How Do You Sell Green HVAC?
Contractors discuss getting eco-friendliness into the conversation — and the budget
“Hi, my sustainability’s broken. How fast can you get someone out here to fix it?”
There’s a call nobody gets. Green considerations might come into the conversation a little further into the process, but rarely ahead of a problem with comfort or cost considerations.
Strategies for incorporating sustainability into the customer conversation can differ among contractors. So can the attitudes among individual customers and larger customer bases, as a trio of contractors revealed while they talked about how they talk about green.
Total Air & Heat in Plano, Texas, tends to come at the topic starting with the room nobody hangs out in: the unfinished attic.
“In our area of the country, most systems and ducts are in the attic. The duct systems normally leak 30-35 percent,” he observed. So regardless of the terms used, better performing duct systems are an immediate way to achieve both a more comfortable and greener environment.
While higher-efficiency traditional air conditioning systems are a staple of many green-related conversations, having more options helps, too.
“We also offer geothermal and solar-assisted systems,” Lauten said. “Geothermal is very popular in our market.”
Joe Bradley is regional sales manager with TurnPoint Services in Louisville, Kentucky. Once things get as far as talking about replacement system options, TurnPoint asks customers about their priorities.
“If they mention efficiency as an important factor, we talk about reducing carbon footprint, impact on future generations, and being green,” he said.
Bradley confirmed that in his area, the level of interest is very different compared to five years ago. Customers are much more aware of how their decisions affect the environment and their potential energy savings, he said.
Two other windows to discuss green matters before and after that initial customer contact are company marketing and preparing a quote. For the most part, contractors in this article address the issue indirectly.
Rob Minnick, CEO/president of Minnick’s in Laurel, Maryland, explained, “What we say is that the home will be healthier and more comfortable — and by the way, it will also save you energy.”
Bradley’s company likes to include expected ROI for different options, while Lauten says Total Air promotes green aspects of their offerings “mixed with addressing IAQ, duct efficiency, and meeting ACCA quality standards.”
DOES THE CUSTOMER BASE MATTER?
When it comes to sustainability and environmental impact, these contractor comments indicate that the level of interest cuts across demographic lines.
“Our client types range from high-end consumers (surgeons, CEO’s, entrepreneurs) to family-first customers (soccer moms, small business owners, engineers, teachers) to first-time homeowners,” Bradley reported. “Each category has people that want to be green, while each category has those that strive for the most economical solution and lowest price.”
Meanwhile, Lauten’s company deals primarily with a high-end customer base, he said. More than any exclusively green angle, Total Air often finds a sweet spot by focusing on the advantages of a variable speed system.
“Matching up higher SEER systems with zero-percent interest for 60-72 months, along with utility rebates, has been very successful for us,” said Lauten.
Likewise, Minnick’s lets green impact tag along, focusing on comfort in all rooms in conjunction with efficient equipment.
“We steer them into assessing the home to make the proper recommendation for their needs and wants,” he said. “Comfort in all rooms and efficient equipment is most important.”
SECRET WEAPONS PART 1: IAQ
The benefits are no secret, really, but Minnick uses insulation as a standard tool that protects whatever greener difference a customer is hoping to make.
Moreover, consumers’ perception of “green” occasionally may consist partially, or even entirely, of what the industry calls indoor air quality.
“IAQ has become a major part of our business,” said TurnPoint’s Bradley. “Our field staff spends countless hours training on the benefits of healthier air so we’re prepared to talk about it. The awareness of IAQ is trending upward over the last few years, and we believe in the benefits.”
Lauten seconds that “no doubt, IAQ and green are connected.” His company sees a media air cleaner as part of this overlap, promoting a 4- or 5-inch media filter’s efficiency upside of ensuring that the indoor cooling coil and the blower assembly stay clean.
“Being based in Texas, virtually every piece of indoor equipment we install gets what we call the XT or constant torque motor,” he added, noting that it will become mandatory as of 2020. The cost is nominal, Lauten said, but the result is “typically 1 to 1.5 in the SEER rating.”
SECRET WEAPONS PART 2: THE DUCTS
“The customer thinks that getting the most efficient equipment will get them to a greener home. Which, 70 percent of the time, is getting them farther away from being greener.”
Minnick’s comment above seems counterintuitive. But ask him to explain, and it all falls into place, going back to Steve Lauten’s initial comment: It’s the ducts, stupid.
Dropping the latest, highest-efficiency unit into a home with wrong-sized and/or leaky ducts is going to waste time and money and fall short of performance expectations.
“Our perspective is that the foundation of the system itself (duct leakage, correct duct sizing, load calculations, and a quality install) all are more important than the SEER rating,” Lauten said. “We would rather sell a 16 SEER system that works correctly than a higher SEER that never delivers its rated efficiency or comfort.”
In fact, Total Heat & Air policy has evolved to the point where a customer must sign a waiver if they decline duct repairs.
Or, as Minnick put it, “A NASCAR engine will perform worse in an existing 1970 Pinto, as they are not compatible.”
Minnick reinforced that his company’s core process is air sealing the house along with the aforementioned insulation, then properly sized HVAC equipment and duct systems.
Lauten pointed out that acceptance of green standards and approaches have been gaining traction. That puts the burden on the contractor to not only identify the equipment options but know how to translate customer choices to intended performance. For that reason, he said, “selling green requires training, and product knowledge.”
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