Because natural gas prices are expected to jump this winter, it would behoove contractors to sell more high-efficiency systems, right? After all, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 53 percent of U.S. households heat with natural gas. And, since so many customers have gas forced-air furnaces (many of which may be highly inefficient), it is your obligation, so to speak, to sell them better (and more expensive) equipment, right?


Let’s break down the answer into three segments:

1. What is right for you.

2. What is right for your customer.

3. What is right for the industry.

What Is Right For You

This is probably the easiest segment to address. There are obvious benefits to selling higher-efficiency equipment to your customers. The new 90-plus furnaces carry a higher price tag than their ancestors, and higher price tags usually mean more money in the cash register. (I say usually because, as we all know, higher prices don’t always correlate with higher net profits.)

But let’s pretend we live in a vacuum and your bottom line will increase with the sale of higher efficiency equipment.

So you go out and blanket the neighborhood with flyers, postcards, and direct mail newsletters, citing the sharp increase in natural gas prices as the reason to consider lowering monthly utility bills with better equipment. For some contractors, this is a golden opportunity to bust out of a yearlong replacement sales funk and cap off the year on a winning note. For instance, the service techs that have been given menial tasks, such as washing the trucks and cleaning the warehouse, can do some installation work and maybe put in some overtime.

Now before you bombard me with e-mails, I know there are a lot of contractors who have been busy, have kept their techs busy, and have seen increases in revenues this year. But not everyone has enjoyed the same success. So let’s assume that higher natural gas prices will be a boon for many contractors in the cooler regions of the United States.

What Is Right For Your Customer

This is a little tougher to pin down. We have to assume that most homeowners and business owners prefer to have energy-efficient equipment in their homes and offices because it will keep utility bills at an acceptable level and help preserve the environment by conserving natural energy sources.

Faced with utility bills that could increase by 40 percent, consumers will seek out ways to make their homes more energy efficient. They could lower the temps, use window shades and blinds more judiciously, seal up leaks, close off vents that are not being used, etc.

But are you doing the customer a disservice by selling equipment that might not pay for itself in the time they live in the home? Will a 90-plus furnace add more value to a home than an 80-plus furnace when it comes time to sell? Maybe, depending on the region or market — but maybe not.

What Is Right For The Industry

There will be some who will insist that HVACR contractors will use consumers’ fears of rising natural gas prices to sell customers equipment that they may not need.

You can combat these naysayers by showing that you care about your customers. You can show how professional you are by offering to do a whole-house load calculation and examining every nook and cranny for leakage.

You can do more than sell them the right furnace. You can suggest setback thermostats or humidifiers. You can recommend filter cleaning and changeouts on a regular basis. You can recommend regular maintenance and service checks to ensure that the heating equipment is performing at maximum levels.

You can do the right thing for your customers (No. 2). After all, won’t that take care of No. 1 and No. 3?

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/15/2003