What would it take to attract more consumer dollars into the HVAC industry?

First, the industry needs to get the sequence right...so many focus on marketing and sales they forget the public relations or they get the sequence wrong.

You have to do PR first, then marketing and then sales.  In fact, if you do a good job with the PR and Marketing the sales part becomes a moot point.

Public Relations is the key and within this metric is education...that is consumer and building owner education.

We can and do train everyone between the producer and installer but if the public don't understand why - they'll not become the financial lubricant.

It is more detailed obviously than just education, but the reality is, PR funds exists in the manufacturers and distributors budgets - they just happen to categorize it under training, marketing and advertising.

Let me explain...

What industry struggles most with is establishing financial returns for the marketing expenditures,  but if you compare the industry dollars spent to the share of consumer spending on HVAC, you see there is no result. No matter how many trade shows or special events are funded each year the impact is negligible.

Not only that, industry will keep spending the money without an impact because it is caught in the status quo trap.  "We have to be here" is the most common phrase rationalizing participation.

What it needs to do is stop releasing money to non producing industry events and activities and divert it towards public relations managed by industry associations.

This won't cost the industry another dime more than it already spends, would continue to fund the operational costs of associations and would have 'immediate' results to the memberships revenues.

(Immediate being a relative term to 30 year period of essentially no change.)

Again, this is such a dynamic topic it can't be explored with the thoroughness it deserves in a brief paragraph.

Our one day workshop however, examines this in detail.

Looking for Quotes...these are a few of the more common questions we get asked.

What are the topics you train on and where? How many students have you taught?
The building sciences including hydronic and ventilation design, human physiology, thermal comfort and air quality, strategic business planning and communication. Have accepted invitations to train in literally every major city in North America with a few exceptions in the deep south…never kept track of how many students…one person was just important as a thousand.

Why do you have a passion for training?
It is the only way I know how to simultaneously improve the future and oneself.

Advice to contractors who are involved in the sales, installation and servicing of HVAC systems.
My challenge to industry participants is before taking another class on boilers, controls, pipe, pumps and valves, become grounded in principals of human factor design by taking an introductory class on human physiology, consumer psychology, industrial design and ergonomics – especially ones which covers an aging population, then brush up on your basic physics and chemistry. With your newfound knowledge, redefine what it is you do mechanically and electrically in terms that older retiring adults can understand and value. Learn why before you learn how.


Fondest memory/memories of a training class...
Had a WWII veteran sit his whiskered head - drill sergeant rump in the first seat of the front row and declared with a pounding of his aged fist - that he was, “there to keep the bull manure from hitting the guys behind him.” Lesson - Shoot straight and do not - under any circumstances - fire blanks.

What is the single most common mistake in hydronics system design?Unnecessary customization.  I have yet to see any project which can’t be handled by standardized systems. It goes back to the status quo thing again and it’s not that difficult to understand. We have trained designers to do customized designs ergo they do customized designs…go figure.

Proudest career moment.
Not for me but proud of dads who bring their kids to courses…had a 15 year old just last week for two days…as a trainer - with a kid in your training room, his whole life ahead of him, – that changes how you teach.

Why is it important to be involved with associations such as RPA?
I see HVAC as a game for professionals with the associations representing the league. I want the fans to keep coming back year after year to pay for those front row seats. Like most associations, the RPA affords everyone the opportunity to ensure there is strength in the field, on the bench and up in the owner’s box.

At the end of your career where do you want to be?
Picture a mountainous trout pond surrounded by a Smithsonian caliber library and in the far corner near the creek, is an old weathered man playing his guitar while watching his fishing pole…when I’m done, that’s who and where I’ll be…

What is a Registered Engineering Technologist?
In December of 1985 the Alberta government approved regulations pursuant to the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions Act of Alberta (which governs the practice of engineering in Alberta) to establish a new category of ASET membership - the Registered Engineering Technologist (R.E.T.). This legislation provides an entitlement for the R.E.T. to practice engineering by signing and stamping their work (and also work which they have supervised) but will be restricted to those drawings, specifications or other documents prepared within an engineering team and for which an engineer has agreed to accept professional responsibility. In practice, this is recognized by the joint stamping of drawings, specification, etc. by the R.E.T. and P. Eng., thereby legally identifying and associating both parties with the integrity of the engineering work performed by the R.E.T.. Learn more.

