Let the Force Be With You

Forced-air systems are much improved over their predecessors, but that message must be skillfully communicated to homeowners.

High-efficiency oil furnaces are officially identified with the Energy Star, which signifies a minimum 85 percent A.F.U.E… Most oil furnace manufacturers have models that achieve this rating within one to two percent. (In addition, there are oil-fired furnaces with still higher efficiencies. They condense flue gases by removing extra heat.)

Some of the manufacturers of these units talked about the benefits the equipment offers, and how best to communicate those advantages to homeowners.

ECR International

With the increased costs of gasoline and groceries, homeowners are increasingly concerned about rising fuel costs and how they’re going to make ends meet each month, Carolyn Kuczynski, senior marketing representative, ECR International, Inc., said. The company manufactures and markets Olsen furnaces.

Sales reps should take the time to explain AFUE and give a savings example that everybody can relate to, Kuczynski advised.  An older, low-efficiency heating system can have an AFUE of 70 percent.  Explain to the homeowner what that means: 70 percent of the energy in the fuel that the homeowner buys becomes heat for the home and the other 30 percent escapes up the chimney and elsewhere.

‘The average homeowner can’t afford to throw away 30 percent of the groceries they put in their cart each month,” Kuczynski pointed out. ‘They won’t want to continue to waste that kind of money on fuel and will be more receptive to the idea of upgrading to a higher-efficiency unit.”

Newer units that feature an ECM direct drive variable speed blower provide more even, quiet comfort than their predecessors ‘ a major selling point.  Plus, utility rebates could be available, based on fuel efficiency and the electrical efficiency of the ECM motor.

Present a high-efficiency home heating system as an investment.  The value of that investment to the homeowner will depend on their wants and needs and their available resources.  Listen to your customer to get the best possible understanding of what is important to them.  It may be monthly fuel savings.  It may be comfort. It may be the peace of mind.

The return on high-efficiency furnaces will depend on the existing system and the efficiency of the planned replacement.  There are a number of on-line resources that can be used to calculate ROI including: http://www.aceee.org/consumer/heating

In today’s economy, people are generally staying in their homes longer.  A high efficiency furnace will have an immediate impact while the homeowner is still in the house, reducing the monthly fuel costs and making the home more comfortable.  Real estate listings (a first step in generating interest) typically include details regarding a home’s heating system. Prospective buyers will be looking at the condition of the existing heating system and may also ask about monthly fuel costs when considering one house over another. A high-efficiency heating system will make the house more competitive in the market, reducing the time the house is listed and hopefully increasing the overall sales price.


Granby Furnaces Inc. ‘Kerr High Efficiency Condensing Oil Warm Air Furnaces


‘Still today in 2011 we see a lot of oversized equipment,” Mario Bouchard, director of sales and marketing for Granby Industries, Granby, Quebec, said. ‘That’s certainly something that we still need to put focus on. Guys need to do more heat loss calculations before they decide on the unit and the size of the unit they need to put in.

‘If a homeowner has a unit with a one-gallon-per-hour nozzle input and that unit was installed twenty, twenty-five years ago, it’s more than likely the homeowner will have changed his windows in that time, or gotten new doors, maybe added insulation,” Bouchard said. Of the last one ‘ added insulation ‘ Bouchard said, ‘That alone would require a smaller heat load.” In addition, if the existing unit is 65 percent to 70 percent efficient and the new unit is going to be 95 percent efficient, ‘the nozzle size needs to be decreased quite a bit,” Bouchard said.

The Paradigm, manufactured by Granby Furnaces Inc., Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, which is owned by Granby Industries, is 95 percent efficient.

Greater efficiency units in general offer multiple significant advantages to the homeowner, Bouchard said. He contrasted them with conventional, or older, equipment.

If, for example, a homeowner had a unit that was 70 percent efficient and it had a gallon-per-hour nozzle, Bouchard said, ‘The actual heat going into the house would be equivalent to a .70 nozzle. That means you’re losing 30 percent of your efficiency out of the flue.”

In the case of a Paradigm, using the same calculations, a .65 nozzle could now be the correct size, Bouchard said. ‘So, it’s using a lot less fuel.”

