The Right Way to Sell Your Best Furnace by Charlie Greer

You don't have to prove a payback on energy savings to sell more 90+ furnaces.

Super high-efficiency furnaces fit the particular needs and desires for certain types of customers. So your first step is to determine who is a candidate for a super high-efficiency furnace. Let's begin by listing the types of needs customers may have that a super high-efficiency furnace will fill, then we'll show how a super high-efficiency furnace will meet each those needs.

Candidates for super high-efficiency furnaces are:

  • Homeowners with a furnace located within their conditioned living area, such as a closet
  • Homeowners with a noise problem
  • Homeowners who want the quietest furnace possible
  • Homeowners experiencing "temperature stratification," that is, it's cold near the floor and hot near the ceiling
  • Homeowners experiencing gross "temperature swings," that is, instead of having consistently comfortable temperatures before, during and after cycles, the house gets cold, the furnace kicks on, then it gets hot
  • Homeowners with a failed heat exchanger who are planning to keep their home
  • Homeowners who are going to keep their home and want the lowest possible heating cost
  • Homeowners with a furnace located within the heated space that are experiencing a "drafty" home
  • Homeowners who are sensitive to the drying effects of forced air furnaces
  • Homes where installing a double-walled venting system is not practical
  • Homes where the only access to the furnace is via a bathroom or bedroom; both of which are code violations
  • Homeowners concerned about the heat from the flue vent or where it poses a safety hazard
  • Energy conscious homeowners
  • Homeowners who want "the best."

THE NOISE SITUATION:

One of the first things we salespeople learned when selling the new "80+" furnaces was, don't tell the homeowner that their new furnace will be quieter than the old one. When you take out an old furnace with "ribbon" burners and replace it with one having "in-shot," or venturi burners, and a combustion fan, then install it in a hall closet, you're setting yourself up for a noise complaint, aren't you? The sealed combustion chambers in the super-high efficiency furnaces (using a "two-pipe" vent system) solves those complaints, doesn't it? Make it a furnace with a variable-speed fan motor, and you've got one of the quietest home heating systems, using forced air, that you can have.

TEMPERATURE STRATIFICATION:

The variable-speed blowers of some super high-efficiency furnaces, and especially those with variable capacity burners, greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate stratification because:

The blower runs almost continuously, keeping the air circulating for more even temperatures

The variable capacity burners prevent temperature swings by running at "low flame" almost continuously.

THE WARRANTY ISSUE:

Additionally, in most furnaces, the variable-speed indoor blowers will also make the make home more comfortable during the air conditioning season.

Failed or aging heat exchangers showing signs of wear are the primary reason homeowners invest in new furnaces. The technology of heat exchangers themselves is changing as rapidly as any other furnace component, and every manufacturer has reasons why theirs is the best and will last the longest, but most of heat exchangers haven't been in the field long enough to be proven over a long period of time. Since most super high-efficiency furnaces come with a lifetime warranty on the heat exchanger, everyone who wants the lowest possible cost and is planning to stay in their home should choose one. This is a strong selling point for every customer with a heat exchanger problem. A statement I've made to homeowners experiencing heat exchanger problems on a builder model that had a ten-year heat exchanger warranty, who are shopping for a replacement furnace now, has been, "The furnace I'm going to put in for you now wasn't available when your home was built, but if it had been and you had one, we wouldn't be having this conversation now, because the component you're having trouble with would be replaced free of charge. The only thing you'd be paying for is the labor to install it. And that's good from now on."

This same comment works equally well, if not better, on homeowners with furnaces thirty years old or more. Replacement furnaces are expensive now, but can you imagine what they'll cost in twenty-five or thirty years? Imagine having a heat exchanger fail after thirty years of service and getting a new one free of charge!

Investing in a new furnace with a lifetime heat exchanger warranty is the lowest cost alternative for the homeowners who are keeping their home.

DEALING WITH DRAFTINESS:

What makes a home seem "drafty" in the winter? Most people will say it's the cracks in the home, but how do they make a home drafty? Does the wind blow right through them? It's possible in some homes, but not likely in most. The fact is, in many cases, it's their fossil fuel furnace!

Try this simple experiment: With the furnace "off," hold a lighted match in front of an electrical outlet, then have someone else turn up the temperature on the thermostat to make the furnace burners light. In a matter of seconds, even before the blower kicks on, the flame will begin to flicker like a candle in the wind. That's due to combustion air for the furnace rushing through the cracks in the walls.

It takes approximately fifteen cubic feet of air to produce 1,050 Btu's of heat (Source -- Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technology, Second Edition, by William C. Whitman and William M. Johnson, 1991, Delmar Publishers, Inc., Albany NY). That calculates to approximately 1,429 cubic feet of combustion air needed to run a 100,000 Btu furnace for one hour

If a 100,000 Btu furnace runs fifty percent of the time on a typical winter day, it will run for a total of twelve hours over the twenty-four hour day. That would make the amount of outside air required for combustion on a typical winter day 1,429 cubic feet of outside air X 12 hours, or 17,148 cubic feet.

