By Mark S. Timmons, CWS-VI, CI, CSR

Summary: Whether large or small in size, water treatment dealers are always looking to maximize their profit potential. Increasingly, they’re finding the answer in a rather peculiar area—air quality. While installing an RO system or softener, dealers may want to discuss the possibilities with their customers on how UV disinfection may benefit them.

Many consumers have no idea how a water quality system can affect their lives, but a number of dealers are beginning to look at how their products can be leveraged in other ways to complement existing water quality equipment and services. There are second and third-generation dealers with literally tens of thousands of faithful customers who are in a position to provide additional products and/or services for these customers. Many dealers who have been in the industry for a short period of time are looking for ways to get an “edge” in sales of their respective water quality products. Almost all dealers are looking for additional profit centers.

It has been suggested by some that water quality goes hand-in-hand with air quality. While that may be a somewhat simplistic approach, there’s merit to the idea. Many consumers have water quality systems in their homes because of underlying concerns about their health or their families’ health. They realize that some waterborne contaminants can be potentially harmful. Likewise, they may have similar concerns about airborne contaminants.

Two birds with one stone
Water quality dealers are finding that customers who’ve opted for carbon filtration, distillation or reverse osmosis (RO) are also candidates for improving their air quality. After all, a person can live up to five weeks without food, five days without water but only five minutes without air. They realize the importance of the household air in which they spend up to 90 percent of their time. HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) companies generally do a good job of providing indoor air solutions for their customers, such as electronic air cleaners and humidifiers for use in dry winter climates.

Most people know outdoor air pollution can damage their health but, over the last several years, studies show indoor air pollution may be even worse. In the last quarter century, energy use in home heating and cooling systems has become an important issue. With fuel cost concerns at the forefront, the recent trend has been for homes to be sealed as tightly as possible to conserve energy, thus trapping many pollutants inside, including bacteria, viruses, yeast, mold and mildew. The downside to conservation of energy and “tighter” homes is that nearly 100 million Americans suffer from allergy, asthma and other respiratory problems that cause restricted breathing, watery/itchy eyes and nasal discomfort. Fungi, molds and mildew pass through the air, live and reproduce in the HVAC system. If a person’s allergies act up when they enter a home or building, it may be the biological growth in the HVAC system that causes the reaction.

Read between the lines
A few water treatment dealers have gotten involved with air quality only to find that a $1,000 ozone or ion-generating system was harder to sell than a $2,500 softener and RO system. Also, as in any industry, there are companies making wild claims that have little or no basis in fact. In an industry rife with claims and little or no regulation, where should a dealer turn for answers? There are numerous products that claim to provide solutions to indoor air quality problems, including ozone and ion generators, HEPA filters and all sorts of tabletop devices.

Ozone is a potent oxidizer of many harmful substances, but it’s a lung irritant as well. Plus, a home would require certain levels of ozone, which may create additional health problems for users over a prolonged time. Tabletop, floor or wall-mounted filtration systems are considered effective to certain degrees; but even though they may have powerful fan motors to circulate the air, they may circulate the same air repeatedly—and not really treat all the air in the home.

UV as an option
On the other hand, ultraviolet (UV) air disinfection has been utilized in HVAC systems for over 20 years and is a reliable method to help make indoor air healthier. While not a cure-all, it could easily be the most viable option for water quality dealers who want to add air quality to their mix of services. In most cases, it’s easily installed near the heating/cooling coil of the HVAC system. Installation usually involves drilling one or two holes in the duct system (depending upon whether a one or two bulb system is utilized), using sheet metal screws to secure it to the duct and plugging the unit into a standard 115 volt electrical outlet. Many manufacturers provide a “template,” which makes the installation a breeze. Dealers report that most installations take less than one hour.

UV is well proven to be an effective disinfectant. It’s widely used in the industry to keep food and liquids germ-free during processing and packaging. It’s also used in aircraft ventilation systems to prevent infection. There’s currently research utilizing UV to treat blood tainted by the AIDS virus. By nature, the coil of a cooling system is in a dark place with frequent condensation. This is an ideal environment for the growth of mold and mildew. Sneezing isn’t always the symptom of a cold. Sometimes, it’s an allergic reaction to something in the air.

Use as disinfection
A UV air disinfection system floods the coil area of a cooling system with energy, which dramatically reduces airborne bacteria, mold, mildew and viruses. Not only does it destroy and prevent mold and mildew from growing in the dark, damp coil area, UV also creates a “disinfection chamber” whereby all the air circulated by the HVAC system is affected. Most manufacturers recommend that the HVAC fan run continually so the process runs “round the clock.”

Installed properly, the UV system won’t interfere with any existing HVAC system operation. In some instances, it may be desired to install a unit on both the supply (coil) and the return air to provide more thorough disinfection of the air. Some units have alarms that sound when the UV bulbs fail to light or to notify the consumer when the UV bulb(s) need changing (usually once a year). Before selling or installing such a product, a dealer should be trained in installation and service of the product by the manufacturer and be knowledgeable about indoor air quality.

Conclusion
Not only can the sale of UV disinfection systems become a company profit center, but the dealer will reap profits every year from replacement UV bulbs. In fact, many dealers are in the customers’ homes at least once each year to deliver salt, change RO filters or perform other routine maintenance. Why not make those calls a little more profitable and add UV air disinfection to the mix? Your customers will breathe easier knowing that you are concerned with their indoor air quality.

About the author
Mark Timmons has 29 years experience in the air and water treatment industry and is a manufacturers’ representative for UV Air Solutions and IWW Inc. From 1997 to 2001, he worked for American Residential Service, a division of ServiceMaster and the largest U.S. plumbing and HVAC services provider. Timmons can be reached by email: mark@marktimmons.com.

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