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What’s Your Market? What’s Your Niche?

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As Home Performance Contracting (HPC) has gained traction as a complement to the residential air conditioning and heating industry, many contractors have found themselves trying to adapt a generalized model to their particular marketplace.

I say that with multiple experiences of attending industry workshops and sessions at various conferences, home construction methods are wildly different from region to region and what works in the northeast may have a very limited application in the south.

For example, we have no basements in Florida, and most homes are built upon a concrete slab or very low crawlspace. Our heat gains tend to be greater than our heat losses, so we’re focusing on cooling in summer, rather than heating in winter.

Those two factors point to the biggest efficiency weakness – ducts in unconditioned spaces – with marginally insulated and notoriously leaky duct systems installed in spaces that routinely reach 130 degrees. This problem area is begging for our attention and addressing it for our customers can show immediate and dramatic dividends.

We routinely perform load calculations that demonstrate the dramatic affects that the duct system plays in home performance. On a new home, (this example is 1,700 sq ft.), with well-sealed ducts in a ventilated attic, leakage, and thermal gains show that 18% of a system’s cooling capacity is dedicated to overcoming those loads. On older homes with older, leaky ducts, we’re finding that these duct losses add up to over 27%.

That’s some easy, low-hanging fruit. A properly-presented solution to the homeowner should be met with an enthusiastic “YES!”

The other aspects of home performance in our market are more of a tough sell. We have large humidity loads, coupled with a 60-year-old home on a 12” crawl space with damp soil, and the trouble starts. People seem to understand insulation and windows, but the lesser known contributing factors to energy efficiency and comfort will require work to communicate to the homeowner.

How do we explain that by dealing with humidity with a whole house dehumidifier, we can reduce the latent load on the home, make them more comfortable and reduce the energy it takes to cool? Can you effectively explain the benefit of a sealed crawlspace with a moisture barrier?

With government mandates, rising fuel and utility prices, consumer demand will drive the HPC segment of the HVAC industry. After all, the selected systems that we sell and install account for most of the energy used in homes.

If we choose to ignore the HPC market, our customers will be forced to go elsewhere. We all remember the looming countdown to the R410a refrigerant transition. Many chose to ignore it, until they couldn’t. The marketplace forced them to change and homeowners had a tremendous learning curve. The contractors who could see the coming changes and adapted their sales process, plus adopted the revised installation procedures have done very well through it all.

What will your path be?

Pat Boykin
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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