If residential contractors want to help their customers, they are going to have to speak up more. So believes Jay Gordon, a sales training specialist with The Trane Company, Unitary Products Group.

“Remember, every consumer is different and they have different needs,” said Gordon. “So, you ask, ‘How do I know what they need?’ My answer is simple: Ask them.”

Gordon, along with fellow Trane sales training specialist John Abbott, walked through various contractor-meets-consumer meetings during their presentation — “Saving Energy and Providing Value in Homes Today” — before residential contractors at the 2001 Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) convention, held recently in Boca Raton, FL.

“The residential hvac contractor has the most influence on a buyer’s decision to purchase hvac components for the home,” he said. “Contractors that know how to assist their customers and make the most of the sales opportunity will enjoy continued success.”

If you do not believe that, read the articles on pages 11 and 18 of this week’s issue. Featured are successful contractors who have at least one thing in common: They know when to speak up.


With the cost of energy rising, you would think that most homeowners would be seeking relief. After all, as Gordon noted, 55% of the electric consumption in a home, on a national average, is from the air conditioner, while 80% of the natural gas consumption in a home is from the furnace.

“So why isn’t this the most lucrative market since drive-up fast food?” he asked attendees.

After getting a few smiles from the audience, Gordon quickly answered his own question, noting that utility bills are, on the national average, $700 a year for air conditioning and $750 annually for heating.

“New units may not save as much money per month as they cost,” he said. “So, you have to ask questions in order to find out what the customer wants exactly.”

Of course, expect the homeowner to fire away with questions in return. And Gordon is of the firm belief that “He who hesitates is lost.” For example, when it comes to addressing airflow inconsistencies, you must quickly inform the homeowner that this problem can be solved by doing a load calculation in each room, installing correct grilles and registers, sizing and positioning supplies and returns, checking and sealing ductwork leaks, and/or by air balancing.

“The key here is knowing what you are talking about,” said Gordon.


How does one estimate the energy costs for air conditioning and heating? Simple. You take a mid-spring month (April) electric bill and a mid-fall month (October) bill, add them together, and then divide the total by 2. This will represent the “base load.” Everything over the base load is the cost of electricity for air conditioning (and the national average for a residential home, as noted above, is $700 per year). The same method should be used to determine the base load for space heating.

This formula is important, especially when a homeowner wants to know the annual energy savings when replacing, for instance, a 6-SEER condenser with a new 14-SEER unit. In this case, one divides the 6 by 14, which equals 0.43. One then multiplies that number by $700 (again, $700 being the annual cost of electricity consumed in a home for air conditioning).

In this case, the final figure is $300. Subtracting that number from $700, you can tell the homeowner that s/he should expect to have a yearly electrical savings of $400 with the 14-SEER unit in place.

The same formula applies if replacing, for instance, a 70%- AFUE furnace with a 90%-AFUE model. Plugging in the numbers, the annual natural gas savings equates to $200. If you add the $400 savings in the 14-SEER jump and the $200 gas savings in the 90%-AFUE jump, the total is $600 in savings, or $50 per month.

Now, suppose the cost of the new 14-SEER unit and the 90%-AFUE furnace is $6,000. That’s a huge chunk of change to any homeowner. However, per Gordon, if you finance that cost over 4 years, this equates into $150 per month. Now, subtract the $50-per-month energy savings, and the net cost of the investment is $100 per month.

“Consumers tell us ‘If our contractor would just tell me some of this information, we’d buy,’” said Gordon.

So, speak up! You may just be surprised with the end results.

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax); skaerm@bnp.com (e-mail).

publication date: 11/26/2001