That means that, in a home where the furnace is located within the conditioned space, on a typical winter day the furnace is drawing 17,148 cubic feet of outside air into the home, and that's the source of a lot of complaints about "drafty" homes. The furnace is actually drawing 17,148 cubic feet of below freezing temperature air into the home every day and expelling warm air out the vent pipe that the homeowner has already paid to heat!

I've often gotten a laugh when, after explaining this to the homeowner, I've said, "One way to cool down your home during the winter is to turn on your furnace!"

The combination of the closed combustion chamber and venting system of the super high-efficiency furnaces eliminates draftiness caused by infiltration to provide combustion air by bringing all of the combustion air to the furnace through a sealed pipe. The larger the furnace and the looser the home, the more it's needed and the greater the improvement.

THE DRYING EFFECT OF FORCED AIR HEAT:

This brings us to another major benefit of the "two-pipe" sealed combustion system of super high-efficiency furnaces--better humidity control.

The recommended indoor relative humidity level is approximately 35%. A high quality, correctly sized humidifier can provide that, protecting the home and furnishings from drying out during the winter, as well as the health benefits that proper humidity levels provide.

Unfortunately, a standard furnace, when located within the conditioned space, is blowing warm, humidified air out the flue while bringing cold, dry outside air into the living area through infiltration. 10 degree outside air with a seventy percent relative humidity drops to 6 percent relative humidity when brought indoors and heated to seventy-two degrees.

The sealed, "two-pipe" combustion system of the super high-efficiency furnaces eliminate the drying effects of infiltration by using outside air for the combustion process.

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT INSTALLATIONS:

Occasionally you'll run into an installation calling for a new double-wall vent system where it is not practical or downright impossible to install. Typical examples are older homes with old furnaces and unacceptable venting, hydronic or baseboard heating or even no central heat (there may be floor furnaces or wall heaters), where the furnace must be located in the basement and there is no chimney to use for venting.

Often, the price of a super high-efficiency furnace with a horizontal venting system is comparable to the cost of installing a lower cost furnace (that provides the homeowner with fewer benefits) requiring a double-wall venting system.

Additionally, from the contractors (and salesperson's) point of view, the horizontal venting option of super high-efficiency furnaces often eliminates the problems associated with chimney liners and, in the case of new installations in existing homes, roof penetrations (potential for roof leakage, finding an acceptable roofer, aesthetics).

THE SAFETY ISSUE:

Homeowners who've been burned by the vent pipes of their old furnaces often find the lower temperatures of the vent pipes of the super high-efficiency furnaces desirable.

SHOULD YOUR PRESENTATION BE BASED ON A "PAYBACK?"

Everyone thinks they have to prove a payback within the time frame a customer will own the home to sell equipment these days. You're doing yourself a tremendous disservice by putting yourself in that frame of mind because:

The average family moves every seven years. Unless you're installing the new equipment within the first year or two they live in the home, you might not be able to show a payback during the amount of time they will own the home

The homeowner may not even have been considering the purchase contingent upon your being able to prove a complete payback, but your raising the issue can stand in the way of closing the sale.

Rather than state a specific time frame for a return on investment, I've gotten into the habit of stating, "It will pay for itself at least over the life of the equipment."

A 90+ furnace will pay for itself in utility savings over a reasonable period of time, but, due to its lower initial investment, so will an 80+ furnace.

The table below shows the difficulty, except in extremely cold climates with astronomically high utility rates, of showing how a 90+ furnace will reduce gas consumption enough to offset the additional investment of $1,000-2,500 that a 90+ furnace requires over an 80+ furnace, in five years or less.

ANNUAL OPERATING COMPARISON GUIDE FOR GAS FURNACES

HEAT LOSS (Btu)

 

80,000

 

100,000

 

120,000

AFUE (%)

 

60

80

90

 

60

80

90

 

60

80

90

DEGREE DAYS

$/therm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2500
(50° Temp. Diff.)

.50

 

$ 616

$ 462

$ 411

 

$ 770

$ 578

$ 513

 

$ 924

$ 693

$ 616

.65

 

801

601

534

 

1001

751

667

 

1201

901

801

.80

 

986

739

657

 

1232

924

821

 

1478

1109

986

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5000
(70° Temp. Diff.)

.50

 

880

660

587

 

1100

825

733

 

1320

990

880

.65

 

1144

858

763

 

1430

1072

953

 

1716

1287

1144

.80

 

1408

1056

938

 

1760

1320

1173

 

2112

1584

1408

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7500
(80° Temp. Diff.)

.50

 

1155

866

770

 

1444

1083

963

 

1733

1299

1155

.65

 

1502

1126

1001

 

1877

1408

1251

 

2252

1689

1502

.80

 

1848

1386

1232

 

2310

1732

1540

 

2772

2079

1848

(Above calculations were computed using the "ProMax One Palm Top Computer, which is what I use on sales calls to run a load calculation and compute energy savings. For more information, call (877) 798-2194. I make no commissions and receive no compensation for this endorsement.)

