Many HVAC contractors view indoor air quality (IAQ) products and services as an "add-on" sale. They tend to believe that IAQ is a small part of the business and is only necessary when customers demonstrate an undeniable need, such as severe allergies. Even then, many still approach customers’ IAQ needs with minimal solutions. They may say, "If you have severe allergies we can help you out with some improved filtration," which often ends up being a half-hearted way to say, "We can probably offer a slightly better filter than the one you're currently using."

This presents a "lose/lose" situation, because the homeowners are not helped in their efforts to increase the comfort levels in their homes, and contractors miss opportunities to make good profits and create loyal customers.

Perhaps it would help to look at IAQ in terms of system efficiency. There are a number of IAQ products and services that can actually improve the efficiency of a heating and air conditioning system. When we train technicians and salespeople on this philosophy, we start by talking about what's ideal for the system.

From a technical standpoint, asking the question, "What's ideal for the system in terms of efficiency?" leads to many additional, more specific questions. For example, is a capacitor that is working out of its millifarad (mf) range efficient? Is a motor that is over-amping efficient? Is a dirty coil efficient? Is a dirty blower wheel efficient? Is a leaky duct system efficient? If you ask technicians enough of these questions, they start to question their service techniques — or lack thereof. This opens their eyes to the close association that exists between IAQ and system efficiency.

Once technicians’ eyes are open, they can begin to see the light—the ultraviolet light, that is.

A UV light breaks down material on a molecular level. To explain to your technicians how UV lights address both IAQ and energy efficiency, use the example of a water molecule. A water molecule is H2O, or two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom connected by bonds and chains. If you break those bonds, you no longer have water, you have three separate atoms that dissipate into the air.

Now tell your technicians to imagine that instead of a water molecule, they're dealing with a molecule of dust or pollen. Like the water molecule, the components of these molecules are held together by bonds and chains. Over time, many of these molecules find their way to the coil and start blocking airflow and reducing system efficiency. If we could find a way to reduce that buildup, we would have a more efficient system. That's exactly what a UV light properly placed in a coil will do. It breaks down and destroys dust and pollen molecules, which literally creates a constant cleaning of the coil and a more efficient overall system.

I'm in the field with HVAC technicians and salespeople every week, all over the country. I can tell you from experience that consumers will spend anywhere from $500 to $1,500 on IAQ products and services as long as it makes sense for them. It will also make "cents" for your company, as IAQ products and services usually produce a gross margin in the 60% to 70% range.

Imagine if each of your service technicians were adding just $500 in IAQ sales each week to their tickets. That’s $26,000 per technician each year, at a 65% gross margin, with no additional overhead because this is done on service and maintenance calls they’re already running.

IAQ products and services offer the ultimate sales approach. If a customer is interested in efficiency you have the solution, and the added benefit is that it will also improve the IAQ in his or her home. If a customer has IAQ challenges, you have the proper solution for that and your IAQ solution also improves the efficiency of his or her system.

If this is the reality, why aren't all technicians and companies gearing themselves to offer more IAQ solutions in the marketplace? Unfortunately, there's one major roadblock to all of this: education. If the technicians and salespeople in your company don't understand how these products work and the benefits they offer, they won't sell them.

The key is education. Educate your technicians and salespeople — or find someone who will — and commit yourself to getting a piece of the IAQ pie. If you don't, someone else will. This money is going to be spent by consumers whether you're a part of it or not.

Matthew Maleske, I.I.A.Q.C., is president of Benchmark, Jackson, CA. Benchmark specializes in coaching HVAC companies to optimum performance at all levels: owners, management, sales, technicians, and customer service representatives. Maleske can be reached at 209/304-5450, or by e-mail at mmaleske@gobenchmark.com. For more information about Benchmark, visit www.gobenchmark.com.