Understanding how to assess load requirements and explain benefits will help sales people identify opportunities and recommend properly sized solutions.
When it comes to adding zoning to your lineup of products and services, training should focus on how to sell zoning as opposed to how to install it. Installing today’s zoning systems is so simple that almost anyone can pick it up. If quality technicians are installing the other equipment systems that you sell, they will be able to learn how to install a zoning system within an hour and a half of reading an instruction manual.
The biggest barrier we see to contractors selling zoning is lack of knowledge. It’s not that their salespeople can’t sell — it’s that they don’t understand the features and benefits of zoning systems, so they can’t and don’t explain their benefits to customers.
Let me give you a real-world example. I have a friend who recently built a moderately priced home in a newer housing development. When we were talking about the heating/cooling system to be installed, I told him to make sure the contractor was putting in a minimum two-zone system, an upgrade that would add a few thousand dollars to the total cost of the home. He did so, and now is the object of much jealousy in his neighborhood. The builder did not offer a zoning option to the other new homeowners, and boy, are they mad at him for it. To get the even, comfortable climate in their homes that they experience when they visit my friend, they would have to spend at least twice what he did now that their homes are complete. Clearly, this was a massive missed opportunity to increase revenues and profit margins, and build future business on referrals.
Why Contractors Are Missing Out
The market is definitely growing for zoning, driven primarily by consumer desire for comfort and energy savings. These days it’s easy to sell any system that is going to give the homeowner or building owner an increase in their comfort level and help them reduce energy costs. And unlike other trends that are being driven by the same desires (i.e., energy-performance contracting, solar power), zoning doesn’t require a big upfront investment on the part of an HVACR company owner or a lot of certifications. As I’ve already explained, the market need is obvious, and the equipment is not complicated.
Yet, we’ve seen lukewarm enthusiasm among contractors. Certainly, leading contractors understand zoning’s growth potential for their businesses and are jumping on this opportunity. Others, however, seem to prefer to stick to “what they know,” instead of learning about new technologies. This is widespread problem for our industry. The equipment we have today is far superior to what we were installing 10 years ago, but it is also very different, and therefore comes with a learning curve.
At Famous Supply, we are committed to offering ample access to high-quality training that opens doors for our customers to grow their businesses and increase their profit margins. And there’s plenty of room for any contractor who realizes the untapped potential of zoning. Last year we scheduled four one-day, 10-hour training sessions on zoning. We filled three, but had to cancel the fourth because too few contractors signed up.
My theory on this lower-than-expected interest in that contractors know they should offer zoning, but they don’t know how, and they don’t want to take the time to learn. So they take the path of least resistance, which is continuing to install only what they already offer. Unfortunately, a lot of homeowners don’t know about zoning and just accept that it’s always going to be six or seven degrees hotter upstairs than it is downstairs in the summertime, and so contractors aren’t motivated to make a change.
Important Aspects of Training
At Famous Supply, our training includes understanding heat loss, general information about the equipment, how to explain the features and benefits to customers, and how details on how zoning saves energy.
The most difficult zoning requirement for contractors to understand is that we need an accurate heat-loss assessment. We can always zone an existing system, but if we are designing it from scratch, we need to know what the loads are for each room.
When installing a simple zoning system to an existing heating/cooling system, exact measurements aren’t as important in terms of the loss, but you need to be able to look at a house and say, “We have a great room on the back with glass facing south and west. The load in this room in the summer time is going to be higher than most of the rest of the space.”
The goal is to be able to identify which areas of the house need to be on a separate zone so that you are installing an appropriately sized system. I have seen homes be put on five zones when all they really needed was two. Conversely, putting all rooms on their own zone doesn’t work either because we don’t have equipment to zone, say, just a bedroom.
Most contractors are not used to doing load calculations and assessing loss, but this is a skill they need to master. In most new construction today, there’s going to be a need for such assessment. We teach examples of this, such as the classic two-story colonial, where the second floor will be hotter because of the roof absorbing more heat. Another would be an open floor plan with a large living area with a lot of glass. The glass will impact temperature in that area.
Once contractors can see these potential trouble spots, they can ask homeowners, Are you too hot in some areas and too cold in others? If the answer is yes, then check for duct problems. If there are none, it could be an opportunity to solve the problem with zoning.
The same approach will work for buildings. Here, we see temperature differences between offices along the outside of a building versus offices in the center of a floor, which has more lighting, more people, and more computers and other office equipment — therefore more heat. We also see a discrepancy in conference rooms, which are comfortable when one or two people are meeting, but suddenly are too hot when 10 people meet. Putting the conference room on its own zone would solve this problem.
Another “simplicity” bonus of zoning is that they same type of equipment is used for both residential and many light commercial applications.
Make Your Move
If more revenues and high profit margins aren’t enough to convince you to learn more about zoning, consider this: If you offer zoning upfront to a customer, and they buy it, they will be thrilled with the energy savings and the all-around comfort of their homes or buildings. If they don’t buy it, and they call to complain about uneven temperatures, you can tell them, That’s why I recommend you install zoning!
Adding zoning is not a decision that should take a lot of time. The biggest investment you will need to make is time to learn. After that, you’re ready to make your move.
Mark Ham is an instructor with Famous Supply in Akron, OH. He has been working with zoning for 18 years and installed zoning systems before becoming an instructor.