Installing a new, high-efficiency HVAC system without addressing the ductwork is like putting bald tires on a Ferrari. It will function, but not at full capacity. Ducts play a crucial role but are often overlooked — for two reasons. One is that consumers are unware of the state of their ductwork because they can’t see it. The other is that, at the same time, HVAC contractors are often hesitant to discuss the topic because it adds to the cost of a project and could jeopardize a sale.
Chuck Morales, instructor at Go Time Success Group, said that’s a mistake for many reasons. Yes, Morales said, ductwork solutions are expensive, because contractors often need to tear up walls to reach the ducts. But they are relatively simple once an HVAC contractor gains access. The difference proper ductwork can make is tremendous.
“If we don’t address the duct system, we’re actually being unfair to the customers,” Morales said.
Gregg D’Atille, president and owner of Art Plumbing, AC & Electric in Coral Springs, Florida, does a lot of retrofit projects. D’Atille said that replacing a 10 SEER system with a 16 SEER system but keeping the old ductwork is practically like selling 14 SEER.
“It will never create the efficiency that the system was rated for,” D’Atille said.
The ducts touch on every aspect of HVAC, he said. They bring heat and cold to each room. They are the basis for IAQ, dealing with humidity and ventilation. Also, inadequate ductwork costs homeowners millions of dollars in lost energy efficiency.
These are all major concerns for consumers. So not talking about ductwork actually costs HVAC contractors money, not work, Morales said. They need to offer duct upgrades to their customers when discussing any project.
Partnership Promotes Ductwork
Owens Corning has created a partnership program to take better advantage of these opportunities. The company offers an infiltration duct leakage certification for contractors. It also helps them market duct repairs and replacements. Dave Pawlicki, business leader of Owens Corning’s air distribution group, said that because duct work can be a tougher sell, there’s less competition. This makes it very profitable for contractors who take advantage of the opportunity. One contractor who partnered with Owens Corning saw a $100,000 revenue increase in one quarter, Pawlicki said.
“A consumer doesn’t think about it, but a smart contractor will,” Pawlicki said.
Consumers are investing in ductwork these days, said Brennan Hall senior product manager for HVAC at Johns Manville. Some of this money is investing in making exposed ductwork look better. They are opting for spiral and flat oval ductwork.
Deterioration Over Time
In some ways, ductwork is a regional issue. In the South, ducts are more accessible, Pawlicki said. Regardless of the region, though, many homes need at least a partial duct replacement, he said.
D’Atille said all ductwork starts to deteriorate over time. That said, today’s ducts offer more than in the past when it comes to how they’re made. They have better seals. The sealant also often has anti-microbial and anti-bacterial treatments. This means healthier, more fuel-efficient homes. Most consumers, though, won’t know how ducts are causing problems in their homes until told by an HVAC contactor.
Pawlicki said this a good opportunity for HVAC contractors with maintenance programs. They become familiar with the entire system, so they can check for air leakage. They can also check the registers with meters. Consumers may be skeptical about the need for the work because they don’t see the ducts.
“You can’t see it, but you can certainly see the testing that we do,” Pawlicki said. “We find educating is the best way to sell.”
Returns are another important part of ductwork that many fail to fully understand. Pawlicki said you need to make sure each room is “breathing.”
Ducts are often ignored by consumers and contractors alike. But for those willing to invest in the work, on both sides, there is a reward. “Ductwork replacement is expensive, but the results are terrific,” Pawlicki said.