by John Holzheimer
In January, I visited the show floor of CES 2019 in Las Vegas, the world’s largest technology trade show, where it became readily apparent that the smart home trend is becoming an industry standard. While start-up and long-term manufacturers all have their own unique selling propositions for entering the smart plumbing and HVAC space – from water and energy conservation to data mining and collection of customer preferences and usage – it’s only a matter of WHEN, not IF, another product will get smart.
At this year’s CES, there was a $7,000 smart toilet promising a better bathroom experience with built-in mood lighting and surround sound speakers. A smart vanity mirror assures you of no more bad hair days or missed appointments with weather reports and a built-in clock. There was even a smart dental floss dispenser that not only reminded you to floss but will also dispense 18-inches of the waxed or woven stuff: presumably the ideal length as recommended by three out of four dentists.
So, your contracting business may decide now is the time to enter the “smart” category. Great! But the question may be, “how and where to begin?” In this article, I will explore some of the trends impacting the smart HVAC and plumbing space as well as provide details on why and how to enter this exciting market.
Customers aren’t asking for smart fixtures - yet
According to mainstream smart plumbing and HVAC manufacturers, smart home technology remains a small part of their businesses. This may explain why customers are not beating down your door asking for the latest smart faucet or shower head to be installed.
But the big players in the industry – think Amazon and Google – want manufacturers to continue growing in this space. Why? Data. As these smart devices collect more information, manufacturers can leverage that data to produce better products, serve up better ads on the internet and even provide customers with convenient services such as placing orders for soap if a dispenser senses supplies are low.
All of this tech doesn’t just behoove the manufacturer. In addition to water and energy conservation, there are benefits that are attractive to consumers – your prospective customers and clients – as well. Imagine a customer who spent $50,000 with your business renovating a master bathroom that incorporates several smart plumbing devices. The smart shower learns the preferred water temperatures during different times of the year so that it can talk to an on-demand water heater to have the precise temperature ready when the homeowner steps foot in the shower. That smart shower can also be connected to a smart leak detection system. A sensor notices a toilet overflowing downstairs. It turns off the water main while alerting your customer via text, preventing her thousands of dollars in damage.
Why Get Smart?
Some of the smart plumbing and HVAC products do require installation by a professional, such as a valve that requires cutting into a pipe. Also, smart technology may prove to be too daunting for the average weekend DIYer to install themselves. In a moment of crisis, they may turn to your business to get the job done.
We’re also seeing contractors use it as an opportunity to up-sell a service. Just like your favorite hamburger joint asks if you want fries with that, there’s no harm in asking a customer if they want to install a smarter faucet or leak detection system to go with a project. Especially considering non-weather-related water damage from plumbing, frozen pipes and appliance issues are the second-leading cause of home insurance claims, according to The Travelers Companies Inc.
And as consumers become more aware of these products, it will only be a matter of time before they contact a contractor. If you can’t install it, the competition will.
The Silver Lining
There is a “graying” of the plumbing and HVAC labor market. The 2008 economic crisis put a halt to home building and renovations and, as a result, many people lost or left the trade industry. Currently, there is a shortage of qualified laborers and people enrolling in plumbing and HVAC programs. For many businesses, it may be too difficult to get the standard work done, not to mention incorporating a whole new business offering such as smart plumbing or HVAC. And, if you’re lucky enough to fill an open position, how can you be certain that new plumber or technician is truly as tech-savvy as he or she claims to be?
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that plumbing and HVAC jobs are expected to grow by 16 and 15 percent, respectively, by the year 2024 – which is much faster than the national average. While this growth hasn’t been linked to the smart home trend, it may be an attractive reason for someone who is technically inclined to enter this line of service.
If technology can help our industries to not only keep going but also grow by attracting and retaining some of our nation’s brightest, well, that’s just plain smart for business.
Getting Started on Getting Smart
At the time of publication, there are no industry-wide certifications or trainings in smart plumbing or HVAC provided through the unions or trade schools. That being said, trade shows are a great way to immerse yourself in the latest products and training opportunities.
It may not make sense to send an entire fleet of workers to a trade show. If that’s the case, once you’ve identified which manufacturers you want to partner with, have them come to you. Look to see if manufacturers like LeakSmart offer both onsite and online training and certification to contractors as well as an online portal that provides helpful articles, videos, toolkits, fast facts and access to other professionals through an online community. The advantage to online training is that it not only provides real-time access to resources and support – ideal for workers out in the field – but also provides contractors access to a built-in community with other installers to discuss, learn from and troubleshoot customer needs together.
Once certified, contractors have the benefit of being listed as a preferred installer on a manufacturer’s website, connecting your business to another source for business leads. Eventually, smart plumbing and HVAC will grow smart enough where their technologies will enable you to detect and troubleshoot issues within customers’ homes and proactively reach out to them with solutions. Leveraging smart home technology to grow your bottom line? Now that’s smart.
John Holzheimer is Vice President of manufacturing & supply chain management, at Waxman Consumer Products, parent company of smart flood and leak detection system, LeakSmart. LeakSmart will be introducing the LeakSmart Pro Portal this March where visitors can find articles, videos, toolkits, fast facts and receive training and certification. Visit www.leaksmartpro.com to learn more. Holzheimer can be reached at [email protected].