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The Right Way to Sell Add-on Heat Pumps

Article by Charlie Greer

This article is excerpted from Charlie Greer's HVAC Profit Boosters, Inc. newsletter.  If you would like to receive a complimentary copy of Charlie Greer's newsletter, please fill out our request form.  

Energy savings are the least significant reason to invest in an add-on heat pump.

We're heading into the cooling season, which is the prime "selling season" for heat pumps.  Upgrade a "straight cool" air conditioning sale to a heat pump, and you've increased your gross sales and your net profit considerably, for next to no additional effort.The problem a lot of salespeople have with heat pump sales is that their entire sales presentation is built around the idea that heat pumps provide energy savings, which they do in most cases.

However, there are a variety of negative conditions that heat pumps remedy and a number of reasons to invest in one that have absolutely nothing to do with energy savings.  In fact, there are a number of reasons to invest in an add-on heat pump, even when the combination of utility rates and weather conditions provide no energy savings.

This article will address those reasons as well as provide salespeople with answers to some of the most common objections to heat pumps.  I'll conclude with a description of my sales approach.

First, let's clarify our terminology.  An "add-on" heat pump system is a "dual-fuel" system where a heat pump provides cooling during the summer and heat during milder winter days.  It's "piggy-backed" with a fossil fuel furnace of gas or oil that provides heat when the outdoor temperature drops below freezing.

Here's why your customers should invest in an add-on heat pump:

1. They provide a back-up source of heat.

Even though heat pumps work best during milder winter weather, when a customer has a problem with their gas or oil furnace, regardless of how cold it is outside, as long as their indoor blower works, they can still heat their home enough to keep their water pipes from freezing and/or from having to vacate their home or business until they get their furnace working again.  This benefit alone could ultimately offset any price difference between a heat pump and a "straight cool" air conditioner.

2. They provide more even temperatures during milder winter days than their gas furnace will.

Gas furnaces are sized to heat the home on the coldest winter days, which is roughly 2-5% of the time. That means that the furnace, even when sized according to Manual J, is actually oversized 95-98% of the time, and we all know the comfort problems associated with oversized furnaces, i.e. temperature swings and temperature stratification.

This benefit is actually the way to overcome the primary objection to heatpumps, which is that they "blow 'cold' air."  It's interesting to note that, the same people who complain about the supply temperature of a heat pump at, say 80-90° , will go down to Florida for their winter vacation, stand out on the beach in an 80° breeze, and think about how nice it would be to live like that all the time.  You might also add that the supply temperature of today's high-efficiency furnaces is not as high as their old furnace was either.

You're doing your customers and the heat pump industry a disservice if this is not explained to them in advance.  The lower supply temperature of a heat pump is not drawback to heat pumps, it's a benefit. With an add-on heat pump, on milder winter days, instead having the structure cool off, then getting a brief blast of hot air, the lower supply temperature of a heat pump will supply them with a constant, even temperature.

Oversized furnaces are the primary reason for temperature stratification.  Again, when long periods of time elapse before the furnace blower starts recirculating that air again, the heat tends to raise, leaving the ceiling considerably warmer than the floor.  Leaving the furnace blower running constantly won't resolve this problem.  Why?  Talk about blowing cold air on you!  The lower supply temperature of the heat pump combined with their tendency to run for long periods greatly reduces temperature stratification.

This also helps overcome the objection that heat pumps "run all the time."  Potential add-on heat pump customers need to have it explained to them during the sales call that the heat pump will run considerably longer than their fossil fuel furnace because of the lower air temperature, which is how it provides more even temperatures and reduces temperature stratification.

I also explain to them that a heat pump will give them the best of both worlds.  If they come in from outside and want a hot supply vent to stand near to warm up, they can always hit the "emergency heat" switch to provide them with a blast of warm air.  Once they're comfortable again, they can turn off the emergency heat to conserve energy and keep the structure from experiencing temperature swings.

3. Heat pumps eliminate the drafts and humidity removal caused by fossil fuel furnaces. 

It takes fifteen cubic feet of combustion air for a gas furnace to provide 1,000 Btu's of heat.  That means that a 100,000 Btu gas furnace requires 15,000 cubic feet of combustion air to run for one hour—and all of that air goes out the vent pipe.   Where does all that combustion air come from? If the furnace is located within the conditioned space, all of it comes from infiltration.

