Ductless heating and cooling systems have come a long way from when they were first introduced in the U.S. as simply add-on solutions for the odd room here and there. Today’s systems feature greater capacity, increased flexibility, and even higher efficiency levels.
The ductless market continues to show double-digit growth year after year. Per MarketsandMarkets, the global ductless heating and cooling systems market is projected at $78.62 billion today, with a compound annual growth rate exceeding 8 percent through 2021.
The NEWS asked some experts in selling ductless systems to discuss how and why they have been successful in their businesses.
Owner, Canella Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.
Conover, North Carolina
President, Restivo’s Heating & Air Conditioning
Johnson, Rhode Island
Owner, Alpine Ductless LLC
NEWS: How long has your company been offering ductless solutions, and what made you want to add ductless to your portfolio?
Craig Canella, owner, Canella Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., Conover, North Carolina: We began installing ductless systems in 1997. We were in the high-end new construction industry, with about 80 percent of our business coming from that market.
We offered ductless systems as a solution for zoning issues, with an increasing amount of homeowners wanting to condition bonus rooms and sunrooms specifically.
Back then, we never thought about ductless systems as whole-home concepts, but we definitely do now. Today, we consider ductless the best whole-home solution, especially with the most recent air handlers on the market.
We’ve also seen a shift in our customer base, and today, about 95 percent of our business is in existing homes that want to add zones.
Jack Restivo, president, Restivo’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Johnson, Rhode Island: We started offering ductless solutions because of different applications. Back when we started 25 years ago, it was a good application for one or two rooms for those who already had an existing system in the house.
Cory Eckert, owner, Alpine Ductless LLC, Olympia, Washington: We opened our doors March 12, 2012, and we are 100 percent ductless.
We’ve completed over 2,400 ductless installations and probably only three installations of a unitary system. At the time, I was a homebuilder in the Northwest, and we had what we thought was a really good opportunity because the utilities were offering really big rebates to go ductless to get out from under the electric resistance heat.
Way back in the ’70s, our area was going to have unlimited power with all of the dams and nuclear power plants they put up. The nuclear power plants were a big debacle and went south. But the builders built tons of homes using electric resistance heat.
So when the utilities discovered ductless, they decided to offer people good rebates to entice them to switch. We thought it was an opportunity and went for it.
We thought by specializing, that we could carve a niche in the market. And we’ve done that. We’re arguably one of the largest — if not the largest — installers in the south Sound area.
NEWS: What percentage of your total sales is ductless?
Canella: We only sell ductless systems from Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US. They’ve done a great job of advertising, but we still only see about 15 percent of our revenue from ductless sales.
We’re working to grow that number through customer referrals and by continuing to educate our community on the benefits of ductless systems.
Restivo: Ductless accounts for about 70 percent of my air conditioning sales. Whereas about six or seven years ago, it was the exact opposite — only about 30 percent of my sales.
What’s really happened in the last four or five years is ductless sales have also crept into my heating numbers because people are now buying them as primary heating sources instead of a boiler or a furnace. So it does cross over into both sides of my business.
NEWS: Why do you think you’ve been so successful in the ductless market?
Eckert: We’ve been successful because we’ve specialized in ductless, and we market specifically to our target audience, which is residential homeowners, or more specifically, residential homeowners with electric heated homes. There are a lot of those in the Northwest.
We’ve streamlined our processes as far as completing installations. We’ve developed processes for the customer to have a great experience. We’re quick and efficient. Plus, they get improved comfort, lower heating bills, and improved IAQ.
Canella: Now that our customers are becoming more knowledgeable about ductless systems and zoning, it’s easier to have conversations with them about the advantages of the technology. Word-of-mouth and a fantastic advertising campaign by Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US have also played into our success.
NEWS: When do you suggest a ductless solution to a homeowner? What conditions make ductless a great option?
