So many factors affected the HVAC industry as a whole this past year. Some of these, like employees needing to learn to work remotely on short notice, were almost entirely the result of the pandemic. Other trends, such as homeowners’ progressive shift toward more a more connected and intelligent living space, may have been hastened by the pandemic but were already making waves before then. As people’s awareness of their home comfort has skyrocketed this past year, contractors are in a special spot to serve — and generate business from — this interest in intelligent technology. And, with a little ingenuity, they could come out on top in this marketplace for years to come.
Intelligent thermostats are the biggest player in the smart home market for HVAC contractors. They are becoming increasingly prevalent in the residential market, and many contractors have already added it to their product offering. It is a natural extension of HVAC, as it gives homeowners remote control of their living environment, and contractors are hopping on board.
“People are looking for as much automation as possible,” said Laura DiFilippo, president of DiFilippo’s Service Company. “With COVID, the lack of wanting strangers in our house could lead to a huge boom in the industry. Consumers can know exactly how their equipment is working without having to wait until there is a problem. They can be proactive if there’s an alert, and can have a sense of security when everything is working.”
Video doorbells could offer an opportunity for contractors too. Gene LaNois, head of professional industry partnerships for Nest’s parent company, Google, said that these products meet a need consumers have frequently: seeing who is at their door without needing to check in person. This has become especially relevant as more and more people shop online; homeowners want to be able to tell whether it is a package or a person at their front door.
“The industry runs off of low voltage, 24 volts, and that’s what video doorbells run off of,” said LaNois. “So this is two wires right in contractors’ lane of understanding and having the right tools and capabilities from a local standpoint.” Contractors can also consider smart displays, which are able to link all of the home’s smart products together, even allowing voice control.
Enterprising contractors can look into a multitude of other services as potential sources of revenue as well. Jason Johnson, connected home program manager for Service Roundtable, offered his own list in addition to the ones already discussed: security, flood and leak monitoring, garage and door entry automation, energy monitoring, irrigation control, audio, doorbell camera, and indoor/outdoor cameras.
“Critical monitoring reports for the air and water of the home are a great benefit to the customer and the company,” said Johnson. “Everyone wants their system performing, and with critical monitoring reports, the customer and company can spot an issue before most even know there is a problem.” Plus, some of these solutions can give the homeowner a slight discount with their home insurance company, leading to even more of a win-win scenario for everyone involved.
When it comes to smart products, homeowners — with the aid of the internet — often try to take it upon themselves to install thermostats or doorbells. But this can go awry when they lack the expertise necessary for a safe, efficient installation.
“We get a lot of calls from people who ordered a smart thermostat, put it in themselves, and then don’t know what it’s doing,” said DiFilippo. “There’s other things they needed to know for a good installation and that they don’t have the resources for.”
Contractors have an advantage over DIYers, as they can offer a consultation, design an effective smart system, install it properly, and then offer long-term service if a product ever needs repair. Various trades are picking up customers from the smart home market, but the HVAC industry, which has such a profound impact on people’s safety and comfort, is ripe to benefit from the opportunity.
To monetize the smart home market, contractors can sell intelligent products while at the home for a traditional maintenance call, or do the opposite by locking in a long-term HVAC customer through what was initially just a smart thermostat or video doorbell sale.
“We have a responsibility as a contractor,” said DiFilippo. “Our clients look to us as being experts, and we have a responsibility to them to put up all the new technology that’s coming out there and let them make good choices for themselves.” She added that offering intelligent products positions the HVAC industry as high-tech and innovative, which could be an advantage to gathering clients.
There’s a lot of flexibility in how to sell these systems, so contractors should find the strategy that works best for them and their technicians, whether that’s bundling smart home systems into the sales of HVAC systems or offering a smart product as an independent sale when on-site for a routine maintenance call.
LaNois said that the fortunate thing about smart technology is that it is relatively simple to master, and homeowners, for the most part, are looking for a professional to install and service it and ensure the products can work together. The market is burgeoning quickly as consumer desire grows, and selling smart products gives contractors a chance to market proactively, as opposed to waiting for customers to call when an HVAC problem occurs.
The staff who will be selling the products should also understand the reasons why smart technology can make their customers’ lives easier — and that it is an effort to grow the business, versus replacing technicians with technology. DiFilippo said that allowing technicians to experience their own smart products firsthand will do wonders in getting them to sell them to homeowners.
Practically, Johnson explained that the smart hardware/software provider should have back-end tools for the contractor to use for account registration device pairing and install setup. This allows a contractor to arrive at the site with the account already registered and a welcome letter generated for the end-users. With all is said and done, the app should be set up to allow the personalizing of features to the home within the first 10 minutes.