove two things: No. 1, you were listening, and No. 2, this product will actually solve their problem.
“We try to give customers a reference and tell them to contact this particular client because they’ve had some success with these products,” London said. “Also, lately, there are quite a few articles in trade magazines, especially since the hurricanes, that highlight UV lights and air quality components, and that’s a helpful resource for us. The overall challenge for the most part is, if you’re cleaning coils, they see immediate results. If you’re putting in UV lights to address air quality, it takes them time to recognize there is an improvement.”
London said that by taking the time to talk with customers to identify their issues and educate them on the solutions, it’s usually not hard to convince them to purchase IAQ products.
“The last thing we want to do is take advantage of our customers,” he said. “The fact is that hurricane seasons is still here for another couple weeks, and people are very aware of indoor air quality. They’re starting to ask the question: ‘what do we do?’ It’s a situation that is more timely during this time of year because of the recent hurricane and because it’s the rainy season down here in south Florida. So people tend to notice the air quality this time of year more than any other.”
QUICK TIPS FOR SELLING IAQ
When it comes to selling IAQ products, there are several benefits contractors can address when talking to customers. Chief among them are energy efficiency and a healthier environment. However; there are several other topics to touch on, according to Daniel Jones, president, UV Resources.
“When selling commercial IAQ products, it’s important to acknowledge the current ‘healthy living’ trend sweeping society, a natural part of which is high indoor air quality,” he said. “Building owners should, therefore, come to understand that in addition to helping maintain HVAC efficiency and infection control, commercial IAQ products may help attract tenants.”
Jones offers four quick tips on selling commercial IAQ products:
- Emphasize energy efficiency: Historically, energy-efficient HVAC systems might have meant a trade off in indoor air quality. However, with the application of ultraviolet-C light (UV-C) in HVAC systems, this is no longer the case. Building managers’ and owners’ interest in energy efficiency can be satisfied by applying UV-C to the air handler’s cooling coils, thus improving heat transfer efficiency and lowering pressure drop by stopping mold and bacteria buildup. Naturally, removing this buildup will also help to foster a healthier indoor environment.
- Discuss infection control: Infection control, as one would imagine, is high on the radar of medical facilities and medical office buildings. However, having the ability to bring infection control to a commercial building is of growing interest to building tenants interested in providing a healthy environment for their employees and bolstering their bottom line. Providing an IAQ technology option that can deliver the ability to reduce infection control at a reasonable price is a winning proposition.
- Address the tightening building envelope phenomenon: Indoor environments are sealed tighter and tighter, especially during extremely hot and cold weather, to help maintain temperatures and reduce energy use. The result is less fresh air for dilution and poor IAQ. Builders are seeking ways to preserve IAQ without sacrificing the efficiency benefits gained by tightening the building envelope.
- Tie in the importance of a clean work environment: Many new companies are creating a nontraditional work environment to attract a new generation of workers who place a premium on healthy indoor air. Building owners will, therefore, desire products that allow them to promote the fact that they are boosting IAQ for their tenants and the tenants’ employees.
Publication date: 11/20/2017