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A Service Story

May 16, 2024

The House as a System

Aug. 2, 2010
Partner with residential energy or air balancing specialists.

Editor's note: this is a reprint of an editorial that then-editor Dominick Guarino authored for Contracting Business in the April 1994 issue, page 6.

It often makes sense for people with similar or related goals, but different expertise, to join forces. The synergistic effect can produce results greater than the sum of the parts.

What does that mean? Here’s an example: Let’s look at a typical southwestern home built in the late 1960s to mid-70s. Utility bills are high, the home is uncomfortable, with uneven heating throughout— it won’t cool in summer, it’s dry in winter, and dusty all year-round.

Several HVAC contractors are called for estimates, and each recommends a new high-efficiency furnace, a larger and more efficient air conditioner, perhaps a humidifier, and some type of air cleaner. The homeowners not seeing much difference in the bids, choose what they consider the best value for the money, and then have the work done.

The result: The utility bills, both for heating and cooling barely drop, even though a 10 SEER system replaced the old 6 SEER unit. The humidifier runs continuously, yet the home is still dry in winter. It’s cold and humid in summer (from over-sizing). The air cleaner constantly loads up with dirt, and dust levels in the home have not improved. In other words, not a pretty picture!

What would you do differently?

Instead of just replacing or adding equipment, you might look at the whole house as a system, and perhaps partner with a residential energy specialist. There are a number of these contractors around the country. They are known as residential energy services companies, weatherization contractors, or house doctors. What they can do for your customer is make sure the HVAC system will perform properly in concert with the home.

Another partner could be an air balancing specialist, or you could train your people on air balancing basics. Balancing is a way to ensure the air in the duct system gets to the right places in the right amounts.

As a team, you can interview the homeowner and ask questions about needs, problems, and lifestyle. You perform a complete audit using a blower door and other instruments to check infiltration through the ducts and the home’s envelope. You then perform a thorough load calculation and inspection of the air distribution system.

Let’s say the team finds leaky or disconnected supply and return ducts in the attic or crawlspace, inadequate duct sizing, no balancing damper on the take-offs, and perhaps some major openings connecting the attic or crawl to the interior space. As a result, the system is pulling dirty, dry air from the attic or crawl space in winter, and dirty humid air in summer.

They seal the leaks, repair and/or replace parts of the duct system, perhaps add returns or additional registers, and add insulation. Your team replaces the HVAC equipment, sizing it according to the load, and balances the airflows.

As a result, you’re able to install a smaller, more efficient furnace and air conditioner, and add an air cleaner, perhaps a small humidifier, and a programmable thermostat. Maybe you bring in a third partner to clean the ductwork.

Now the home’s utility bills are cut in half, and it’s cleaner and a lot more comfortable year round. And by the way, since you were the only one to come up with a complete proposal, you can demand a price that will provide a decent profit. You can show the homeowner how the energy savings quickly pays for all the work — and guarantee it!

As you can see from this example, unless you’re looking at the whole house as a system, it’s easy to miss one or more important pieces of the puzzle. The fact is, a house does work as a system, with each component interacting with the others. How many homes in your market have these types of problems? The vast majority of homes need some combination of these services. Our consumer research shows eight out of 10 homeowners aren’t completely satisfied with their home comfort systems.

Can you provide these services yourself? Absolutely. But you’ll need to make an investment in the training, the tools, and the people to do it right. Or you can find partners who already have the skills.

Where can you find out more about these techniques and technologies? Start by reading some of the articles in this issue. In addition to a number of service and training articles, you’ll find ones that discuss duct leakage, infiltration, and testing and balancing.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (, a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at [email protected] or call NCI at 800/633-7058.