IAQ is a much talked about acronym in the HVAC industry. It has been written about frequently in the pages of this magazine and talked about repeatedly at industry trade shows.

Despite the talk and consideration, a study was brought to my attention that showed only 10 percent of IAQ products are professionally installed and the rest go through retail. Yet another report estimated the IAQ market in the U.S. at around $8 billion. That’s a lot of portable air cleaners flying out the doors of Home Depot.

HVAC contractors do fight a bit of an uphill battle when trying to sell IAQ products. First off, when you buy the portable air cleaner from Home Depot, you are taking no risk because you can always return it. Obviously, that is not the case when working with a reputable HVAC contractor. In an arena that consumers are highly skeptical of due to a lack of knowledge, this can be a bit of a game changer.

When you do get in front of the customer, it is a bit difficult since IAQ is not often a contractor’s bread and butter. When a salesperson is in the home giving a price on a new heating and cooling solution, if the customer already has a sour face after learning the price of a new furnace, the last thing the salesperson wants to do is add another couple thousand dollars addressing IAQ. In the back of his mind, he knows another contractor is coming to give a quote the next day and the salesperson wants to make sure he is not dismissed out of hand.

And when a tech is in the house, the homeowner typically wants the problem at hand fixed as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The homeowner might not be in the mood to discuss the quality of the air inside the home. His concern may focus solely on his bank account.

Losing the Market?

There are some people out there who have witnessed this HVAC contractor blind spot and are making the move to exploit it. I talked with one such person from North Carolina on the phone last week, and I can’t say I blame him. He is a subscriber and has much respect for the HVAC industry. However, he opened a business that deals only with IAQ, ventilation, and home automation. In fact, this opportunity brought him out of retirement. He has been quite successful at it, thanks in large part to referrals.

He got into the business because he noticed these portable air cleaners in peoples’ homes were simply not functioning properly. He would often see four units in a house, with the owner dropping $600 in an attempt to solve IAQ on a room-by-room basis.

He said his sweet spot is young adults with children who have diagnosed issues and seniors, especially elderly individuals living in the last home they intend to own. They typically want the best of everything and will go above and beyond to offer a healthy place for their grandchildren to visit.

Contractors do not want specialists coming in and scooping up their potential upsell products. I hear this all the time from contractors who are riding the home-performance wave. They tell me, if the HVAC contractor does not get a foothold in the market, somebody else will. Perhaps it is not that drastic with IAQ, but the same principles apply.

To be honest, I am not sure what the answer is for this problem. It is always harder to compete in an area that someone else specializes in when your company is much broader.

What I do know is HVAC contractors should be paying attention to this issue and drilling it home with their employees. The IAQ expert I talked with completed market research in North Carolina — a place where allergies are rampant — which showed the IAQ market is still in single-digit percentages, and 80-plus percent of people do not have an IAQ strategy. That sounds like a target-rich environment to me.

Publication date: 5/12/2014 

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