In other words, when their gas or oil furnace is running, unless it's got a two-pipe vent system and a sealed combustion chamber, in addition to blowing 15,000 cubic feet of air that the consumer has already paid to heat, filter and humidify right out the chimney, they're drawing the equivalent amount of cold, dry, unfiltered air in from the outside.

Infiltration is what makes houses seem drafty during the winter.  Heat pumps require no combustion air, therefore, they completely eliminate the drafts and dryness caused by combustion air.

4. Heat pumps may last longer than "straight cool" air conditioners.

This is exactly the opposite of what most people think. It would stand to reason that, since heat pumps work year-round, that would be exactly why they would wear out quicker than straight cool units.  Think about it.  Would you expect a car that you ran only during the summer, and let sit out in the elements every winter to start every spring?  Of course not.  When do we see the most "dead" compressors? At the very start of the cooling season, right?

If running air conditioners is harder on them than sitting out in the winter, unused, why don't we see more dead compressors at the end of the summer than we do in the beginning?  Because a compressor is self-lubricating, that is, it lubricates itself as it runs.  When it doesn't run, it has no lubrication and "seizes up."  Because heat pumps run during the winter, they stay lubricated and consequently last longer.  

At the beginning of this year's cooling season, check your records and you'll see proportionately more dead compressors on straight cool units than you will on heat pumps.  Again, this benefit alone is enough to justify any additional cost to upgrade an investment in an air conditioner to an add-on heat pump.

5. They provide a choice of fuel.

All utilities are in a state of turmoil right now.  Regardless of your utilities' rates for electricity, gas or oil are at this time, they are bound to change. Whether heat pumps provide a savings in your area at this time or not, in the event that gas or oil rates skyrocket, your customers will have a leg up on the utility by having the option of choosing the least expensive way to heat their homes during milder winter weather.

6. Utility incentives.

Your local utility may provide rebates, a lower electric rate exclusively for heat pump customers and/or a guarantee not to increase their electric rate for a given period of time.  Make friends with the people in the Sales Department or Contractor Relations Department of your local electric utility.  They often have valuable sales aids and can send you sales leads.

If you sell them a straight cool unit and the local utility offers incentives to heat pump customers, and you don't give them an opportunity take advantage of those incentives by investing in an add-on heat pump, you could ultimately have a dissatisfied customer on your hands when they find out about it.

The Sales Approach:

When I think a heat pump is appropriate, I first sell the consumer on the idea of doing business with me.  I get a commitment from them to buy an air conditioner from me first.

I then open the topic of upgrading to an add-on heat pump with a question bearing on a need.  An example might be, "Your new air conditioner will provide you with more comfort during the summer than your old one did. If there were a type of air conditioner that could even out the temperatures and provide you with more comfort during the heating season also, would you want to know more about it?" Or, "If there were a way you could reduce your heating bill without buying a new furnace, would you want to know more about it?"

To explain its operation, tell them it's like installing a window air conditioner backwards with the cold air blowing outside and the warm air blowing inside.

Some sales people feel that they're taking a risk by offering their customers the best they have to offer because they might lose the sale to someone offering a different product with a significantly lower initial investment.  The fact is, quoting a customer the same thing everyone else has is a much larger risk. In sales and in life, you can't lose by putting your best foot forward.

The way to increase your closing ratio is differentiate your offer from that of your competition. Add-on heat pumps are a sales tool.  If you run a sales call where everyone else they've talked to has recommended a straight cool air conditioner, there's no point in your doing the same thing. Differentiate your offer by recommending an add-on heat pump.

In sales, the trick is not to "sell" anything, it's to solve problems.  If your customers are experiencing temperature stratification, uneven temperatures or draftiness during the winter, you can be the one who was more interested in solving their problems and making them more comfortable than everyone else. If your local utility offers incentives for heat pumps, they'll appreciate that information.  Once you educate them on the benefits of heat pump ownership, they'll wonder why no else did.  You'll come across as the ultimate professional and walk away with the sale, and it will be of a higher dollar amount than anyone else had even gone for.

If you really want to close more sales: Come to my four-day school in Ft. Myers, Charlie Greer's Sales Survival School for plumbing and HVAC techs and HVAC salespeople.