According to the American Lung Association, nearly 300 people die every year from carbon monoxide (CO) exposure related to residential combustion appliances. Thousands more will become sick from exposure to CO and seek medical attention.

Many household appliances can cause carbon monoxide to seep into the home, including furnaces and water heaters. The issue of CO poisoning is being taken very seriously, especially by many state legislators.

Currently, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and West Virginia all require homes to have a carbon monoxide monitor.

The HVAC industry is also taking the issue seriously. Some manufacturers, such as Aprilaire, are marketing CO detectors along with their primary line of products. And contractors are beginning to catch on to the benefits of offering a CO detector to consumers.

Last year, Aprilaire introduced its new line of CO detectors, and the company has been educating its dealers on the benefits of offering the product to customers.

An Aprilaire carbon monoxide detector.

Providing Security

Joe Hlavacek, product manager for Aprilaire, said that contractors can provide their customers with peace of mind when they offer a CO detector. He also pointed out that HVAC technicians and contractors are the perfect individuals to offer the product to homeowners.

“Service technicians are in homes all the time. They can point out the dangers of carbon monoxide,” said Hlavacek.

Not only can service technicians introduce homeowners to CO detectors, they can also ensure the operation of the product. For instance, the Aprilaire Model 1800 CO detectors come with a Carbon Monoxide Alarm Test Kit, which is exclusive to dealers. The kit comes with an aerosol can, which is designed to distribute safe levels of CO. The technician can use the can to test a homeowner’s current detector by administering a small dose of CO. This allows the technician to test the detector’s sensors as well as the alarm.

Hlavacek said that reactions were mixed when Aprilaire first started making dealers aware of the new product. One concern from contractors was liability. Some contractors worried that they might be held responsible if the CO alarm was faulty or didn’t work. Other contractors had concerns that customers would get the wrong idea if a technician offered a CO detector. They were afraid the consumer might become overly alarmed or assume that the technician does shoddy work.

But Aprilaire has addressed these issues, primarily with the aid of the company’s salespeople.

Hlavacek said that Aprilaire has a staff of 39 outside salespeople who will visit dealers and educate them about new products.

To address liability concerns, Hlavacek indicated that contractors would not be responsible for any kind of manufacturing flaws to a CO detector. He emphasized that contractors and technicians need to educate homeowners and tell them that carbon monoxide can be produced in several ways, not just from heaters and hot water tanks.

By educating dealers, Aprilaire has been successful with its new product. Hlavacek said that within the last six months, the CO detectors have become the fifth leading product offered by the company.

Aprilaire dealers are also seeing the same level of success with the CO alarms.

Aprilaire's Carbon Monoxide Alarm Test Kit.

It’s Not About The Money

Bill Blind, owner of Blind & Sons (Barberton, Ohio), has been offering customers the Aprilaire CO detectors since they were introduced. Blind said that his 15 service techs all offer the detectors on each of their service calls.

“We began to sell them when a rep came in from Research Products and did a training session using the CO test kit,” said Blind. “We like for our service techs to promote our IAQ division. We believe part of IAQ is carbon monoxide detection.”

Blind said that many homeowners are not educated about their CO detectors. “Almost every time a CO detector goes off, the customer thinks something is wrong with the detector,” he said.

On the other hand, Blind said that other customers just assume that their CO detector is in fine working order. But he says that customers need to know that pushing the test button on their detector does not guarantee that the product works.

“The test button only proves that the circuits are in good shape,” said Blind.

That is why service techs at Blind & Sons take the time to talk with their customers about the importance of monitoring carbon monoxide and why the Aprilaire model is an important and useful tool.

Blind said that his technicians offer to check the homeowner’s CO detectors with the Aprilaire test kit. In some circumstances, technicians have found that the homeowner’s detector was not working. According to Blind, some carbon monoxide detectors are giving consumers a “false sense of security.”

So far, customers have been responsive. Blind said that his service technicians have made a point of talking to homeowners about carbon monoxide and their detectors. And most are taking the technician up on the offer to purchase the Aprilaire model.

