Technology


Is Your Company Apathetic Towards Zoning?

If so, you’re not alone.  Dick Foster, president of Zone First recently talked with The News about the topic of zoning.  “Apathy is the biggest challenge facing my company right now.  Even with more players in the zoning market, zoning is still a very small percentage of the market.  Contractors are still focused on the box and do not take a system approach.  Most contractors are order takers and wait for the phone to ring to fix what is broken versus proactively selling systems.”  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and zoning manufacturers are taking the initiative to make zoning an attractive option for contractors.

“Education is a key component in making zoning more attractive to contractors.  One of the big things manufacturers need to do is show contractors zoning is not as hard as they think, “Foster said.  His words were echoed by Ken Barton of Arzel Zoning Technology.  “By making contractors more comfortable in the knowledge of zoning, airflow, static pressure and when to use bypass, we can make them more confident that what they are selling is something that will work, not harm the equipment and deliver what they have promised customers,” Barton said.

Is Your Company Apathetic Towards Zoning

Picture courtesy of orangetiger.com

Equipment manufacturers are responding as well.  Kyle Golden of Lennox Industries said it’s iHarmony Zoning System was developed with the installer in mind.  Golden said, “It can be so difficult to get the system set up right the first time.  This causes many dealers to build in multiple callbacks for zoning installations.  With iHarmony, we simplified the entire set up and configuration process.  Technicians can configure the heating, cooling, and blower CFM; see how much CFM is available for the system; see how much is assigned for each zone; and start or stop testing all on one screen.”  Kevin Graebel of Honeywell said his company continues to develop innovative solutions that improve the installation process to make it faster and reduce callbacks.  “Last year, we released the True ZONE Bypass Damper, which dramatically simplifies the setup and provides much more consistent performance compared to the old, weighted arm style bypass damper.

Thomas Jackson of Jackson systems LLC said offering zoning can be a highly profitable option for contractors, which can provide a competitive edge over nearby contractors who don’t offer it.  According to Kyle Golden, “homeowners wouldn’t be happy if they were unable to turn the lights off in an unoccupied room or if the lights failed to adequately illuminate certain spaces.  HVAC systems account for a much greater portion of residential electricity used in lighting, and as the average home size continues to increase, problems like wasted energy from heating or cooling unused rooms and discomfort from hot or cold spots is becoming more common.  With zoning, contractors can offer the perfect solution to these and other problems.  And up selling zoning on a system replacement call is a great way to add to the bottom line,” he said.

For more information, see The News May 19 article by Matt Bishop, Knowledge Is Power in HVAC Zoning.


Home Performance Contracting

Home Performance Contracting

On April 29 there was a wide ranging educational conference held in, Detroit, entitled the 2014 Affordable Home Performance Conference.  An interesting study was presented based on 200,000 existing HVAC systems, (see numbers below) and educational sessions were held regarding home performance contracting.

In his session, “Helping Homeowners Understand Home Performance,” Drew Cameron, president HVAC Sellutions said homeowners want new perspectives and ideas.  He also said homeowners are willing to collaborate, to listen and to understand if you make it easy and convenient to collaborate.  “When it comes to comfort, customers want even temperatures, controlled humidity, elimination of odors, set it and forget it, and a contractor you can trust,” he said.

“Contractors however tend to focus on the equipment,” Cameron said.  “You have to solve the customer’s comfort and energy problems.  Don’t sell what it is, sell what it does.  Make the customer aware of issues in the home, and then say “you may want to consider” instead of “I recommend”.

Cameron went on to list the elements of home performance including an energy audit, load calculation, and airflow analysis.  “As a contractor, you need to illustrate what you can do for the customer and tie the benefits to their homes shortcomings.  You also need to emphasize your quality in your service after the sale.”

A study presented by Tom Downey, chief technical officer of Product Engineering Group showed some startling information.  Downey’s company has collected system performance data for more than 200,000 existing HVAC systems.  79% of the systems have a non-TXV metering device, 96% use R 22, average system size is 3 ton and 73% are split systems.  The average system was 16 years old.  The study found that refrigerant charge problems are widespread with 58% operating on an incorrect refrigerant charge.  More systems are under charged then overcharged, almost twice as many.  Airflow problems were also prevalent with 52% of the systems showing low airflow.  In addition, the duct systems averaged 37% leakage of nominal system flow.

