Oftentimes, HVAC contractors tend to be their own worst enemy when it comes to offering indoor air products to customers. It has been suggested that the Canadian market potential is north of $110 million and that only five per cent of Canadian homes have sufficient indoor air quality. That works out to 13,900,000 opportunities for indoor air products today. What was the excuse for homes prior to the pandemic?
To start off with, contractors were so busy chasing furnace and air conditioner sales fueled by energy-saving incentives that they forgot about indoor air quality products. The dollar value was perceived as low, and therefore, it was just not worth the effort. Many indoor air quality products were available online or through big box retailers. Contractor education did not keep up with consumer education. As demand started to grow, so did DIY indoor air product sales. Why? I suspect it’s because manufacturers gave up on the HVAC distribution channel.
We, as contractors, gave up on our sales force selling such items. I have seen reports recently that show less than five per cent of furnace sales include one indoor air quality product, and yet 95 out of 100 homes are a candidate for something. I would also suggest that a large percentage of what was being bought was misapplied. Here we are, being invited into the home by a potential customer asking for our advice on how to improve their home comfort and we sell them a furnace with a magic stat!
During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone was told to stay indoors as much as possible to help mitigate the spread of the virus and limit the spread. But our homes were not built to have multiple people residing 24 hours a day inside the bubble we created when we tightened up our homes.
As information spread rapidly, we reacted as any human would. We had limited knowledge of how to protect ourselves from this unknown killer. Disinfection was our first thought, so we cleaned the box stores of all its disinfectant products and toilet paper. We were taught that hard surfaces were the culprit of germ spreading. The next obvious thing to do was buy every mask you could get your hands on and wear them to bed and everywhere else! The population was chasing every solution that was thought of. Retail store bedlam!
How did HVAC businesses react? Many closed for at least a month, some even longer. We, like any other business, were confused and scared to send our people into homes for fear of cross-contamination and leaving us without employees. Soon, it was announced that essential service providers could return to work with strict rules about safety protocols. We started with emergency no-heat calls. We also instructed our people to get in and out as fast as possible. Fix the problem and move on. I don’t know if any of us took the opportunity to offer indoor air improvement products. Even if we did, it was nothing more than practicing basic air quality rules.
Healthy indoor air rules
There are a few basic rules to revert back to when looking at improving the indoor air quality of a space. The first was to identify the source of the poor air, and at the beginning of the pandemic, we just weren’t sure where that was. Next, eliminate the source and disinfect as much as possible. This led to a growth in sales of UV systems and HEPA filters, which leads to the next rule — filtrate. Every human can benefit from a MERV 10 and above filter.
The next layer of protection in a home is an ERV or HRV. Lastly, look at the humidity within the living space. When humidity levels are between 45 per cent and 55 per cent, airborne germs will travel shorter distances before hitting the floor.
This was when the government caught up with scientific evidence and started to communicate the importance of indoor air quality in the built environment. Healthy air was where it was at. Medical practices were allowed to open as long as they met the air changes threshold to eliminate, filtrate, and dilute the air.
By the time we figured out our role, we were already late to the party. The beneficiaries were the big box retailers who had the foresight to invest in indoor air improvement product inventory. To compound the supply chain shortfalls, medical groups across the country created buying groups. They flooded all manufacturers with outrageous demands on factory direct purchases to the point of literally crippling them.
Some of us tried to get on that train; some just for the quick buck, and others seriously invested in making people safe. The HVAC market opportunities turned into a retail market success story.
Not all was lost. The lessons learned over the pandemic paved the way for the industry to take all that was learned over those many months of lockdowns and apply it more efficiently and effectively to buildings. Many consumers sought out retail solutions to provide peace of mind, and in many cases, that was all it provided. Almost a placebo effect, they bought products that were misapplied, undersized, and with very limited life expectancy. These products were plug-and-play and portable. Many of these products have not received any type of maintenance or had their filters changed.
Recently, we visited a responsible clinic owner who thought their units should be serviced as there was a noticeable decline in their level of comfort. Three large portable HEPA filters had never had any media changes. When it was priced out, it was going to cost over $19,000. Needless to say, we were able to provide a remedy for much less.
Whole home solutions
Whole home ventilation, dilution, filtration, humidity control and disease prevention are hot commodities. Consumers are aware of these needs. They want to be better prepared, and they want the advice of a professional. They have figured out that portables are limited in their life and capabilities, and they desire something that will last.
The choice is yours. The opportunity to increase average ticket sales and total revenue by 40 per cent is real. Still not convinced or don’t know where to start? Reach out to your suppliers; they are there to help!
Another option is to continue to chase the rebate rainbows until they are shut down, and you find yourself scrambling to fill the install board.