Contractors prepare for the spring/summer of 2017
Spring has sprung, and summer is on its way. While catching some rays and spending time at the beach is enjoyable for many, most still turn to their air conditioning systems for comfort during the hottest months of the year.
According to reports from AccuWeather, this summer is sure to leave Americans sizzling as most regions are expected to endure above-average temperatures.
“Throughout April, May, and June, we’re looking at above-average temperatures with the exception of the Northwest region, which will experience below-average temperatures,” said Bob Smerbeck, senior meteorologist, AccuWeather. “The warmest temperatures will be in west Texas across New Mexico and into the eastern region of Arizona. Above-average temperatures will extend northward toward Denver, as well.
“The high Plains and central regions will also experience higher than average temperatures. The coolest temperatures will occur in Washington and Oregon, the mountains of Iowa, and in western Montana.
“July through August will bring warmer than average temperatures to about two-thirds of the country,” he said. “It will be a warm summer nationwide.”
As for which regions will receive exceptionally hot temperatures, Paul Pastelok, senior meteorologist and lead long-range forecaster, AccuWeather, pointed to the South.
“It is a race between western Texas and south Florida,” he said. “These areas have already hit close to 90 degrees this year. Watch in mid-April and again in May for these highs to be surpassed. If the dryness becomes impressive in the southwest Plains, some of these areas in June or July can reach near 110 degrees.”
In addition to higher temperatures and electricity prices, fuel costs are projected to be slightly higher during the spring and summer than in 2016.
According to a projection from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), average U.S. monthly regular gasoline retail prices are expected to increase from $2.30 per gallon in February 2017 to $2.51 per gallon in July.
Additionally, the EIA projects higher residential electricity costs for the second quarter, April through June, and the third quarter, July through September. The nation’s average electricity price is projected to increase from 12.66 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to 12.86 in the second quarter and from 12.81 to 13.19 cents per kWh in the third quarter.
With higher costs and a projected hot summer, we asked HVACR contractors what they were doing to prepare for the upcoming steamy months.
Butch Welsch, owner, Welsch Heating and Cooling, St. Louis, said these slight increases don’t scare him.
“I don’t believe energy costs will have any significant effect on us this year. However, we do have safeguards in place if gasoline prices go up in a major way, but I don’t anticipate that.”
With the demanding, long, hot summer months just a few weeks away, many contractors are struggling to find and retain qualified labor.
While seasoned veterans may completely understand how to sell higher-efficiency products, warranties, and rebates, newer technicians may not. So, contractors are carefully placing technicians in positions to succeed in hopes of making the most out of the summer of 2017.
“In order to prepare for the busy season, we are adding junior service technicians and training them to do our tuneups, which frees up our senior technicians, so they can run the important repair and sales calls,” said Steve Moon, owner of Moon Air Conditioning and Heating in Elkton, Maryland.
Similarly, Steve Ohl, president, R.F. Ohl Heating and Cooling in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, is utilizing new training methods to ensure service technicians are readily available.
“We started cross-training other types of technicians, such as plumbers, electricians, and installers, to do tuneups. This will help with the seasonal tuneup demand because it keeps the service technicians available for high-demand service calls. We are also hiring co-op students from local technical schools and colleges.”
Contractors prefer to begin training for the spring and summer seasons during the winter months to ensure technicians are on their A-games.
“A busy upcoming season just means that the training has to take place earlier and quicker,” said Welsch.
Moon agreed, stating “If you wait until the season gets here, you just blew all the training opportunities you had to prepare technicians for the busy season.”
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With higher energy costs and temperatures, contractors should target the sale of high-efficiency units. In order to prepare, contractors are ensuring customers are made aware of their benefits by basing sales on the perks that accompany these units.
“Most manufacturers typically have rebates on highly efficient 16- to 18-SEER units, which make them worth consideration. That decision typically comes down to the individual’s situation, such as the years they plan to remain in their homes and current financial positions,” said Welsch. “We sell high-efficiency units based on utility and manufacturers’ rebates and after making the determination that the higher-efficiency replacement is really what is best for the customer.”
Expressing the benefits of higher-SEER units is also a common way to sell customers on energy efficiency, especially since higher-SEER ratings generally mean greater efficiency.
“In order to sell customers a high-efficiency unit, we compare the energy usage of the higher-SEER equipment,” Moon said. “Higher-SEER units usually have a better warranty and better financing options. I will also negotiate a rebate with my vendor if I sell a certain amount of higher-SEER units.”
Mini-split systems are also expected to be popular items this summer.
“Mini-split systems have the ability to do ‘zone comfort’ with multiple head units in all rooms of the home,” Ohl said. “We just completed a home show, and 90 percent of the people were asking about mini splits versus whole-house ducted systems.”
Typically, customers are extremely interested in increasing the efficiency of their HVAC equipment if and when they purchase replacements.
“We always offer efficiency as the top choice,” Ohl said. “We let customers tell us they are not interested in efficiency; otherwise, we’re going to offer it every time.”
OFF AND RUNNING
Contractors typically make the most money when temperatures are hot and indoor climates follow suit. And, accordingly, the contractors we spoke with were welcoming the upcoming summer season with open arms.
“Bring on the heat!” said Welsch.
“We are ready,” Ohl said. “It’s about time.”
And, what advice does Moon have for contractors during this busy time of the year?
“Be organized, have a backup plan, and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. Let’s rock and roll.”