How long have you been involved in radiant heating and cooling?
First studied it in school back in 1981.
In 1989, my business partner at the time did our first radiant cooling project for an equipment distributor in Edmonton, Alberta.

How did you get into the HVAC sector?
Graduated from Construction Engineering Technology in 1983, back when the NEP essentially shut down the Alberta construction industry.
Found one of the few government funded projects at the time and worked as a junior project manager. After the job was over I took on a position first working (then a shareholder) in a solar / radiant company.  

What is the most significant advance/change that you have experienced during your career in this industry?
The role of the computer in facilitating design, communication and education.

What is the biggest challenge facing this industry?
Getting over the need to defend the status quo.
After 30 or more years the only thing that has expanded in the North American industry is the number of manufacturers, products, shows and associations. The market share has essentially remained stagnant at 6% and the number of skilled contractors is declining.  I’ve estimated that in the past ten years well over 120 million dollars has been spent on public relations, marketing and sales without convincing the mass consumers or building markets to change how they do things.  At this rate we’re going we’ll spend another 160 million+ over the next ten years and have the same results.

What can be done to address this challenge?
The CEO’s and their PR/Marketing/Sales Teams need to study the past words of Peter Drucker and the role collaboration plays in this new era.  The first “right steps” were taken when members of the CHC agreed to fire itself and hire an outside firm to help with solutions and the second happened when the HVAC and Hydronics associations merged in B.C. under the collaborative banner of Thermal Environmental Comfort Association. Other powerhouse organization like ASHRAE, BOMA and AIA are collaborating on key industry initiatives and demonstrating success.  There are more other right steps to take; many are detailed at the business solution pages at www.healthyheating.com.

How can this sector grow its market share?
If you study the paradoxes within this industry, you’ll see how complex and compounded the challenge of market share. To put it into perspective, calculate the hydronics market share as a percentage of annual consumers spending instead of a percentage of HVAC systems. When you do this, you’ll find consumers spend more money on their outdoor living environments and pets than on indoor environments. We have identified at least eight elegant and simple solutions on reversing the degradation and growing the segment and present them at our one day workshop.

What are some of the emerging trends or technologies that contractors should be investigating?
I’m rather cynical about emerging trends or technologies which do not have an direct and immediate impact on consumer and building contractor adoption. In fact, I’m a firm believer that addition should come from subtraction, in other words any useful trend or technology must eliminate, simplify or reduce the current number of trends and technologies.  That’s why I’m a big fan of boiler rooms in a box.  A single SKU replaces hundreds of others, simplifies everything from inventory management to service calls and the box as an appliance, is a familiar form to builders and consumers.

Where do you see this industry in 10 years?
The pessimistic side of me says unless it can get its act together the industry doesn’t have a bright future. Nipping at its heels is a strengthening push for net zero energy buildings which redefines the word ‘heating’ and places more emphasis on ventilation and cooling.  Industry is working hard to create codes, standards containing ‘legislated hydronics certifications’ however the air side remains immune to these requirements. The decline of skilled labour over the inventory of customized complex hydronic systems owned by an aging population with reduced cognitive, physical and visual capabilities greatly concerns me as well. People who can’t understand, see or operate their systems tend not to have a positive view of it and don’t have a problem sharing their frustrations with others. Lots of other challenging areas that left unchecked create further clouds. The only optimistic view I have at this time, is the opportunity to make amends for our past sins by applying combustion and electrical efficiencies to the index of existing systems.

What is the most expensive residential system you’ve ever seen?  How much did it cost?
I get to visit a lot of great architecture all over North America so that’s a difficult question to answer. I’d say it’s a toss up between two estates one in the Virginia area and the other In Montana.  These mechanical systems were both over $850,000. But the nicest I have ever seen is featured at our website.

What is the single most common mistake in hydronics system installations?Treating hydronics like fine art where each job is a new painting instead of treating it like the performing arts where the song remains the same. People come to concerts because they like the music they recognize; they don’t want to pay to hear a new and improved rendition.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen on a system?
Condensing non condensing boilers.

What is the single most influential product you’ve seen introduced in the industry in the last 20 years?
Without a doubt prefabricated boiler rooms as an appliance.

What’s your favourite leisure time activity?
Reading. ..but playing my guitar comes in a close second.

