As we move toward a “new normal” it makes sense to consider how today’s “big story” can evolve to shape the next chapter of contractors’ businesses.
An example from my home state, Florida, provides an example of how today’s environment presents new opportunities. IERNA’s Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Tampa, Florida, was just finishing up a pilot collaboration with Owens Corning Air Distribution Group and four other contractors in the U.S. as states implemented various lockdowns. Our cohort evaluated a duct inspection and retrofit service for homeowners. As we conducted the pilot, five insights arose that suggest a home’s ductwork presents an opportunity for contractors to grow their business and meet emerging consumer trends:
- Aging homes built to lower codes: Many warmer regions of the nation, including Florida and the southwest, are approaching the 15-year anniversary of the housing bubble, a period of intense building and rapid construction. Homes built during the early years of the 21st century were constructed to meet a much lower residential energy code. Yesterday’s R-4 code is likely to be an R-8 in today’s market. This service is particularly well suited for warm regions where the ductwork is placed in the unconditioned attic space and easy to access.
- Hidden energy loss: From advanced fuel cells to high-efficiency HVAC systems, consumers want to consume energy responsibly. Yet an Energy Star report notes that about 20-30 percent of the air that moves through a home’s duct system is lost due to holes, leaks, or poorly connected ductwork. This discrepancy means that even the most efficient condenser can be powering air through a highly inefficient duct delivery system. By helping homeowners understand the “system approach to the home’s comfort system,” contractors can help homeowners get the most from their new high-efficiency HVAC equipment.
- More time indoors at home: For many homeowners, the lockdowns created a blurring of the boundaries between work and home, and it is possible that more people will be working from home in the future. Social media giant Twitter recently announced employees can work from home indefinitely. The average person already spends up to 90 percent of their life indoors. The shift toward more time spent at home may well inspire people to think more holistically about their home’s HVAC system — including the unseen parts of a home, like the ductwork.
- Invisibilia: Aside from being the name of a popular podcast about invisible forces, the term invisibilia is Latin for “the invisible things.” In the days following the pandemic, it’s likely homeowners will be more alert to the invisible signs of a problem with air quality. Common but invisible signs that suggest ductwork may need attention include musty smells, hot or cold spots, and frequent cycling of the system. These signs of invisibilia really come to life when demonstrated through infrared camera technology.
- Flattening the labor curve: COVID-19 made us all aware of the need to avoid sudden spikes in supply and demand. Level business is, of course, also the name of the game when it comes to managing labor. Shoulder season is a good example of this challenge. When spring/fall maintenance demand slows and peak cooling season subsides, matching labor supply with market demand can be more challenging. Offering services that deliver value and can be performed during shoulder season can generate consistent revenue and keep techs busy.
IERNA’s Heating, Cooling & Plumbing recently piloted a duct inspection and retrofit service as part of a contractor cohort working with Owens Corning Air Distribution. The pilot included inspection of interior and exterior duct condition, sealing around ducts, and an evaluation of output efficiency – including infrared photos that really resonated with homeowners. The results suggest an overlooked opportunity to add comfort and support homeowners in creating comfortable environments.
Few homeowners are aware of the role their home’s ductwork plays in facilitating comfort, air flow and the spread of airborne pollutants. Seeking opportunities beyond the condenser – including a home’s ductwork – can help contractors begin a new chapter as the nation gets back to business.