Radiant upgrades help comfort, bottom line

BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTORs staff CINCINNATI Never make any assumptions about what a customer will buy was the message at two seminars May 10 at the Radiant Heating Conference and Expo here. In his Using All the Options session on combining radiant with HVAC, Dan Foley, formerly of Arlington Heating & Air Conditioning in Arlington, Va., and now out on his own with Foley Mechanical, showed a

BY ROBERT P. MADER

Of CONTRACTOR’s staff

CINCINNATI — Never make any assumptions about what a customer will buy was the message at two seminars May 10 at the Radiant Heating Conference and Expo here.

In his “Using All the Options” session on combining radiant with HVAC, Dan Foley, formerly of Arlington Heating & Air Conditioning in Arlington, Va., and now out on his own with Foley Mechanical, showed a picture of a HEPA filter and said he couldn’t imagine someone spending up to $2,600 on the unit. Nevertheless, he’s sold between 20 and 30 of them; one house has six. A homeowner who may have a child with asthma will gladly spend the money, he said.

In the “Selling Upgrades” session, Jeff Jannetto, hydronics division manager for Northern Wholesale in Lino Lakes, Minn., noted that a truly thorough proposal to a customer might be five pages long.

Don’t assume that a customer won’t spend money on a feature, said his co-presenter Ted Lowe, RPA president and a regional marketing manager for Canadian-based piping supplier IPEX Inc. Leave it up to the customer to cut items. Frequently customers will cut 10 features or products and end up adding nine of them back in, Lowe said.

Foley told the assembled contractors that a boiler-based system often could be designed to handle the needs of a house better than a forced-air system could. For example, Foley bid on a house where six furnaces had been specified. He was able to reduce the number of air handlers, replaced the two gas-fired 75-gal. water heaters with one 80-gal indirect water heater, eliminate the separate pool heater that had been specified, and heat the garage and a small snow-melt zone.

Foley noted, however, that contractors must also propose humidity control, ventilation via energy recovery ventilators and a system control that ties the hydro-air system in with air conditioning.

Foley said his minimum air cleaner is a 4-in. media cartridge filter but he’s also used electronic air cleaners. He’s also found increasing demand for UV air purifiers.

Lowe and Jannetto focused on seemingly small upgrades that could have a dramatic impact on comfort and efficiency. In the Midwest, heating the basement with radiant would be an upgrade in 90% of jobs, Jannetto said. Upgrading from a thermostatic mixing valve to an injection system may cost $400 more but improves the system.

Adding a towel bar may add $100 in incremental cost but it becomes an architectural feature. Jannetto said his favorite sales tactic is to bring a towel bar to the prospect’s home and hand it to the wife.

Radiant contractors might sell one of Myson’s bench radiators a year, Lowe said, but they have an advantage over other contractors who don’t know the bench radiators exist.

Rich clients are often the cheapest. Lowe said he sells them by appealing to their vanity: “You probably don’t need that; it’s very expensive.”

Lowe said he never lists line-item prices on equipment and accessories. His proposals give detailed description of each piece of equipment and what it does with a “basket” price at the end for the deluxe system.

Lowe and Jannetto addressed the tendency of radiant contractors to think that selling is a dirty word. After you’ve been awarded a job, then you can be a craftsman.

“You can’t stay in business being a craftsman,” Lowe said.

It’s easier, they pointed out, to sell upgrades and do five jobs at $20,000 than 10 jobs at $10,000. They also cautioned the contractors in attendance that they don’t want every job and don’t want to work for every builder.

Contractors should particularly avoid customers who balk at payment terms. Lowe suggested terms that include a 10% deposit, another payment for the cost of the rough-in and a final payment on substantial completion.

Jannetto recommended that the contract state the final payment is due upon “startup of the equipment.” He said he’s been burned in court for not stating a definite time when payment is due. Such a contract clause would make the final payment due as soon as the boiler is fired.