ST. LOUIS - Emerson Climate Technologies recently conducted a homeowner survey

to gauge consumer awareness of energy efficiency, Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEERs), and which is the most energy-efficient air conditioning equipment.

The "2004 Home Air Conditioning Test" revealed that many homeowners are unfamiliar with SEER ratings and often neglect routine inspection and maintenance of their air conditioning equipment.

John Schneider, residential market manager for Emerson Climate Technologies, told The News why Emerson conducted the survey and how HVAC contractors can use the data to upsell energy-efficient equipment. "The reason we do these surveys is to find better ways to service the homeowner and how we can provide them with better information on the value of air conditioning systems," he said. "This gives contractors an understanding of what homeowners are really looking for.

"Homeowners don't understand the way we measure energy efficiency and we need to arm our contractors with this information - so they can go out to homeowners and explain what energy efficiency means."

Here are some of the findings from the survey of 427 homeowners. Opinion Research Corp conducted the poll.

  • Seventy-seven percent of Americans with central air conditioning say they have never heard of the federally mandated SEER rating.

  • More than one-third of homeowners indicated that they have not had their home's central air inspected or serviced by a professional contractor in the past year and do not plan to this year.

  • Thirty-four percent said they would consider purchasing a high-efficiency, two-stage air conditioner that provides more even temperature and humidity control.

  • Forty-three percent of the respondents said they would consider installing a programmable thermostat.

  • Forty-nine percent of respondents with central air conditioning said they are likely to consider installing or using more ceiling fans.

  • Nearly half of the homeowners in the survey with central air conditioning said they are likely to consider a variety of remedies and technologies to help control energy costs this summer and beyond.

    Educating Contractors

    In order to educate homeowners on energy efficiency, it is necessary to educate contractors as well, according to Schneider. He said there are several ways to do that.

    "Trade journals like The News are a great means of getting the information out there," he noted. "We also use the Web [Contractor Connection at] to get a lot of information to our contractors.

    "And, we have spent a lot of time talking to contractors about what they want to know. Many tell us that they don't want just the technical bulletins about a product like a compressor. They want to learn the benefits of the product to the homeowner."

    Schneider said it is important for literature to play a dual role - to provide technical information for contractors and also to provide selling information when contractors call on homeowners. "Homeowners want to know what's in it for them," he said.

    Besides the energy efficiency ratings of equipment (which can go much higher than the mandated 13 SEER), there are other benefits to higher rated systems.

    Control Issues

    "Contractors can tell homeowners about the additional benefits beyond efficiency," said Schneider. "They are getting humidity control, system temperature and comfort control, the benefits of a programmable thermostat, advanced electronics, etc."

    The survey found that 19 percent of homeowners in the survey adjust their thermostats two or more times during the summer; 39 percent said that thermostats are controlled by multiple members in the home, and that younger adults are more likely to adjust the thermostat.

    "The same people who want higher efficiency are not getting it because they are fiddling with the thermostat," Schneider added, defending the need for programmable thermostats.

    Scott Barbour, president of Copeland's Air Conditioning Division, a part of Emerson Climate Technologies, stated, "By educating homeowners on the importance of regularly scheduled system maintenance and the availability of technologies that keep their homes cool and comfortable without using more energy, contractors can continue to grow their business and enhance their reputation."

    Sidebar: Opportunities In The Making

    Emerson's 2004 Home Air Conditioning Test revealed a key selling opportunity for HVAC contractors. Approximately one-third of the respondents said that they want to replace their present air conditioning equipment with higher-efficiency, two-stage air conditioners that offer humidity control.

    "Consumers remember the spike in natural gas prices a couple of years ago and began looking at heat pumps as an alternative to natural gas, forced-air furnaces," said John Schneider, residential market manager for Emerson Climate Technologies, St. Louis. "That same thinking carries over into cooling as consumers look to higher energy efficiency."

    Schneider gave specific examples of how contractors can sell what consumers really need. Based on the survey, "One-third of homeowners will consider purchasing a higher-efficiency, two-stage air conditioner that provides more even temperature and humidity control.

    "What is fascinating is that 34 percent of the people want a product that only represents 1 percent of the market today," Schneider pointed out. "Here is an opportunity for contractors to sell energy-efficient products up to 16 SEER."

    Schneider said contractors can sell up to higher-efficiency equipment because the homeowners have voiced their need for the equipment - a selling opportunity.

    - John R. Hall

    Publication date: 08/23/2004