Those numbers are staggering, think of the implications relative to the systems in your service area.  All of these were reasons why the Home Performance Coalition was introduced at the conference and could be a game changer.  To see more information about this organization just follow this link.

article courtesy of Greg Mazurkiewicz, ACH & R news, June 16, 2014 ~Getting Schooled on Home Performance


Finding Data Solutions in the Cloud

Understanding Cloud Computing

If you are under the age of about 50, I’m sure you are familiar with applications being run in the cloud, if you are over that age you probably have at least heard about it.  The question is, what applicability does it have for contractors both now and in the future?

First, some basic definitions.  Cloud computing involves being able to access services and store data over the Internet rather than on a local computing device such as a laptop, desktop or tablet, to both run the software and store the data.  Many software providers now run their applications in the cloud, which allow end-users to access these applications from just about any device or location.  Such software is known as cloudware, but users must be cautious when providers say their applications are cloud-based.  In reality, some are really just traditional Windows-based software placed in a hosted environment.  In short, software run in the cloud should be designed for the cloud.

One big benefit of using cloud-based applications is that they can be accessed from just about anywhere and are secure.  Of perhaps more interest for contractors however is that accessing the cloud anywhere means there is never a need to invest in local hardware.  Not having to support locally installed and managed solutions is very appealing to HVAC contractors.  Less overhead can be achieved using cloudware because the burden of maintaining up-to-date hardware, operating systems, database software etc. is transferred from the contracting firm to the data center that provides hosting.  In addition, contractors have the freedom to use less powerful, therefore less expensive devices to access and run cloud-based software.

Examples of current uses include Fleetmatics, a fleet management software and mobile app that tracks the real-time location of a company’s mobile workforce and provides valuable business intelligence.  Another is cloudware from RazorSync that streamlines business operations of a field service operations, allowing contractors to manage customers, schedule and dispatch workers, invoices etc. from any mobile device or desktop.

To read the full article by Joanna Turpen, see the ACH & R news, February 3 issue.


How Effective Is Your Website?

How Effective Is Your Website?

Image from Top Shelf Web Design

There are many factors involved in optimizing a website, according to Joanna Turpen in a recent article written for the ACH & R news.  (The Complex World of Website Design, February 3, 2014) According to the article, having a functional website is no longer sufficient – for the customer or the contractor.  Customers want websites that are organized, informational and easy to navigate, while contractors want websites that attract visitors and convert them into customers.
So how do you do that?  It requires time, effort and possibly professional guidance.  To attract customers to a website, contractors need to include some form of search engine optimization (SEO) in their marketing strategies.  SEO is basically a website’s ability to attract views and visitors through the use of unpaid keywords and content.  This shouldn’t be confused with search engine marketing (SEM) which is a paid search option through a vendor such as Google Ad Words that improves a website visibility.
“SEO is quickly becoming the more important of the two,” says Brian Kraff, CEO and cofounder Market Hardware Incorporated.  “This is because businesses are finding that over time, a relatively small investment (compared to a paid search) can deliver big returns.”  One of the goals for any website is to be on page 1 of any search that contains your keywords,” said Adams Hudson, president, Hudson Ink.  “All this matters because if your company is not on page 1 of your main or chosen search items, then your own mother can’t find you.  Over 90% of searchers never make it to page 2, and customers will not call you if you’re on page 2.”  To move up to that page 1 status, Hudson suggests contractors follow these guidelines

  • Get a local listing via Google, Bing, Yahoo or Yelp
  • Title all webpages with pertinent keywords
  • Title all photographs the same way
  • Use search words in lead articles and headlines for those articles and reports
  • Send e-mails that invite customers to consume good content, not sales junk
  • Same with Facebook.  Post good content such as advice, money-saving methods etc.

According to Ben Landers, president, Blue Corona, high-performing websites typically include the following features.

