In the HVAC industry everyone wins when contractors are able to flourish. This has led some forward thinking thermostat manufacturers to develop bigger and better ways to provide additional value which can make install jobs easier and more profitable.
While a high quality, accurate device at a competitive price clearly tops the list, there are other ways that thermostat manufacturers can support contractors. These include incorporating design features that simplify programming or installation, as well as providing technical support and even co-branding opportunities on the thermostat itself.
Now, some leading thermostat manufacturers are taking it a step further by joining together to establish minimum quality standards, as well as criteria to be rated as a high performance energy saving device, all of which must be verified through independent testing.
While not beholden to any specific brand, HVAC contractors tend to remain loyal to thermostats that are trouble-free, for obvious reasons. After all, if the thermostat doesn’t work properly, blame is often assigned to the contractor that installed the “faulty system.” This can lead to costly call-backs to fix the problem.
“Avoiding callback and quality issues is important to our bottom line,” says Lane Ladewig, vice president of construction at Pearson Mechanical, an HVAC contractor based in Arlington, Tex. “If we repeatedly return for callbacks, we lose money. That happens with some thermostats – we have had a lot of them go out on us in a relatively short amount of time," says Ladewig.
Despite the emphasis on quality, however, customer warranty claim rates on some brands of thermostats have recently risen as high as six to seven percent, which can impact the contractor’s reputation and profitability.
“The last thing a contractor wants is to send a truck and crew for a $200 callback to repair something that should have been done right in the first place,” says Glenn Moore, president/CEO of Braeburn Systems LLC, a Chicago-based manufacturer of thermostats, zoning systems, air filtration, humidification products and accessories. “If the thermostat fails, the customer blames the contractor. So the thermostat has to work properly the first time, and every time.”
Manufacturers known to produce the highest quality thermostats generally remain in the one percent warranty claim range. A large part of the difference in quality, it turns out, can be attributed to working with manufacturers that are willing to adhere to the highest quality and performance standards.
According to Moore, the most reliable thermostats in the industry meet specifications such as those outlined by the National Electrical Manufacturer's Association (NEMA) Energy Aware® program, which outlines minimum quality standards for the construction, testing and performance of thermostats.
The association, with the help of industry leaders like Braeburn, Honeywell and Emerson, also stepped in when thermostats were no longer included in the U.S. Department of Energy and EPA Energy Star® program. As a result, they established the Energy Aware program which setup stringent design and performance criteria known to reduce energy consumption. To be included thermostats must pass independently-verified, third-party testing. Thermostats with this designation are estimated to save customers $180 or more in annual energy costs.
“Our customers rely on us to provide a quality product, so it gives us confidence when we can show customers that our thermostats meet independent, third-party quality standards,” says Ladewig. “As a matter of fact, we have installed many hundreds of Braeburn’s thermostats and have not had a callback issue with their products.”
The Best Value
As for value, it is a combination of features, reliability and competitive pricing that provides the best value to the contractor – as long as quality is not sacrificed. This allows contractors to provide more competitive bids, particularly for larger multi-family jobs that require large numbers of thermostats, while still making attractive profits.
Value is also coming into play with the trend toward Wi-Fi enabled thermostats. Although the demand for such products is sky-high, the current price point of many popular brands are extremely high when compared to standard thermostats. This has proven to be a major barrier to wider adoption. As such, manufacturers are working to design quality devices at a price more acceptable to the market.
“With the advancement in technology and other components, coupled with extensive design and engineering expertise, Wi-Fi enabled thermostats are now available for less than $79 to the contractor, a savings of over $100,” says Moore.
Beyond offering high quality products at competitive prices, contractors also want to enhance their name and brand exposure by including their information with the thermostat. Such branding and marketing is critically important, particularly to contractors who depend on billable service calls, such as for ongoing maintenance, for a large part of their revenue.
“Anytime you can put your company name in a homeowner’s mind without having to do broad based advertising, it helps a lot,” says Ladewig. “If you are in the service side of this business, it would be great to have your contact information on the thermostat to help customers call you. It’s like having an extra salesperson working for you.”
Although contractors can add contact information with a label or, in some cases program that information into the thermostat so it appears within the menu options of the display, these options have been limited to simple text.
Some manufacturers, however, are stepping up to help contractors improve their brand image on the thermostat. Braeburn, for example, now offers high quality color branding at the thermostat in the form of a quick reference card with the contractor’s name, phone number, and color logo displayed that reinforce the contractor’s brand.
“Having your name, logo, and contact info makes it easy for the customer to make contact – they don’t have to look up anything or go online,” says Ladewig.
Ladewig notes that adding color to the mix adds another dimension to contractor branding: “A color logo looks professional and will catch more attention. Customers will remember the logo when they see it on your trucks around town. The increased brand awareness could also help with word-of-mouth referrals.”
For contractors who aim to take their business to another level, partnering with a thermostat manufacturer that seeks a closer, mutually beneficial relationship could be one of the best ways to attain long-term business growth.
For more info on receiving free, custom branded, thermostat quick reference cards in color, call Braeburn Systems Toll-Free 866-268-5599