Angela D. Harris

With the winter months bearing down on many states, keeping warm is a top priority for almost everyone. Although it sounds like a simple task, for many, keeping warm can be an expensive and at times a dangerous challenge. There are two specific factors that make this challenge even more difficult. The first is the overbearing demand for energy efficiency. The second is the mixed marketing messages consumers receive as to how to obtain this energy-efficient heat. Add it all up and the result produces a mixed bag of energy-saving, money-saving, and heat-producing tactics for the average homeowner to navigate and implement, with the hopes of success on all three levels.


From the government to the Disney Channel, an overall message of energy efficiency is being pounded through the airwaves and television sets of the standard American consumer. It has reached a level that echoes the greenwashing epidemic from which Americans have yet to recover. The “energy-efficient” description is being misused on occasions, and a clear definition is elusive to most. This results in consumers purchasing heating products that aren’t necessarily all that energy efficient. Sadly, the energy-efficient products always seem to cost more as well. Of course, the efficiency is worth it, but in an economy that is slowly rebounding from a steep drop, getting consumers to buy whole-home, energy-efficient solutions can be difficult. It’s not that they don’t want to have the best in energy efficiency and save money over time, but when a home is cold and the budget dictates that only a certain amount be spent, investing in a balanced, zoned, high-efficiency system may not be an option.


No, the space heater is not new, but according to late night infomercials, they are new and improved. In fact, some marketers have begun to refer to using a space heater as zoning a home. Go figure. Whether it is a portable faux Amish fireplace, a ceramic space heater you can touch, or a decorative wood-burning stove, the bottom line is that space heating is not true zoning. It is potentially extremely dangerous, and its energy efficiency is often questionable, especially if those using the product don’t turn the home heating thermostat down.

I mentioned this in a blog a while ago and Dick Foster, president of Zone First, commented, “Our industry needs to wake up and sell the benefits of HVAC comfort and energy savings, especially when you zone the system right the first time.”

Foster has a point. Education is the key to keep consumers from wasting their money on potentially hazardous and energy-inefficient appliances. Once again, however, cost comes into play. There are some consumers out there who are just die-hard space heater adherents who don’t want to give them up for other options. I would venture to say, however, that the majority would be interested in a more permanent and efficient solution if they could afford one.


As contractors, I bet you run into customers all day long who need a better heating solution. Some are game for energy-efficient equipment, some can afford new systems, and some thank you for your time and show you to the door. It is time to figure out a way to help those that show you to the door. Be it ignorance or financial concerns, it is your job as a professional to ensure you have done everything possible to keep that customer warm this winter. Of course, it is not all your responsibility, and it is not necessary to give away a new system to every deserving home. But it is your job to do the absolute best you can in finding a solution. Perhaps home insulation is an add-on business that needs to be considered. Perhaps there is a local or government program you could be involved in that helps those who need home heating funding. It could be beneficial for your business if you get out of the box and begin finding new, professional, and quality ways to address each customer’s need. If you are willing to work with customers to the best of your ability, even when they can’t afford a new system, they will remember you and your business. It could not only help establish or bolster your name in the community, but it could also set you apart as an honest contractor who cares. The cost of energy efficiency can be high, but the rewards of meeting customers where they are at are immeasurable.

Publication date:01/17/2011