  1. Fast load time and accessibility
  2. Contact information
  3. Clear call to action
  4. Trust builders such as mentioning financing options, awards you’ve won, license numbers etc.
  5. Well-written comment

If all this seems a bit overwhelming, you should consider hiring a professional who has plenty of experience designing websites.  According to Kraff, “a website is usually a contractors primary funnel for generating business.  It’s simply too big a risk to try designing it yourself.  Seek the help of an expert with proven industry experience.”
For more information, see February 3, 2014 article in ACH & R news.


Does Your Company Have A Social Media Policy?

Does Your Company Have A Social Media Policy?

When you mentioned social media to some contractors, they might think of Facebook, or Twitter or perhaps LinkedIn.  While those are arguably the main ones, there are a host of others including Google Plus, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest and Instagram to name just a few.  Joanna Turpen explored this subject with contractors in a News article some time back, and her findings should cause every contractor to think about this topic.

Are you concerned about employees using these sites on company time, and perhaps posting damaging or inflammatory comments about the company, coworkers or customers?  If so, you’re not alone.  According to the article, employers social media policies have also attracted the attention of the National Labor Relations Board, which is recently struck down several of these policies, stating that some of the provisions in the employer’s policies are too broad and therefore unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act.  That is why it is important that any policy you implement has been evaluated by a lawyer and/or HR professional.

Joanna found, as might be expected, a diversity of opinion on the subject.  While most contractors who have a policy tell their employees they will not tolerate the posting of information detrimental to the company or its employees, restrictions beyond that vary.  Some take more of a laissez-faire approach while others actively monitor their employees online activities.  One thing is for sure however, your employees will be active on social media so as an organization, it is up to you to decide what your organization’s approach will be.  If you’re not sure what your approach should be, seek the counsel of other contractors and other small businesses you know and respect for their ideas.  Typically, the construct of a social media policy for your organization will not be in a vacuum, rather it will be in the context of an overall policy manual for your organization.  There are many inputs for designing such a manual if you do not have one, the key is that any such document should reflect the values you have for your organization while simultaneously making sure it does not breach any ethical or legal barriers.
Source: ACH & R news


How Mobile Is Your Marketing?

How Mobile Is Your Marketing?

An article by Court Cunningham in the ACH & R news recently revealed some interesting statistics about mobile marketing.  In it, Court noted that many contractors remain skeptical about the importance of mobile marketing for their business.  In it, she said the prevailing wisdom is that people only use mobile devices to search for restaurants, bars, movie theaters etc.  However, according to Google’s own data, every month there are several hundred thousand searches on mobile devices related to HVAC contractors, air conditioning or heating repair, and installation.  The searches could mean a lot of new customers for your business.  If a customer in your area were to conduct such a search, would they find you and your website?

Some tips to make sure you’re optimizing the answer to this question include:

  • Elect mobile distribution for search advertising campaigns.  Many major search engine platforms allow advertisers to opt in to have their advertisements appear on mobile searches.  Make sure you select this option.
  • Verify business information on popular directories.  Don’t stop with popular search engines like Google or Bing, make sure you include in-app searches on mobile applications a popular mobile Internet brands like Yelp and City.
  • Make sure your website renders properly on mobile devices.  If you don’t have a website, get one now.  There is no excuse for today’s HVAC contractor not to have a website.  Make sure your website is mobile optimized, so that visitors viewing your site from a mobile device see a mobile friendly site.  Studies have shown that sites from businesses which don’t appear friendly or easy to use on mobile applications are less likely to be contacted.
  • Get to the point.  Make sure the mobile version of your website features your contact information prominently and doesn’t feature a lot of unnecessary text.

Author Notes

Court Cunningham is CEO of yodel, a local online marketing company.  For more information call 877-276-5104 or visit www.yodel.com.


Selling Home Performance Contracting to Consumers

Selling Home Performance Contracting to Consumers

No two homeowners are alike.  One plans to stay in their home for a long time while another plans to move in a few years.  Energy efficiency is important to one and not at all to another.  One has a plan for upgrades to the house and the resources to implement while another does not.  According to Hal Smith, co-owner of Halco Energy in Phelps, New York, “This situation illustrates the beauty of home performance contracting.  It gives you the ability to solve homeowners comfort and efficiency issues and really focus on doing what is best for them within their budget.”