While some variable speed furnaces using a DC blower motor will provide additional savings on the electric consumption, these furnaces have an even higher price tag, so it's still difficult to show offsetting savings within a five year time frame. Basing your entire presentation on a 90+'s ability to offset the price difference between it and an 80+ furnace with utility savings alone can cause a homeowner to ignore all the other real benefits of 90+ furnaces.

The truth is, when you consider all the benefits 90+ furnaces provide in comfort, noise level and warranty, their additional efficiency is the least important reason to invest in one.

Why do people buy expensive cars? It can't be for economy or energy efficiency. It seems that, in the cars that are on the market today, the higher the price tag, the lower the gas mileage! I suppose there is a certain amount of status and pride of ownership in having the best furnace on the market, but even setting those aside, you could say that the primary reason people invest in the better cars is the same reason they invest in the better furnaces -- comfort.

IT'S ALL A MATTER OF SEMANTICS!

Why did this industry start referring to equipment by their efficiency ratings? Doing so causes consumers to see all 90+ furnaces as being equal, which they're not, and to ignore all their other features and benefits. Throughout this article, I've referred to the super high-efficiency furnaces and the 90+ furnaces in the same manner that most of us do in order to keep the communications simple. Let's work as an industry to change our terminology. Let's quit describing our equipment by their efficiency ratings and start using more descriptive terms when presenting them to the buying public.

The next time a prospective customer asks about your super high-efficiency furnaces, instead of saying, "You mean the 90+?" try one of these:

  • You mean our quietest furnace?
  • You mean the furnace that pays for itself?
  • You mean the furnace that cuts down on draftiness?
  • You mean our lifetime warranty model?
  • You mean the one that reduces temperature swings?
  • You mean the one that provides the most even temperatures?
  • You mean the one that helps keep your humidity at the right level?
  • You mean our longest lasting furnace?
  • You mean our safest furnace?
  • You mean our best furnace?

DO WHAT THE OTHER GUYS DON'T DO!

Most salespeople in our industry are overly concerned about their competition. In order to keep the price as low as possible, many don't even mention our best equipment and some even steer customers away from it.

Most salespeople, when caught in multiple bid situations, bid equipment of comparable features and efficiency, then try to sell the customer on service.

Yes, you need to sell them on service, but your best bet is always to quote them on equipment that is entirely different from the competition in order to avoid a direct comparison. For the reason mentioned above, this usually means quoting them on the better system.

Try it. Sometimes, a customer, who has had several bids and only been quoted on standard grade equipment, will actually become perturbed if not angry at your competitors for not recommending the better equipment. It's as if they thought the homeowner didn't have the money or wasn't interested in quality. Regardless, you nearly always make a favorable impression when showing them the best, and it's far easier to "downgrade" a sale to the lower end equipment than it is to "upgrade" a sale to the higher end equipment.

On the flip side of things, unless it's done right, your bringing up the higher quality equipment can be exactly what stands in the way of your closing the sale on the spot. Consumers can often feel confident in your abilities and the ability of your company to do the job right, but feel they need time to decide which grade equipment they want. Unfortunately, they've also been known to use that time to acquire other bids and, in the mean time, forget about how impressed they were with you and your presentation.

When I see that coming, I handle it in advance by offering, "Tell you what. I don't want to rush you into making a decision right now. The main thing I need to know today is that you want me to install it for you, whichever furnace you decide on. Since you're going to want it installed as soon as possible and I can't put it in for a couple of days anyway, why don't I go ahead and write up a work order for the standard furnace? This way I can get you put on the installation schedule. I'll also note right on the work order what the investment will be for you to upgrade to the better furnace. This allows you to take you time deciding which furnace you want. Just let me know which one to bring out to you the day before the installation, okay?" Now I know I've got the sale when I walk out the door.

In selling equipment, whether you're looking at installing the best our industry has to offer or you're using a builder grade model for someone changing the equipment to make their home more marketable, your best bet is to look at your customers' needs and fill them. Solve their problems. The key to making it in any industry is to find out what the public wants, and let them have it. Take an interest in your potential equipment customers. Find out what problems they've been having with their existing equipment; take a look at the features and benefits of your best furnace (see below) and chances are you'll see it will do the best job of eliminating the problems they have with their existing furnace and make them more comfortable, and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Feature

Benefit

"Two-pipe" flue vent

Sealed combustion chamber

Reduces and often eliminates sound

Eliminates the humidity removal caused by "open" combustion systems

Variable speed blowers

Variable capacity burners

Provide even temperatures, reduces or eliminates "temperature swings" between cycles

Quietest forced air heating system available

Reduces operating costs for both heating and air conditioning

Variable speed blowers

Makes air conditioning more comfortable and efficient

Lifetime heat exchanger warranty

Lowest cost alternative for homeowners who plan on keeping their home because they will never have to pay for another heat exchanger again

Horizontal venting system

Offsets the price difference between a lower grade furnace requiring a double-wall venting system while providing the homeowner with more benefits

Cooler and safer than the flue vents of standard furnaces

Eliminates the possibility of roof leakage

Energy efficient

Lower utility bills

More than pays for itself over the lifetime of the equipment

Environmentally friendly

Best furnace available

Pride of ownership

All the benefits listed above.

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