Homeowners are educating themselves about the features HVAC systems have to offer, according to the manufacturers. They're willing to pay more for better levels of comfort, and gas system options enable them to compensate for initial costs by saving more on power bills in the long run.
As more homes get equipped with gas lines, the gas furnace market continues to grow. Availability and cost effectiveness of gas makes it a popular choice with homeowners. “Sixty-nine to 70 percent of new homes get gas installed,” says Tim Storm, furnace product leader for Trane. “The gas furnace market has been growing, between 6 to 10 percent a year for the last four or five years.”
Although gas is seeing a lot of activity in new construction right now, industry experts anticipate a shift toward even more replacement and retrofit sales in the future, as the heaters in new homes wear out. “Our industry goes in cycles,” says Kathy Barcomb, product marketing specialist for Lennox. “Right now, we have a big residential new construction boom, but we will have a retrofit boom.”
Whenever a remodel involves adding insulation, windows or extra rooms, it's time to reconsider a new furnace, according to manufacturers. When a home is built, often a larger-than-necessary furnace is installed. This can result in more severe temperature swings than normal. Now, furnace technology can control those temperature swings and even direct airflow differently from room to room. This added level of control and comfort is a perk that homeowners are more willing to pay for than they have been in the past.
"Homeowners are getting more and more sophisticated," says Dennis Closter, vice president of global business development for York International. "Everyone has access to the Internet, [and are using it to educate themselves.] In the past, lower price would have been the main factor [in their HVAC decisions.] Now, they're at a higher level, and instead of going for a low cost and just basic comfort, they're willing to pay more to be comfortable--they're looking at the big picture instead of just price."
The two main features attracting homeowners--two- and variable-speed furnaces--both help homeowners cut their energy costs in addition to increasing comfort. Both systems allow furnaces to operate at more than one level of heat output, resulting in furnaces that operate for longer periods of time, but use much less power, and create a more consistent indoor temperature.
"It's technology that's been out for about 15 years that's just starting to catch on," says Tim Storm, furnace product leader for Trane. "With a variable-speed motor, you can run your indoor fan continuously, but it draws the power of about a 75-watt lightbulb."
|DEALING WITH THE UP-SELL|
Although variable-speed blowers and two-stage capable heaters have been available in the market for nearly 15 years, few homes contain them. Homeowners are willing to pay for the comfort enhancements, but few customers are even given the option. The problem? Dealers, say the manufacturers. Concerned with prices over options, dealers often neglect to inform homeowners of the options available to them.
"A lot of the time, it's just a price game," says Tim Storm, furnace product leader for Trane. "[The customers] would've bought a better system, but they weren't aware of their options," he says. "The homeowners would be more comfortable...and the dealers would make more money. It's a win-win situation for everybody."
According to Douglas Mafch, senior product manager for Bryant and Carrier, the solution is to develop a system with your HVAC contractors. "Have a good relationship with your HVAC contractor, and have them make a pitch to the homeowner on the latest comfort equipment, unless the remodeler themselves is familiar with it," he says. Although consumers currently have to rely on experts to guide them through the decision-making process, this might not always be the case, says Kathy Barcomb, product-marketing specialist for Lennox. As consumers demand more information from the Internet, they'll take over more and more of the HVAC-purchasing process. "I think that in the future, they'll be going to a dealer and saying, `This is what I want.' But for right now, we're just getting there. The information age is helping our industry," she says.
Variable-speed furnaces can also enable homeowners to zone their homes, tailoring the heat flow for different rooms. Colder rooms get more warm air, easily heated rooms get less. "Tailoring the air flow that goes through different zones is a comfort enhancement," says Kathy Barcomb, product marketing specialist for Lennox. In addition to speed features, humidity control and combined water/space heaters are also attracting homeowners to re-evaluate their HVAC systems.
And there's no doubt that gas is going to be the fuel of choice for both customers and manufacturers. "Gas has the advantage as far as being the most comfortable type of heat," says Douglas Mafch, product manager for Bryant and Carrier. "It warms up faster, is more efficient and costs less." Although the costs of installing gas lines to a home are considerable, more and more homes are being constructed with natural gas lines. And each year, the replacement market for gas furnaces makes up a bigger section of the furnace market. The average gas heater lasts about 20 years before it has to be replaced, so homes built in the early 1980s, with gas lines installed, are prime targets for a furnace upgrade. "What we see is that the retrofit and replacement market grows each year," says Closter. "The trend is that replacement will grow as a percentage of the total."
|Can variable-speed and two-stage heaters really save your clients money on their heating bill each month? According to research from York International, it can. The average 10-year-old furnace operates at about 60-percent efficiency. The chart below illustrates how the average monthly cost of heating drops as furnace efficiency goes up.|