According to Robin LeBaron and Kara Saul-Rinaldi, authors of national home performance council’s white paper, the budget is often the sticking point for homeowners, which is why some contractors are more successful when they offer a staged approach to HPC.  The authors several significant advantages to a staged approach, such as:

  • it reflects the way homeowners typically undertake home improvements
  • it can keep costs low, because energy efficiency measures can be bundled with other work that would be done anyway
  • it reduces the need for financing, as improvements are paid overtime

Jerry Unruh, owner of ABC Cooling and Heating in Fresno, California adds that developing an energy audit on the home helps the homeowner prioritize on the upgrades that are necessary, as well as which one gives the best bang for the buck.  “We stress that it’s not necessary for homeowners to do everything at once.”  He also noted this approach differentiates them from the competition because no one else in the area is doing what they do.

According to Cook Heating and Air of Crawfordsville, Indiana, safety is always the first priority, because a lot of their customers have gas heat.  Duct sealing is usually second on the list, as that has the largest return on investment.  From there, they recommend upgrades in the attic, followed by the crawlspace or basement.  “Once those are done, we can replace their equipment, then address ventilation and/or humidity control in the home” according to Garrett Cook, Gen. Sales manager.
Home performance contracting is about much more than simply replacing the mechanical equipment.  It’s a comprehensive approach that looks at energy savings and comfort in a way that provides the consumer a good return on their investment.

For more information about this subject, please see Joanna Turpin’s article in the December 16, 2013 ACH & R news.


Home Performance Contracting – What Training Is Required?

Home Performance Contracting - What Training Is Required?

We recently posted a blog about home performance contracting, this is a follow-up blog.  As you consider the plunge into this new business segment, you might wonder what training or accreditation is needed or even available.  Kimberly Schwartz recently wrote an article in the ACH & R news that addressed these issues.

The first thing a contractor must do when venturing into this business segment is to think beyond the box.  Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America said contractors need to take the whole building into account, including the shell, (roofing, doors, windows etc.)  envelope integrity, (insulation and air tightness) moisture control, (bulk water control, leak prevention, humidity management etc.) as well as efficient operation of the mechanical systems.  (HVAC system, hot water systems, ventilation equipment etc.) Obviously, tackling all this takes education and training.

Experts recommend that contractor seek accreditation with an organization that offers a nationally recognized home performance program.  One such organization is Building Performance Institute Incorporated.  (BPI) According to Lesley McDowell, BPI’s director of marketing, “BPI offers certification of individuals in residential building energy auditing and analysis; heating, air-conditioning, heat pump and envelope performance; insulation/air leakage control installation; manufactured housing and multi family designations.”  The certification process includes an online exam and practical field exam.  While no training is required before individuals take a BPI certification exam, it is recommended.  “Both classroom theory and hands-on field training are provided by a national network of more than 200 independent training organizations, including private companies, community colleges, and local nonprofit agencies.”  McDowell explained.

Another offering that BPI has rolled out is an entry-level Building Science Principles Certificate of Knowledge.  According to McDowell, this certificate is intended “for those in the residential building trades who need to learn how homes work but don’t need the hands-on technical skills required of BPI certified professionals.”  Companies seeking to attain BPI accreditation must “meet rigorous eligibility criteria and participate in BPI’s Quality Assurance Program.”

ACCA will launch a new Home Performance Contractor accreditation at the association’s upcoming conference, March 17-20, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.  Contractors not involved in ACCA is Residential Service and Installation accreditation program will need to apply for RS I accreditation in addition to satisfying the ACCA home performance accreditation criteria.  This program requires contractors to complete a multi session online training program on the basics of home performance and an exam to demonstrate a level of competence in this field.

It doesn’t all end there.  Certification is just the beginning, a robust in-house training program is important to ensure success, particularly as you grow.  Of course, that’s the whole point isn’t it?

Article courtesy of Kimberly Schwartz, ACH & R news, October 7, 2013


Home Performance Contracting – Is It for You?

Home Performance Contracting Is It for You

If you have been reading any of the trade publications over the past few years, you surely have read about home performance contracting.  You have also been reading about why HVAC contractors are better positioned than any other to take advantage of these emerging opportunities.  If that is the case, why are they so slow to do so?

