We Sell an Installation

I read John R. Hall’s Feb. 5 article about the shackle of lowball pricing, and a few things come to mind.

We have been treating a luxury, comfort heating and cooling, as a commodity. What? You say a luxury? I realized this as I thought about the fallout from DOE’s proposed changes to the SEER standards, and the fact that some are asking for significantly higher standards.

We have fooled ourselves into believing we deserve central heating and cooling. It wasn’t long ago in the grand scheme of things that central cooling didn’t exist. Central forced air heat is only about 100 years old in its current rendition.

It became clear to me that we are in a nationwide deception of our own making. When one is truly poor, all one’s income goes for food, housing, transportation, and water. We just happen to be a nation of the rich. Look at the percentage of homes throughout the world with central air. I would bet it is a single digit number. And if we removed the U.S. from the sample, I’ll bet it is less than 5%.

Manufacturers have been anxious to get their product into every home they can. Thus all the major manufacturers have a stripped down or builder’s model. With building codes exonerating the builder of any responsibility for the design and implementation of the hvac install, they can freely choose the lowest bidder. So we are putting box-built, slapdash, ring and run systems in “luxury,” “estate,” and “executive” homes. The consumers are satisfied, but not really.

What we need is to raise the standard of expectation on the part of consumers — but it is going to cost us. The sins of the past will come like ghosts to our dreams and rob us of sleep.

I realized two years ago that there is only one way to get this industry to change. Consumers are going to have to demand it. Manufacturers are going to have to advertise the installation, not the box. I would like everyone reading this to vow to bring this up with his or her main brand territory rep or higher. If we are still selling furnaces and air conditioners we are doomed!

We have to think about what we do correctly to be able to change our behavior. Our customers cannot afford our product. We are going to have to come to grips with this on a national level. Our customers generally finance part or all of a system install. We want them to spend more because we are not achieving a decent ROI. The only way to do this is to reinvent our product.

We are going to start selling durable system installation. There is no reason our customers should have to replace their system every 10 years. If we could convince our customers that they are buying a 20-year product, it might ease their fears over plunking down $8,000 for a 3-ton heat pump system.

They can afford $400 per year, but not the $5,000 they spent for the system put in last year that will only last six or seven years because it wasn’t evacuated to 400µ. What do we want?

I’ve got an idea. I am stealing it from the plumbing industry. Let’s have equipment that came off the line exactly like the last one, only put a different model number on it and give it twice the warranty period: 10-year parts and 20-year compressor and coils.

Oh yeah, to be allowed to install this product you have to be manufacturer certified and send in an installation checklist with the customer signature on it. Nah, it doesn’t work. Then the lowballers will just sell the cheaper product. They will tell the customer the products are identical so why should they pay more. But are they? I assert they are not in this case.

We sell an installation. We are going to have to chant this to ourselves over and over, just to get us to believe it. And to receive the warranty, the customer has to register the product over the phone. Cheating on this would be a federal crime because it is interstate commerce.

The manufacturer’s representative will ask them for information from the data sheet and if they understood what they were signing. A little accountability goes a long way.

John Compton Reston, VA

The Human Element

I was catching up on some of my reading and scanned the January 29 issue of The News. Your article on humidification (“How to Avoid Humidifier Callbacks”) was good. But, based on my experience, you didn’t touch on an important reason for lack of adequate humidification. Many years ago, when I was in contracting, I installed various humidifiers. Occasionally I would get a call: “Steve, the humidifier is not working right.” I would answer, “I’ll come by and check it out. By the way, if I drive up to the house and there are any windows open, I will charge you for the service call.” Most often they would say, “Let me check it out again before you come.” They never called back. Most of us know that it is the leakage of outdoor air into the space that causes the humidity to drop. As we tighten up our homes, and some of us decrease the traffic (kids gone, etc.), we need to add less humidity. Unfortunately, there are still many people that feel they must have an open window to feel right. Just a small point.

Steve Levine Slant/Fin Corp. Greenvale (Long Island), NY

Publication date: 03/19/2001