PHOENIX - It seems as if the residential new construction boom in the Greater Phoenix area will never end. New subdivisions continue to sprout up along the fringes of the metropolitan area, as home builders snatch up all the available land that they can.

That's good news for Chas Roberts Air Conditioning Co., the 1,300-employee family-owned company that is one of the most well known contractors in the Valley of the Sun. The company commands approximately 75 percent of the residential new construction market in the Greater Phoenix area.

The company is always looking for ways to differentiate itself from the competition. One of its more recent innovations has been to expand the equipment upgrades and options that they offer to some of the builders in the area. This means that many new home buyers now have the choice to upgrade their HVAC systems to include higher-SEER equipment and accessories such as UV lights, zoning, programmable thermostats, and electronic air cleaners.

The results have been very positive. Chas Roberts has installed numerous upgraded systems since the program was implemented two years ago.

Dave Anderson likes to speak directly to the home buyer about upgrading their equipment, either through a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation.

Running The Show

David Anderson, a 28-year employee at Chas Roberts, manages the company's Builders, Upgrades, and Options program. Anderson contacts the builders (both production and custom) and gives them the opportunity to offer home buyers a choice of upgraded HVAC equipment.

"The best way to do it is if I can make contact with the homeowner," said Anderson. "The builders are really good about giving the options, but I have to rely on their sales associates to help me sell our products. A lot of them are great at selling carpets, countertops, and cabinets, but when it comes to the HVAC side of it, it's a little more difficult. I like to take it a step further and explain to the homeowners why they might want to upgrade."

If Anderson has the opportunity to speak to the home buyers, he stresses the increased comfort they will experience with higher-end equipment. "I tell them that not only will they save money with a higher SEER, they'll be more comfortable, and they'll also get a lot quieter operation in both the outdoor condensing unit and the indoor air handler and furnace."

In this lab, John Kovalcik tests the performance levels of all the new heating and air conditioning units that come on the market.
After describing the comfort benefits, Anderson discusses indoor air quality (IAQ) and energy-saving options. "Most everybody has allergy problems, and the electronic air cleaners are great for that. They remove so much more of the allergens, dander, bacteria, and fungi, so I try to stress that to home buyers. If IAQ isn't an issue, then I encourage a higher-SEER unit and energy-saving options such as programmable thermostats."

Some production builders don't want Anderson to speak directly to the home buyer, which can hinder his opportunity to sell upgraded HVAC systems and accessories. He said he definitely has a higher success rate when he can get that face-to-face meeting or at least a phone conversation with the home buyer.

Since he doesn't always get that opportunity, however, Anderson has come up with convenient upgrade packages builders can offer home buyers for a predetermined price. Usually he offers a good, better, best (or silver, gold, platinum) scenario. For example, a good up-grade package might include a 13-SEER unit, five-year extended warranty, programmable thermostat, and a standard media filter. The better and best levels might include 14-, 15-, or 16-SEER equipment respectively, extended warranties, electronic air cleaners, etc.

"Most of the home buyers I talk to are very interested in higher-SEER equipment, usually in the 14- to 15-SEER range," said Anderson. "They also like the accessories, which we usually offer a la carte, such as higher-efficiency air filtration with media-type and electronic air cleaners, programmable thermostats, and more."

The lab at Chas Roberts (above and below) is capable of testing air handlers, condensing units, and furnaces, so John Kovalcik can determine how a system will perform in real-life conditions.

On The Home Front

One of those home buyers who took advantage of Anderson's program and upgraded the HVAC equipment in his own new home was John Kovalcik, the technical service manager and trainer for Chas Roberts. Unlike many new home buyers, however, Kovalcik knew exactly what type of HVAC system he wanted. That's because his job entails testing the performance levels of all the new heating and air conditioning units that come on the market.

"We have a complete laboratory devoted to testing equipment," noted Kovalcik. "We have an airflow bench, and we can hook up brand new systems - coils, ductwork, and furnaces or air handlers - to a Honeywell ‘Enalysis' system. We have seven of these analyzers, which cost $22,000 each. They can tell us, in real time, the supply and return airflow and leakage through the system."

If needed, Kovalcik can also hook up a condensing unit in order to do a capacity test, which lets him know the Btu output of the system. If, for example, the manufacturer has stated that at 100 degrees F a particular system will put out 32,750 Btu, it's possible to verify that figure. Or, Kovalcik can reach into a manufacturer's expanded capacity charts and determine what the output will be at 115 degrees, which is a common summertime temperature in Phoenix.

The reason for setting up the lab was to make sure the equipment Chas Roberts installs performs at the promised ratings. "It's kind of a self-defense move for us. We don't want to come to your house and put in a brand new unit and find out that instead of delivering 2,000 cfm, it only delivers 1,600, so we're missing a full ton of air conditioning somewhere," stated Kovalcik. "It's been a real valuable tool. Now the manufacturers sometimes send me new furnaces or air handlers before they've gone for ARI testing, because they want me to test the airflow."

After performance testing all different types of equipment from various manufacturers, Kovalcik chose to upgrade to two 3-ton York Affinityâ„¢ air conditioners with Affinity variable-speed furnaces. He also added accessories, including dual-tube UV lights in both units; Honeywell ceiling-mounted electronic air cleaners in both units; and Honeywell VisionProâ„¢ touch screen thermostats.

"I wanted the Affinities on my house because of the new design with the doghouse-style compressor enclosure," said Kovalcik.

"They have the new Bristol Benchmark compressors, which have been fantastic compressors for us. Once I saw the compressor and the noise level that it operated at, I knew I wanted it."

Kovalcik said he has been very happy with the comfort level in his house and also his utility bills. "I've got three daughters, a wife, and no one ever turns off a light. I've got a swimming pool with two pumps on it, and my power bills are still a little bit less than the comparable houses in the neighborhood that don't have a pool. I feel pretty good about that."

So do the other home buyers who have opted to install higher-end equipment through Chas Roberts' upgrade program.

Publication date: 06/27/2005