What are your thoughs on:

Hybrid Technology

Back in the early 80’s we were designing radiant based HVAC systems known as a hybrid long before their benefits became apparent to mainstream industry. We knew how effective air systems were at introducing and filtering outdoor air, recovering energy from exhaust air and controlling humidity - all necessary for indoor air quality, human health and maintaining the integrity of the building. However one of the most influential forces affecting indoor environmental quality is human thermal comfort and its driver is not air temperature but radiant energy.  In the case of the sun, radiant is so powerful, people will move towards it when they feel cold or move away from it when they feel hot. In the reverse example, people will move downstairs to a cool basement if they feel hot or back upstairs if they feel cold – again not because of air temperature but because of the radiant effect.  To this day it amazes me how people in North America have been trained to intellectually believe wrongly that air temperature alone is what makes them comfortable even though their bodies tell them differently.

A simple hybrid example of a radiant based HVAC system would be the use of a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator (HRV/ERV) in conjunction with a radiant floor heating. More advanced methods would incorporate radiant cooling with a robust means for conditioning the air such as a ‘dedicated outdoor air system’ known as a DOAS. Both of these examples treat indoor thermal comfort quality separately and independently of indoor air quality for improved indoor environmental quality. 

Trends in HVAC. Where the market is headed.

I’m one of those guys which looks at the building as part of the radiant based HVAC solution and looks at radiant based HVAC systems as an integrated appliance - so my vision sees a trend towards simplification in HVAC systems aided by the evolution of high performance homes like those built to and rated by Energy Star™ or HERS™ and those fabricated to the LEED™ for Homes standard.  These buildings use low temperature heating and high temperature cooling and allow the occupant to feel more comfortable with much smaller and simpler systems and shift the HVAC focus onto indoor air quality. Integrated equipment where the boiler, chiller, HRV/ERV and domestic water are one appliance in a well built environment plays a role in improving efficiencies and reducing the carbon footprint from onsite stick frame construction processes. Further down the road (hopefully sooner than later) I see North America adopting as the Europeans have, community based district energy systems using thermal and electrical solar, micro turbines, and possibly fuel cells.  However, no matter how eco friendly, I do not see the latter solutions being adopted enmasse on individual homes nor do I think it wise.  The reason is the inverse relationship in available skilled labor and the growth in technology. In other words the more technology advances the less skilled people we have around to make it run – it’s a recipe for disaster and one which can be avoided. With community based systems the operation of the technology is done outside the development by a handful of competent engineers or technicians. A simple example is buying wind generated power.  The owner needs the electricity, but doesn’t want a wind turbine on his home to repair and maintain.

The move towards higher efficiencies.

In consumer language – if radiant based HVAC systems were used in high performance  homes, then only 3 units of energy out of a 100 would be unrecovered instead of the 20 to 40 now being sacrificed. For heat pumps it means getting five units of energy for the price of one instead of three or four. 

A word of caution though – never equate higher efficiency with eco friendliness and lower operating costs. Here’s why: utilities like power and gas are commodities whose price is based on supply and demand and prices are not equal in all parts of the country. A consumer could buy a high efficiency gas boiler thinking they were going to lower their operating costs only to be hit by a surge in gas prices and maybe would have been better off using a heat pump run on hydropower. Conversely if the heat pump is powered with electricity generated with coal or gas then there will be greater environmental damage from emission and possible no operating savings.

Higher efficiencies equals more bang for the buck – but not necessarily less bucks and certainly not necessarily less environmental damage. 

Indoor air quality.

I love the expression on people’s faces when asked have they ever considered that of the three necessities for life; food, water and air, indoor air is the only one not regulated by government. It’s no wonder the air inside our homes can be far more polluted than the outside air – it is a result of the minimum building codes and standards, poor methods and materials of construction and the inappropriate ways homes are operated and maintained.  

Since breathing is not an option, the best solution to prevent IAQ problems is use materials of construction like concrete, stone, slate, tile, wood, plaster, cork, glass, steel, etc., acceptable radon prevention methods, plus geography appropriate construction systems emphasizing moisture, temperature and air pressure control. Then design and install HVAC appliances simple enough for the average person to operate and maintain. These would incorporate a combination of HEPA filtration for particulate matter, activated carbon for odors and in some cases possibly UV for airborne bacterial contaminants like mold.  

If the system needs a professional then use as much off the shelf equipment as possible, then locate and install it in such a way to facilitate the maintenance process without having to disturb the occupant’s sense of privacy and security.

eJournal of Indoor Environmental Quality
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