It seems our industry is becoming “commoditized,” and we are unintentional accomplices. We’re too comfortable swapping equipment and installing silver bullets while moving away from providing true comfort. The one differentiator we have left that few consider is the duct system — the final factor determining how well equipment performs in the field.
It’s no secret that lack of homeowner comfort is a big problem in our industry. Low airflow is abundant due to poor duct design and installation. With this being such a common issue, why do we continue to ignore duct systems and suffer the consequences of doing so?
While there are many factors contributing to this head-in-the-sand approach, there are four obstacles HVAC contractors must overcome if they want to be successful in offering duct upgrades. After interviewing countless companies, the challenges haven’t changed since I started measuring and optimizing duct systems more than 17 years ago. Let’s look at these obstacles and some personal lessons learned from them.
OBSTACLE NO. 1: ATTITUDE
The top obstacle preventing many from duct upgrade success is their attitude toward the duct system. Many in our industry believe there is nothing wrong with their installations, so the duct system is an afterthought instead of a focal point. A closed mind dooms you to failure because you can’t recognize the opportunity. It takes someone willing to admit that there are better installation methods before their attitude changes from negative to positive. It’s OK not to know everything.
Consider the example of Thomas Edison and the light bulb — his attitude and persistence are what prevailed. Although it’s estimated to have taken Edison over 10,000 attempts to get the right combination for the incandescent bulb, he didn’t quit. He kept working until he had the right information.
At one point in my career, I considered leaving the HVAC industry because I was so frustrated with it — I had a bad attitude. I was tired of getting sold out for $100 on a job because I looked like my competitors. I knew I was different, but most homeowners didn’t.
Thank goodness, I met Rob Falke and Al D’Ambola. From their advice, I started reading “The World’s Greatest Salesman” by Og Mandino. I started to apply the principles I learned in the book and improve my attitude. I discovered the book that helped Mandino turn his life around was “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude” by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone. This was my next read. As I continued reading, my attitude improved, and I unknowingly started overcoming a second obstacle — my belief system.
OBSTACLE NO. 2: BELIEF
As an industry, we have become far too comfortable believing airflow is correct instead of measuring it. Those who do measure airflow consistently show how their competitors’ installations fail to deliver.
I had this scenario presented to me. I was asked, “If someone measured airflow from one of your systems, how would it perform?” This thought haunted me so badly I knew I needed to do something about it. My belief system was under attack.
As I started measuring airflow, I saw system measurements that flew in the face of what I had been taught. This had me questioning my test instruments and what I was doing. I knew I needed to measure, but the dots weren’t connecting.
After a quick phone call and some technical advice, I discovered what I was seeing was correct. With further study and some trial and error, we finally got it right. My belief system had been fractured, but with a call to the right knowledgeable person, it started to grow again.
Consider this: If you don’t believe you can solve an airflow or comfort problem, you’re right.
OBSTACLE NO. 3: EXPLANATIONS
Our industry has a bad habit of offering detailed, technical explanations to customers about what is happening with their HVAC systems. Industry terms that are everyday language to us — inches of water column, static pressure, and cubic feet per minute — are unrelatable concepts to the average homeowner.
The quickest way to lose a customer’s attention is by getting too technical with explanations. By trying to be accurate, we lose the gift of simplicity in explaining technical subjects. Explanations shouldn’t sound like a foreign language or make a customer’s head spin. The explanation must be something they can relate to, not technical lingo that few understand.
This leads to one of the biggest frustrations I hear regarding duct upgrade sales. HVAC professionals question why customers often won’t buy airflow testing and duct upgrades. Is it possible they don’t understand the explanation? If they don’t understand what you’re saying, you can bet they’re going to base their decision on something they do understand — the price.
I also struggled with explanations when I first learned about airflow and wondered why no one was buying duct upgrades from me.
I wasn’t aware of my poor explanations until Falke mentioned it to me as I whined to him that I couldn’t sell duct upgrades. When he told me that he wouldn’t buy anything from me either because he didn’t understand what I was saying, I recognized that I failed to use simple language. As my explanations improved, so did our duct upgrade sales. I originally blamed the process instead of taking accountability for my inability to effectively communicate.
OBSTACLE NO. 4: CONFIDENCE
Many professionals ignore duct upgrades to avoid being put in an uncomfortable situation. They don’t have the confidence to pinpoint the problem and provide the right solution. This is a legitimate concern if you don’t have the proper training and test instruments. When these are absent, you’re guessing and have no idea what the results will be.
Confidence in duct upgrade work is built on consistent measurement and practice. When you see what works, continue doing it. When you see something that doesn’t work, stop. It’s a learning process like any other aspect of our industry. You don’t get it 100 percent right the first time. There are lessons to be learned with each duct upgrade project.
Another issue is only offering and performing duct upgrades periodically — make them part of your everyday business. You can’t build confidence if you’re inconsistent. This ties into lack of belief — if you believe in duct upgrades, nothing will stop you from making them work in your company.
Then there’s the issue of the installers being able to perform the upgrades in a way that works. What better way to teach an installation crew about proper installation than by measuring and showing them results. They can see what works and what doesn’t — you don’t have to say a thing.
When our installers saw how a few minor changes to a flexible duct would make big improvements, they were blown away. After some minor changes, I predicted a 30-40 cfm increase from the supply register — we got 45 cfm instead. This took their confidence to another level.
HOW TO OVERCOME THESE OBSTACLES
If you’re serious about addressing this part of the HVAC system, create a plan and get started. Becoming a reader is one of the single biggest influences that helped me overcome these four obstacles. You can overcome them as well if you apply yourself and practice the daily discipline it requires to move forward. If you’re interested in the top five books that helped me, send me an email request (address is at the beginning of the article in my bio) to get my “recommended reads.” In addition to reading, I was fortunate to have great mentors who already had scars from learning about and implementing duct upgrades. I devoured their knowledge and wisdom, trying to repeat their successes and avoid their failures. If you’re serious about this untapped market, get a support system that builds you up. Mentors will encourage you, point you in the right direction, and share their experiences. I shared some of my growing pains in this article, hoping you might see some of your current situations in what I experienced. There is a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train. Just stick with it — remember Edison. Without his persistence, we might still be in the dark.
Let’s get back to providing true comfort and assure the future of our industry remains bright.