“From a business perspective, this is something we can do to build revenue,” said Blind. But more importantly, he said that it gives the company the satisfaction of knowing they are providing customers with real security. “It makes you feel good when you sell a good professional carbon monoxide detector,” he said.

Ross Britton, vice president of Airtron in Cleveland, agrees with Blind. Airtron has been offering the Aprilaire detectors for the last few months. According to Britton, selling CO detectors makes sense.

“We install gas furnaces and hot water tanks, which could possibly produce carbon monoxide,” said Britton. “Obviously, we want our customers to be aware if there is ever carbon monoxide in the house.”

Britton said that Airtron is selling its fair share of CO detectors. About 75 percent of all customers offered the product are buying it, he said. Britton said that with each sale comes a service agreement. With each service checkup, the service technician will test the homeowner’s carbon monoxide detector.

Britton admits that offering CO detectors does add a little more revenue to the business, but he asserts that revenue is not the most important benefit.

“This won’t change anyone’s business around,” he said. “But it is a responsibility, and it’s an important component.”

This sentiment is shared by Eric Knaak, residential service manager for Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning (Rochester, N.Y.). According to Knaak, his company had been offering consumers CO detectors before the Aprilaire line was available. He said a service technician would only sell a couple detectors each month.

After learning more from Aprilaire, the company decided to increase its focus on CO detector sales. The company also obtained more training for technicians on the issue.

Since carrying the Aprilaire model, Knaak’s service technicians have started selling more of the detectors. In fact, he said that one of his technicians sold 26 detectors in one month.

Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning has had no problem with getting technicians to offer the product to homeowners. According to Knaak, the technicians have learned that they do not need to be salesmen for the company. “The job of the technician is to develop a relationship with the client,” he said. “It is their job to advise them and make recommendations.”

Knaak said that his technicians are taught to offer the consumer any kind of service that will better their indoor environment. He said that offering a CO detector is no different than making a consumer aware of a humidifier that needs to be cleaned or ductwork that needs to be fixed.

Selling CO detectors is not a big moneymaker for Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning. “We make more money cleaning coils,” said Knaak. “But the bottom line is that you are taking care of your customer.”

Sidebar: Not Your Run-Of-The-Mill Detector

For Joe Hlavacek, product manager for Aprilaire, the decision for the company to market a CO detector was obvious.

“It fits with what we do,” Hlavacek said.

He explained that the mission of Aprilaire is to provide consumers with indoor comfort and air quality. The company specializes in air filtration, humidification, and zoning, as well as other areas. The CO detectors are just one more product that can help to guarantee safe indoor air.

Hlavacek admits that the idea of offering dealers CO detectors was not Aprilaire’s idea. The company was approached by a company in the United Kingdom called SF Detection.

SF Detection has been providing its SF350 carbon monoxide alarm for years and with great success. With this in mind, Aprilaire was approached by SF Detection to market the detector to dealers in the United States. Hlavacek said that the quality of the CO alarm was one of the factors that helped Aprilaire decide to market the product. He explained that the Model 1800 carbon monoxide alarm is different and more reliable than the typical, standard models that can be found at any hardware store.

First, Hlavacek said that the CO alarm is equipped with an electrochemical sensor. This allows the device to accurately detect carbon monoxide and resist sounding due to more common household chemicals, he said. This helps to reduce the number of false alarms.

More importantly, Hlavacek said that the Aprilaire CO alarm notifies the homeowner when its life cycle is over. After five years, the alarm will automatically shut down and will send an audible alert that lets the homeowner know that the detector must be replaced.

Hlavacek said that with other CO monitors, consumers do not have a clear way of knowing if the product is still functional. For instance, he pointed out that many other CO devices have a test button. According to Hlavacek, this often only tests the alarm, not the sensors that are used to detect carbon monoxide. He indicated that this raises the possibility that many CO monitors in homes may have a fully functioning alarm, but dead sensors. With the Aprilaire model, the owner knows the product will sound when the sensors are worn out.

Hlavacek said that Aprilaire dealers have the benefit of providing this kind of security to their customers.

— James J. Siegel

Publication date: 02/10/2003