Even if the homeowner plans to sell the house in a few years’ time, a case can be made for investing in a higher-efficiency unit, Bouchard said.

‘One of the things I always use as a selling point is the fuel savings in going from a 20-year-old furnace to a brand new condensing furnace,” Bouchard said, a change that can yield savings of up to 50 percent on fuel.  ‘It’s a short-term payback. Easily five years or less.” Having such a unit can make the house more competitive in the real estate market, Bouchard added. ‘The value of that furnace in that home increases the value against any other oil-heated home,” Bouchard pointed out. ‘If you have a choice of the same home with an old furnace versus a home with a new furnace it should be a no-brainer.”

The technology inside a new condensing furnace increases the comfort factor in a home by multiples, Bouchard said. ‘They’re much quicker to react to the call for heat. On an old furnace you probably have to wait three minutes before you start to get some hot air out of the registers. All that time that you’re burning oil without getting hot air out of the registers ‘ that heat is going out the flue.”

With the Paradigm, the blower begins sending hot air out of the registers within 30 second, Bouchard said. ‘All of the Granby products are that way, because of the Quick Heat design heat exchanger,” he said. ‘That’s what enables it.”

Newmac Manufacturing

Fuel savings ‘ and savings on fuel bills ‘ are the top selling points to play up to prospective purchasers of high-efficiency, Energy Star furnaces, said Tony Comeau of Newmac Manufacturing, Debert, Nova Scotia.

Better ‘comfort delivery” is the next big selling point, Comeau said, with optional variable speed motor technology providing more even temperature control for both heating and air conditioning operation. The advantage of comfort (based on ECM motor technology) can always be sold to the homeowner, Comeau said.  ‘Some newer homes operate the ventilation system through this type of blower technology,” Comeau noted.

Some states may still offer rebates for higher-efficiency furnaces. Fuel oil dealers can check for the latest information on such rebates at the Energy Savers website: http://www.energysavers.gov/financial/70022.html

Interaction with the prospective buyer must of course begin on the right foot, Comeau emphasized.

‘The first thing a sales or service technician should do is a combustion efficiency test on the existing equipment,” Comeau said. ‘Even though a unit is a few years old it may still provide good efficiency numbers and have further service life.”

That said, a unit that is 20 years old or older may be considered close to end of life by some real estate professionals, Comeau said, and may adversely affect selling price. ‘The technician needs to be honest, which is always the best plan for long-term business success,” Comeau said.  

If the interaction develops to the point where a fuel oil dealer’s sales rep is standing with the homeowner in the basement, or trying to complete a sale at the kitchen table, what he should say about the advantage of Energy Star furnaces is: ‘More heat goes into the home and not up the chimney,” Comeau said.

From that factor, Comeau said, two major benefits result: reduced annual operating costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, since less fuel is being burned annually. The significance of reduced greenhouse gas emissions to each homeowner will vary according to the homeowner’s personal commitment to the ‘green” movement, Comeau noted.

As for typical objections a buyer might come up with regarding oil-fired furnaces, and how a dealer can parry them, Comeau came up with three examples. Here they are, with the rejoinders in parentheses:  The customer says oil has high greenhouse gas emissions (new biofuels are being developed); other fuels have lower annual costs (all fuels are not available in every market, especially in rural areas); the price of oil is too variable (exploration can result in discovery of greater reserves).



An Alternative Approach

Intellidyne, Plainview, N.Y., makes and markets ‘economizers,” including the IntelliCon FA, a microprocessor-based, fuel-saving control for forced-air heating systems. Installed on new or existing forced air heating systems, the device is designed to reduce fuel consumption, wear and tear on parts, flue emissions and electrical usage, the company said. Intellidyne said it guarantees it reduces energy consumption at least 10 percent.

Roy Hubble, a certified contractor for Intellidyne, said he was busy installing the economizers in and around Franklin N.H. There are numerous houses in the area with older, oil-fired equipment ‘ ‘Tons of them,” he said. ‘So many it’s not even funny.”

Hubble said he planned to purchase a recreational vehicle and plaster the sides of it with promotional information about Intellidyne. 

‘Homeowners can spend a lesser amount and recoup the money in one to two years,” Hubble said. ‘And it’s got a 15-year guarantee on it. It’s a no-brainer.”

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