Best Practices for Selling Commercial VRF Systems


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Selling Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems in today’s marketplace depends on educating commercial property owners about the benefits of this ductless HVAC technology.

“VRF is a relatively new concept for many building owners throughout North America,” says Jerad Adams, product manager for VRF Systems at Trane Commercial.

The sales focus needs to be on functionality, comfort, reduced operating costs, and installation on a relatively small equipment footprint, says Adams. “Once they learn more about VRF systems, customers are, more often than not, interested in that solution.”

Thomas McLaughlin, principal at HVAC distributor DXS Texas, agrees that anyone selling VRF systems needs to focus on selling points, such as decreased electrical requirements, compact size, low sound levels, and design flexibility.

Moreover, HVAC and B2B sales expert James Graening of jamesgraening.com stresses the importance of focusing on the benefits of VRF systems when talking with prospective customers. “VRF and VRV systems allow for higher efficiencies with very good flexibility,” he says. “We typically see much higher efficiencies, gaining up to 40 percent savings in operations and energy over older systems.”

Vertical Markets

Adams says that customizing proposed solutions for vertical markets is “absolutely a must,” because each type of facility will have different requirements. For example, he says, “A K-12 school is going to be primarily concerned with IAQ, acoustics, and efficiency, while a hotel is going to be very focused on tenant comfort and multi-zone heating and cooling. It is key to know your customer’s needs and modify your VRF presentation accordingly.”

McLaughlin adds that one of the most attractive selling features of VRF technology is its flexibility to conform to many different building types. “We like to say, that with VRF you design ‘your HVAC system around your building, not your building around your HVAC.’”

But, he adds, “Use VRF where it makes sense, and couple it with other equipment for a total building solution in the areas where it doesn’t.”

Five key considerations to review with prospective buyers are efficiency, design & technology, cost, maintenance, and sustainability

Efficiency

“Overall, efficiency is a key benefit of a VRF system,” says Adams. “It is important to share with customers that initial equipment efficiencies show immediate ROI, as well as any incentives they would be able to receive from government and utilities,” he says.

The small footprint of VRF systems is another feature that resonates with commercial property owners and developers. As Graening notes, prospective customers and building owners who are seeking higher efficiency or dealing with retrofitting older building are often already interested in VRF systems before ever talking with a sales rep.

Still, adds McLaughlin, “efficiency is the icing on the cake, it is the not the main course.”

Design & Technology

While efficiency is a key consideration, McLauglin says building owners and developers are often sold on VRF systems, because they combine economic efficiency and design flexibility.

Adams adds that VRF offers building owners access to some of the most advanced HVAC technology available. Key design and technology aspects of VRF, he notes, include liquid-cooled, inverter-driven compressors, controls that easily integrated into third party building systems, 24/7 self-diagnostics, and soft-start technology.

In addition, says Adams, when VRF is combined with a heat pump system, low ambient cooling and heating capabilities eliminate the need for fossil fuel or electric backup heat. “Refrigerant management,” he adds, “enables VRF to be the only HVAC system that allows for simultaneous heating and cooling in a single operation.”

Cost

While a major selling point of VRF is room-level zoning flexibility, zone control comes at a cost. McLaughlin recommends a sales approach that focuses on a balance between installed VRF system features and cost.

“The flexibility of the VRF system capabilities have to be matched with a realistic consideration of the budget,” he says. “Every job has a balance point between zone capabilities and cost.”

VRF systems are increasingly cost-competitive with traditional systems. In fact, adds Adams, upfront costs — particularly in new construction projects— can be lower than conventional systems. Reduced weight lowers the structural cost for roof weight load distribution; there are no mechanical room requirements; no duct leakage; and crane lift is typically not required for installation.

Service

Service flexibility and operational costs are another selling point for VRF. Annual preventive maintenance on VRF systems are easier to perform and usually much less expensive than for conventional HVAC systems. “VRF systems also tend to have a 10-year full warranty; where as traditional unitary equipment has a one-year parts warranty, further reducing ongoing costs,” notes Adams.

Another advantage of VRF systems is the ability for building owners to replace system components over time, instead of having to replace the entire system. “This capability makes it more affordable to upgrade and replace equipment” says Adams. “The components are also smaller and easier to service and change.”

Moreover, adds McLaughlin, the basic principles of air conditioning apply to VRF systems, so installation contractors and service providers can train existing technicians to maintain and repair installed units.

VRF systems also have the ability to self-diagnose maintenance needs, which can help prevent unexpected and costly system failures. “But,” adds McLaughlin, there are differences in these systems that a service company or technician need to understand and be knowledgeable in handling.”

Sustainability

VRF also offers good selling points for new construction and retrofit developers that are concerned about environmental sustainability issues.

“An increasing number of development projects include a green component, which further enhances the attractiveness of a VRF option,” notes Graening.

VRF systems also can “significantly decrease the overall electrical load requirements to a building,” says McLaughlin. “The reduction in power requirement to the building is a good part of the sustainability story surrounding VRF, that does not get a lot of attention.”

Pitch the Best Possible Solution for the Customer

Customers will often ask about what different options will work for their building. A popular option to be asked about is geothermal heat pump (GHP) systems, because currently there are tax credits that make them an attractive option. As a contractor, it’s your job to figure out what is best for your customer.

Adams says that one of the biggest benefits of VRF systems compared to GHP systems is that VRF installation is easier and less costly. “With VRF there is no digging or drilling required, and loops do not need to be installed,” he says. “New VRF equipment can deliver equal efficiency performance and complete zone control capabilities with the functionality of simultaneous heating and cooling, something that GHP cannot provide.”

While McLaughlin agrees, he recommends pitching the best possible solution for each unique situation. “Some projects may be better served by one system type or the other,” he says. “This will depend on the goals of the owner in conjunction with the location of the project, as well as the budget.”
At the end of the day, a successful VRF sales strategy starts with the goal of meeting the prospective buyer’s needs, and evolves with the development of a customized solution.


Posted In: Commercial Buildings

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