“Our contractors tell us that cost is always a consideration, but more and more, baking the cost of a humidifier or dehumidifier into a full system offering is the trend today.”
The observation from Tom Ruse, marketing communications project manager for Aprilaire, represents half of a shift in dynamics these days when it comes to humidifiers. Dhishan Kande, product manager – IAQ for Lennox, touches on the other.
“Homeowners are looking for contractors who can advise on energy efficiency, comfort, and health inside the home,” said Kande. “This is much different from the past, where the expectation was just getting the HVAC unit install or repair done quickly and correctly.”
As evidenced in other areas of the industry, consumers continue to become more knowledgeable and engaged. While the days of unquestioningly accepting a contractor’s recommendation may be over, dealers can embrace the chance to establish themselves as expert resources and partners in making a good decision.
Add a greater public awareness of health issues, which translates to more homeowner willingness to invest in good IAQ, and items like whole-home humidifiers may be on their way from add-on status for some to more of a fundamental component of a properly equipped system for many. Prospects for commercial humidification are growing these days as well.
How well the contracting industry takes advantage of (and feeds) that momentum depends on adjusting its own attitude — along with how well manufacturers make their own adjustments.
It isn’t all about appealing to the public. Manufacturers understand that changes to appeal to dealers are worth the effort, too.
General Filters embodied that philosophy with its latest move, which had the manufacturer completing an extensive branding redesign and refresh that reached from its GeneralAire® equipment to its logo. Numerous focus groups with contractors and distributors shaped the redesign’s results, according to Allan Feys, director of sales and business development, and Paige Freeland, marketing manager.
“Starting with our new evaporative, bypass humidifiers: We’ve reduced the size of the cover, the pad frame, and the number of openings in the chassis so hot air from the furnace has no chance to cycle and cool before traveling through the Vapor Pad®,” they said. The reduction in size is also meant to accommodate more installation variables.
On the steam humidification side, General Filters has replaced its previous six models with one, and that operates at 110V or 220V with the flip of a switch. Spark-plug style wiring connectors ensure a solid connection during cylinder change.
At Stulz Air Technology Systems, which caters to commercial applications, marketing manager Lane Gregory pointed out that 100 percent of the demineralized water in the company’s units is utilized, avoiding the need for a flush cycle.
“Precision controls for single stand-alone or multiple cascade humidifier systems” are another point of improvement, according to Gregory. She pointed to an integral blower on wall-mount systems, a single-point water connection duct-mounted array, and point-to-point communication wiring that is plug-and-play as further positives for Stulz’ current offerings.
Gregory listed ease of installation, ease of startup and commissioning, and factory refurbishment options as more areas incorporating dealer feedback.
While Lennox offers bypass or fan-powered evaporative humidifiers, it has worked another angle to improve those units’ value and performance for owners.
“Our thermostats can control humidifiers and dehumidifiers to make it a breeze to integrate with our Lennox heating and cooling systems,” Kande reported. “The industry is moving toward a central intelligence hub that orchestrates the various components in the home.”
Aprilaire has been working to extend support further than ever. Ruse noted that this includes “technical and sales training through online webinars including NATE certification, as well as field training in conjunction with our distributor partners and directly with our HVAC contractor partners.”
WORKING IN THE FIELD
On the commercial side, Gregory singled out an opportunity to assuage “hygiene concerns that can be eliminated with reverse osmosis or deionized water treatment systems.”
She described an exciting time for a company like hers in this space, as indoor medical cannabis grow facilities, agricultural produce ripening, and artwork storage all represent attractive sectors.
The produce ripening scenario, she said, serves as a good example of a chance “to apply our systems outside the previous ‘standard practice’ deployments” and to get into “untapped industries.”
Back in the neighborhood setting, which customer conversations are these manufacturers’ successful dealers pursuing?
One dynamic Kande highlighted is cost savings via higher thermostat temperatures when humidity levels are comfortable (a stealthy contributor to payback on the investment).
General Filters’ team put forth another list of questions designed to identify any existing issue and the associated opportunity:
- Does your skin feel dry?
- Do you experience static shocks?
- Do your throat or sinuses feel dry?
- Do you have pets?
- Does anyone in the house have asthma or allergies?
Building on the health benefits, Kande asserted that proper humidity means homeowners will need fewer doctor visits during flu season, and will experience decreased chance of nosebleeds, less static in the home, and less hardwood floor damage.
He said that contractors who see a portable unit in the home during a service call or install and don’t follow up about the potential effects of a whole-home humidifier are missing out.
Product manager – IAQ Lennox
“We have heard success stories from dealers who tell homeowners they will leave the unit in the home for free and will come back a week later and take it out if the homeowner does not see the value,” he said. “If it’s a dry winter, the contractor often closes the sale and earns the homeowner’s trust.”
Bob Hutchison of Accu-Temp in Michigan (an Aprilaire partner) illustrated that one way to the humidifier is through the heating system, to the point that it doesn’t really qualify as “selling a humidifier” anymore.
“Our customers don’t get a choice,” Hutchison said. “If they’re getting a furnace, they’re getting a humidifier. Period.”
Another Aprilaire partner, Danny Erb with Good’s Electric in Ohio, splits the difference.
“Our premium package will always include a humidifier,” he said, and his team breaks it out as an always-visible upgrade option for all other quotes.
Kande concluded that the main reason Lennox’s top-selling dealers are successful is that they include the humidifier on the quote and can articulate the benefits to the homeowners.
“Those same dealers are not afraid to upsell,” he elaborated. “They focus beyond just the heating and cooling needs of the customer. The 2019 American Home Comfort Study says that homeowners are willing to spend 20 percent more for healthy homes compared to 2016.”
As customers become more aware of poor IAQ’s consequences and are less willing to accept them as part of life, what once was just a downside of winter becomes a problem that contractors can address.
As Bill Brink, owner of Kettle Moraine Heating and Cooling and an Aprilaire partner, said, “Whoever solves the most problems is going to win the job.”
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