Canella: Whether we’re meeting with an existing customer or a new customer, we always ask questions to try to get to the root of the HVAC issue. A surprising amount of homeowners don’t share the extent of their problems, which makes it difficult for us to do our job of providing solutions. By asking the right questions, we’re able to fully understand the homeowner’s comfort problems, which can be anything from hot/cold spots to the placement of indoor units in relation to layout of the home. The common architecture in our area has a lot of bedrooms built at the far end of a home, with two or more outside walls that are simply too far away from the indoor unit to be sufficiently heated and cooled. We suggest ductless systems as solutions for any of these problems.
Restivo: Pretty much anytime I walk into someone’s house, I’m thinking of using the LG system right off the bat. The first thing I address is whether or not they’re opposed to having anything on the walls or not. If they are, we’re going to have address it with some kind of ducted solution.
What makes the LG system so unique now is, even when they want some kind of ducted solution, LG has many products that can fall in that category as well, allowing us to mix-and-match both ducted and ductless into the same system.
Eckert: Ductless will work in any situation. We can do anything from an elevator to a hospital. It’s because of the new technology, although it’s not really new — it’s been around for so long that it’s very easy to sell.
And though it’s a new idea to the homeowner, it’s proven technology. We’re not selling something that just came off the idea board, if you will. Additionally, the price point is usually such that it’s pretty easy to sell it versus a standard system. Factor in that it is more efficient and it saves them money, and it’s kind of a no-brainer.
NEWS: How do you explain what ductless is to a homeowner?
Canella: To put it simply, we explain that ductless HVAC is exactly like the system they likely currently have with an outdoor unit, but the wall-mounted or ceiling-recessed indoor units are only responsible for heating and cooling a specific area. One indoor unit is not conditioning the entire house.
We often phrase it as … “having a portable heater or fan with you that you don’t have to worry about carrying.”
Eckert: We explain that without ductwork, the air is going in and coming right out, so it’s an extremely efficient way of delivering heat without losing heat by running it through ductwork in crawl spaces and attics. That’s No. 1.
The next thing we explain is the system can fluctuate so much in how many Btus it gives out and slow down so much that it kind of turns on and never turns off.
NEWS: What key ductless benefits do you highlight in your sales pitch?
Restivo: I highlight the efficiency level, flexibility, multi-zone capability, heating function, and the warranty.
Eckert: I focus on the improved comfort and cleaner air. I also touch on ease of use — you clean the filters once a month, put them back in, and you’re done. Ductless has been very successful, and it’s doing nothing but growing. It’s a great business for all of these reasons: We’re able to run a healthy business, we have clients saving money and having better lives, and we’re helping reduce the toll on the power grid. So we’re helping the environment at the same time. It’s a win-win-win all the way around.
Canella: We’ve found that comfort is the deciding factor for homeowners. Efficiency is important to most people, too, but it comes secondary. Our customers want to be comfortable first, and if the unit offers efficiency benefits, that’s an added bonus.
NEWS: What is the biggest obstacle to the sale of ductless systems, and what are your best practices for overcoming that obstacle?
Restivo: The aesthetics — whether both husband and wife are going to accept and warm up to the idea of something being on the wall — is the biggest obstacle. But even when they come to the conclusion it is not something they would like, we have alternatives with concealed ducted units, which are smaller boxes that can go in a basement or attic as an individual zone, with one or two ducts just for that given area. So the ironic part is everyone calls it ductless, but in fact, a ductless system can have ducts.
Eckert: The biggest obstacle, in all honesty, is knowing that it is even available. But we’ve been overcoming that with lots of marketing, trade shows, and direct mail campaigns. We just keep putting it out there. Our utilities have done a great job in promoting ductless as well. I notice every year that more and more people are aware of it. People don’t necessarily think about it if they don’t need it. They’re just not looking. So it’s kind of like when you buy a new car that you’ve never seen before, then all of a sudden, you see dozens of them.”
Publication date: 2/4/2019