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More Than Just Talk

June 1, 2007
"Sure, I gare-ron-tee you'll be totally comfortable with your new air conditioner from Bubba's!"As most quality contractors know, that type of "guarantee"

"Sure, I gare-ron-tee you'll be totally comfortable with your new air conditioner from Bubba's!"
As most quality contractors know, that type of "guarantee" during a sales pitch from Bubba is worth about as much as the paper it's printed on — which it isn't. So how do set yourself apart, and sell your customers on the true quality of your work and the comfort they can expect from it?

There are numerous resources available to the HVAC contractor who is interested in elevating his or her company to truly provide total comfort. Let's take a look at some of these resources and how they can benefit you and your customers.

The mission of the National Comfort Institute (NCI), Sheffield Lake OH, is to raise the level of skills and professionalism in the HVAC industry, and help contractors deliver the comfort, safety, and energy efficiency that their customers deserve and are paying for.

NCI provides training and certification in air diagnostics, air balancing, carbon monoxide (CO) safety and testing, combustion analysis, mold avoidance and liability protection, and indoor air quality (IAQ). The company also provides business, sales, and marketing training to help contractors implement a total system approach in their businesses.

NCI preaches Performance-based Contracting that seeks to ensure that the entire HVAC system is operating together to deliver the best possible comfort, safety, and efficiency. The ultimate test of this goal comes through the company's ComfortMaxx program, which delivers third-party, documented performance certification of customers' systems.

"ComfortMaxx allows a contractor to use a branded approach to delivering proven performance to the customer," says NCI CEO Dominick Guarino. "What performance really is about, whether you're talking about comfort or energy efficiency, is delivering the right BTUs to the right places at the right times. Comfortmaxx is the only third-party online verification and certification system that rates and scores the performance of a live, installed HVAC system."

Guarino points out that ComfortMaxx is the logical conclusion to the company's "holistic" approach to HVAC systems. "All the components that go into a system: airflow, temperature, humidity control, combustion, refrigeration, the air distribution system; tie into delivering the BTUs that will ensure comfort and energy efficiency."

Once a system is verified and labeled, the ComfortMaxx process continues by maintaining the high level of system performance. The customer receives certification documentation, as well as information about the importance of ongoing maintenance to keep their system operating at peak performance. The system provides a baseline for the contractor to quickly identify and address any change in system performance.

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"Indoor comfort, air quality and high utility bills problems can't be solved by equipment and accessories alone. Our mission is to teach the heating and air contractor how to be much more aware of all the other issues, basically going beyond the box to many levels. You must look at ductwork, you must look at the thermal envelope of the house, you must look at pressure and moisture interactions and how the whole house works as a system. If you don't, you're missing real opportunities both for your customer and your company." That's the word from Brendan Reid, president of Bellingham, WA-based Comfort Institute (CI).

CI offers classroom, DVD, and on-site training on these issues, all from a building science-based, whole house perspective. CI also teaches contractors how to use instruments such as flow hoods, Infiltrometer blower doors, static and building pressure gauges, infrared cameras, and data loggers to diagnose the true problems and sell the right solutions.

Addressing indoor air quality is a major part of CI's work. CI says its member contractors "provide solutions to problems, not just band-aids for symptoms."

Reid uses infiltration as an example. "Many contractors don't understand the role of air infiltration. Windows and doors typically account for less than 20% of a home's infiltration. The rest comes in from dusty, contaminated buffer zones such as attached garages, crawlspaces, attics and even underground. Duct leakage, closing interior doors, and powered attic ventilators are some of the mechanical causes of ‘bad air' infiltration."

"Comfort and clean indoor air is like a three-legged stool: equipment, the duct system, and the thermal envelope," says Reid. "All three legs must be strong."

Diagnosing duct system performance is "the first step beyond the box," explains Reid. Most systems don't work well due to leakage, low airflow, poor insulation, and imbalances. Up to half the output is often lost, especially with attic systems. "Testing in" sells duct renovations or replacement, "testing out" ensures true performance.

According to CI, home and duct system performance testing is the natural evolution for a good HVAC contractor. You can get paid well to both diagnose the problems and provide the solutions.

Becoming a CI Total Comfort Contractor differentiates you from the competition, leads to bigger jobs, creates profitable slow season work, helps attract the best technicians to your company, and garners your company a "problem solver" reputation. "Most HVAC sales are product focused, instead of being problem focused," Reid says. "Homeowners want to buy from the company that has their best interests in mind."

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The Building Performance Institute (BPI) provides a professional credential for those companies and organizations that commit to delivering high quality home performance services for their customers. Among the requirements for BPI accreditation:
  • Educating customers on the value of the whole house approach to building performance contracting

  • Offering every customer the option for a whole house performance audit and retrofit plan option

  • Providing an audit and comprehensive retrofit plan, consistent with BPI Standards when so requested

  • Maintaining data that test-out procedures have been carried out where required by the BPI standards and accreditation requirements

  • Maintaining records of each customer, and providing appropriate information to BPI for customers who have received a measured installation that incorporates BPI standards.

  • Participating in BPI's Quality Assurance Program for residential projects.

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The Residential Energy Services Network's (RESNET) mission is to ensure the success of the building energy performance certification industry, set the standards of quality, and increase the opportunity for ownership of high performance buildings. RESNET Ratings provides a relative energy use index called the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index – a HERS Index of 100 represents the energy use of the "American Standard Building" and an Index of 0 (zero) indicates that the proposed building uses no net purchased energy (a zero energy building). A set of rater recommendations for cost-effective improvements that can be achieved by the rated building is also produced.

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The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) independently tests and certifies the performance of HVACR equipment and components. All air-conditioning equipment, heat pumps and commercial refrigeration products that have earned the ARI Performance Certified mark are listed in ARI's online Directory of Certified Product Performance (

Using the directory, contractors can identify ARI-Certified split air-conditioning and heat pump systems and print ARI Performance Certified certificates to provide proof to customers that their system is properly matched to achieve a certified energy efficiency rating.

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Finally, how are you going to perform a high-quality, total comfortoriented installation or service without high-quality technicians?

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is an independent, third-party certification body for HVACR technicians. To become NATE-certified, technicians must pass either a core service or installation exam, then one or more specialty exams. Specialties include air distribution, air conditioning, heat pumps, gas heating, and oil heating. Future tests will cover energy efficiency, hydronics, commercial air conditioning, and refrigeration.

NATE tests technicians; others train. Testing validates the technician's knowledge and a training program's instruction. NATE-approved testing organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada offer NATE tests. NATE has the support of a large industry coalition of manufacturers, utilities, wholesalers, educators, technicians, contractors, and trade associations.

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