Home comfort contractors who want to succeed at selling indoor air quality (IAQ) services need to have a business plan that enables them to diagnose air quality problems and install solutions that address the problems they diagnose.
That’s the advice of Bill Spohn, General Manager and Co-Owner of TruTech Tools. He recently ran a webinar for contractors entitled What Can I Do With IAQ? In introducing the topic, he noted that many of today’s homes are tightened up against air infiltration in order to reduce energy bills. “What do you do when you get the house tight?” he asked. “You celebrate and introduce proper ventilation from a proper source.”
The air inside a home starts fresh when it comes from the outside, but with too low a rate of air exchange, it accumulates airborne contaminants such as carbon monoxide, radon, smoke and odors from cooking, and chemicals that “out-gas” from building materials and furniture.
One of the challenges for the contractor is defining what good air quality is, according to Spohn. He said there are four “P”s of indoor air quality. The first is
particulates, which are the tiny particles that accumulate in the air. Contractors need to learn what they are, where they come from, and how to detect and measure them
The second “P” is for pathways, which refers to the route that airborne pollutants take as they pass through the building. Oftentimes when sealing and insulation have been done as retrofits, the airways inside a home or building are altered, which can change the intensity of an air quality problem.
The third “P” is for people, because the contractor needs to understand how people are using a space and whether they are doing things that might be causing the air quality problems. To illustrate how easily people can create an air quality problem, Spohn showed a picture of a storage nook under a staircase in a home, which the homeowners used as a storage space for cans of paints and solvents. What they did not know was that return air to the furnace passed through a register in the same space, which caused chemical fumes to spread throughout the home.
The fourth “P” is pressure, which is a factor in many indoor environments due to air movement equipment, such as stove hoods, bathroom fans and clothes dryers.
Narrow the Focus
Spohn said it is difficult for a contractor to provide complete analysis of IAQ, because there is such a large range of potential contaminants, including combustion gases, mold spores, asbestos and gases from building materials. “It is hard to get your hands around it,” he added.
To connect with customers on IAQ, he recommends that contractors talk with them and ask what bothers them about their homes. Discussions such as these can get homeowners thinking about the house as a system, he said.
Spohn recommends that contractors think in terms of what they can accomplish and what they can sell. “As an analyst, what can you affordably measure? And what can technicians affordably install or change to fix the issues you find?” he said. “It’s not a business model unless you have someone paying for the services. Start thinking in a business sense. You can’t just go to a full-bore indoor hygiene audit.”
To sell successfully, a contractor should focus on three or four core parameters, such as temperature, humidity, fresh air and carbon monoxide. A measurement of CO2 can serve as a “surrogate” for determining the freshness of the air, because elevated CO2 levels can indicate the air is stale, he said. CO2 measurement devices range in price from $400 to $3,000, according to Spohn. Contractors who have a blower door can also use that to test for the number of air exchanges per hour.
He suggested that contractors think ahead and ask themselves what they are likely to find in a home. They should also think of factors that could affect readings. If a house has been aired out before the contractor arrives, for example, reading for contaminants like carbon dioxide will be lower than at other times.
Using a tool like a Testo humidity stick, the contractor can find the home’s relative humidity and dew point. Customers are learning the concept of a “feels like” temperature because it is used in weather reporting, and the same phenomenon exists indoors, because the humidity level changes the perceived temperature level. Focusing on the indoor humidity can support the sale of products for humidification and dehumidification as well as products that control air infiltration, such as a heat recovery ventilator or an energy recovery ventilator.
Contractors can also measure for airborne particulates using a meter that is typically priced between $1,800 and $3,000. A meter can identify the size and quantity of the particulates. Typical solutions for excessive particulate counts are electronic media filters and HEPA filters.