HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - The creation of comfort is far more complex than just putting in a heating and cooling system. It involves a "whole-house problem-solving approach," according to Ken Summers.

Summers is vice president of the Comfort Institute, Bellingham, Wash. He explored the complex problem and some solutions with an audience of Chicago-area contractors during a half-day seminar in Hoffman Estates.

Part of the purpose of the seminar, he told the contractors, was to "pull you away from a reaction business based on the weather to a problem-solving business."

In light of aggressive competition in the service sector from utilities and retailers, Summers urged a value-added approach that went so far as "prequalifying your potential customers and eliminating the guy that wants the cheapest price."

He said that process should not be too daunting, considering the number of people willing to take a pass on the lowest price.

"When I looked at the parking lot of this hotel this morning, I didn't see any [low-cost] KIAs. So, most people don't shop price. Unfortunately, the low price does get jobs because, to homeowners, you [contractors] are all the same."

Summers suggested that contractors stress their uniqueness and value by offering "whole-house health-and-comfort checkups" that would include such aspects as infiltration rates and load calculations. He encouraged charging appropriately for such services.

"Sell your proposals. Don't give them away. In that way you will find the value buyers and torpedo the competition." He contended that such an approach leads to more sales and the potential for service contracts.

Whole-House Myths

Summers' session included a range of myths in the whole-house concept, such as:

  • Powered attic ventilators cut cooling bills. That, he said, has to be weighed against the cost of electricity to run the ventilator. But more importantly, it can cause bigger problems like pulling the air conditioning from the house, back drafting gas appliances, and, in some cases, even being a primary culprit of mold.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms will protect customers from carbon monoxide dangers. Unfortunately, Summers said, some such equipment has been "dumbed down" to avoid nuisance alarms and will not protect from low levels of CO in the house. In addition, many of the alarms may not be in working order as they can have a short shelf life.

  • It is not necessary to have return air registers in every room. The lack of them may be one reason some rooms are hard to heat and cool, he said, and can also be a reason for dusty homes.

  • Ten-percent duct leakage will cause a 10-percent drop in the capacity or efficiency of the air conditioning unit. In reality, when using diagnostic tools to measure duct leakage, a contractor could discover a capacity drop in excess of 30 percent, Summers said.

    For more information on the Comfort Institute and its services to contractors, visit www.comfort-institute.org.

    Publication date: 01/24/2005