In an October 7th article in the ACH & R news, Kimberly Schwartz writes that this might be changing.  In it she quotes Michelle Knaszak, vice president of GreenHomes America as saying that HVAC contractors get into more homes than almost any other profession.  Being able to offer home performance in addition to their current HVAC business is a win-win situation for the customer and the contractor.  But we already knew that, so what is different?

According to the article, Michael Goater, success coach at Comfort Institute says he is now seeing more HVAC contractors expanding into home performance.  “A couple of years ago, the insulation companies and home auditing companies were filling this niche,” he said.  “Today however, HVAC contractors are seeing the potential of home performance contracting, understanding what it really means to their businesses and seeing code changes across the country that include home performance testing when replacing equipment and/or ductwork.”  If that’s the case, that’s good news.  Why?

First of all, HVAC contractors should dominate this field as they are already well attuned to the needs of energy efficiency and home comfort.  Second, the economy has been tenuous for the last number of years and does not look to get more robust anytime soon.  Contractors who embrace home performance contracting will find it a way to take market share away from their HVAC competitors, growing while others are downsizing.  That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

If you have not paid attention to home performance contracting, assume you don’t know what you don’t know.  Before plunging in, learn all you can about it in order to make sure it is right for your firm.  It will require some changes in how you operate and the technicians you are operating with.  Getting involved in this market requires a different mindset so a contractor has to think beyond the box.  (Pun intended) Home performance contracting includes the building shell, roofing, doors, window, envelope integrity (insulation, airtightness etc.), moisture control (leak prevention, humidity management) as well as efficient operation of the mechanical systems including HVAC, hot water systems and ventilation.  It takes a commitment to education and training but the payoff can be lasting.  What do you think?


How Is Your Website Viewed?

How Is Your Website Viewed?

There are a lot of people out there who offer advice about web marketing.  When it comes to the HVAC, plumbing and pool industry, there is a vast difference of effectiveness ranging from state-of-the-art best practice to why did you even put up a website in the first place.  Most lie somewhere in between.

Jim Hughes, a consultant in the home service industry wrote an article for The ACH & R News September 30 issue whereby the title of the article put it best.  The title was “View Your Website through a Customer’s Eyes”.  After all, marketing is an artistic science, but if it does not engage the customer and induce them to act it is not effective.  Jim made 6 points in his article that provide you with something that think about as you look at your company’s website.

Keep it fast.  Jim says that if your page takes more than 5 seconds to load customers may leave.  Think about it, have you ever gone to a site whereby the flash and music were enough to drive you immediately away because you were simply looking to get at important information to you?

Less is more.  Jim says that if it takes longer than a minute to find all the information on a page, then there is too much on the page.  This is almost a corollary to keep it fast.

Avoid equipment brands.  Jim cited several reasons for doing this including the possibility that potential customers might have a negative feeling about the brand you sell.  I know a number of people who would take issue with this, citing the synergistic relationship behind a quality contractor associating themselves with a quality brand.  However Jim makes a key point here by saying that the purpose of a company’s website is to demonstrate to potential customers that your company is the best choice to take care of their needs.  However you feel about the brand issue, this should be one of the key objectives of your website.

Meet the team.  Jim says that it is a good practice to limit individual photos to owners and managers while making sure you communicate the professional qualifications, awards, certificates and abilities of the people that make up your company.

Focus on the customer.  Jim suggests avoiding feature laden descriptions like “radio dispatched trucks”.  Instead, Jim suggests focusing on customer benefits such as “we stay in constant contact with our technicians to make sure we arrive on time”.

Finally, Jim lists several things to avoid at all costs.  Phraseology such as “we’ve been in business since…”  or listing your office hours.  Instead, Jim suggests saying things such as “we’ve been keeping our friends comfortable for over…”  Or “we’re always available”.  A corollary of focusing in on the customer, you should look at all of the features which you find as strengths in your business and state them in the form of a benefit that a potential customer would be looking for in visiting your website.

Jim did not mention measurement, but there are a number of tools you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of your website.  These tools in conjunction with regular feedback from your customers are some of the best ways to make sure your website exists with the customer in mind.