You might hear this in the coming weeks: “iPods are on the top shelf, you can grab an iPad from the cabinet over there, and you can get a thermostat on that shelf right past the iTunes gift cards.”

Welcome to the HVAC industry in the year 2012. In case you have not heard — your kids probably have — the Nest thermostat has made its arrival in the HVAC market. This new device was created by Nest Labs, whose founder and CEO Tony Fadell just happened to manage the iPod line for Apple in a previous life. It has been available in the market through a select few distributors, including Carrier Enterprise and Gemaire and some Best Buy stores for a few months, and word just recently came out that the thermostat will be sold in Apple stores across the country.

Influence on Contractors

What we have here is a different player in the thermostat segment of the industry and a different distribution model. Contractors have two choices on how to address this situation: Complain about the new HVAC world you now live in and how it is harder/different/more difficult than the good old days, or you can see the positives and embrace this different approach.

What are the positives? Anything in the Apple store is identified as cool. If you put David Hasselhoff action figures in one of these stores, I bet you a 16-year-old kid will think it is cool. Hopefully they won’t google “Hasselhoff and cheeseburger” but that is Knight Rider’s problem, not yours.

So what just happened? Thermostats became cool, and that has to be good for the industry. If this product raises awareness about the importance and convenience of programmable thermostats, then that can help a contractor. People who would not normally know much about a thermostat now might have an interest — if only because they saw it in the Apple store. One contractor, after seeing the product, commented on our LinkedIn group that customers will like them mostly because they are so similar to an iPhone.

As with anything, there is upside and there is downside. The downside of these thermostats is every DIYer who walks into an Apple store and buys one of these might be under the impression that he will be able install it himself and have his entire heating and cooling system working at peak efficiency.

The company has set up a Nest Certified program, which is an online portal where contractors can apply to become a Nest Certified Professional. All this is done through the distributors that carry the product, not the retail stores. However, this is not likely to be confused with Harvard’s MBA program. According to the website, you only need to get a passcode, watch a few online training videos, and then take a short quiz. It might be harder to become a minister online. But I digress; once approved, you will be able to purchase the thermostat from the distributor, and customers will be able to find your business on the Nest website. You will also receive some marketing resources. More than a few fly-by-nighters will find it easy to participate in the program.

However, I got on YouTube and did a quick search of “Nest thermostat installation” and seven pages of how-to videos showed up. That is more than 100 videos, and one of the videos had more than 35,000 views. I am sure 35,000 people did not view that just so they could be educated when their local HVAC contractor returned their phone call. A lot of consumers will try to install this product on their own.

Be Proactive

Contractors should be proactive. Go to to see if becoming part of their program works for you. Go to your local Apple store and play with the thermostat to see what all the buzz is about. Get educated on the topic so when you are in customers’ homes and they bring it up, you can explain why it is important to get a professional installation of HVAC products. Be even more proactive by sending the information out via your social media channels. Those people will eat this information up.

I do not advise throwing up your hands and writing off the segment of the market that is purchasing this item through retail channels. Nor would I beg off in some form of protest against this new thermostat distribution system.

When deciding if you should pursue or not, ask yourself: “Do I remember the last time something that had Apple’s seal of approval failed?”

Publication date: 6/11/2012