By Mario Di Franco

In our three most recent home shows, about 75 percent of the people who stopped to visit our booth were interested in air purification and the remainder in water purification. With the increase in public concern over air quality and more people suffering from respiratory ailments, you can understand why the air treatment market is experiencing rapid growth.

“The need and desire for healthy homes and environmentally sound architecture will generate new products and new specialties within traditional construction industries, trades, and professions.” This is one of the “trendposts” in the book Trends 2000 written in 1997 by Gerald Celente, founder of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was absolutely right. We’re about to enter the hyper-growth phase of a new era in the retail and services market fueled by the need and desire for healthier indoor environments at home and work.

‘Sick building syndrome’
It all started in the ’80s with literally millions of people in the workplace suffering symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches and fatigue. That was when the term “sick building syndrome” was first coined. In the ’90s, because of prioritization of energy conservation resulting in airtight homes and new construction materials employed, the aforementioned symptoms became even more prevalent in modern homes. Now, state-of-the-art residential air purification and ventilation systems are becoming standard equipment. The next business diversification opportunity for water dealers has been created and is right here, right now.

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows indoor air quality (IAQ) has tremendous impact on human health. According to the Canadian Lung Association, 20 percent of Canadians have some sort of lung disease such as asthma, emphysema or lung cancer. In a larger scope, if people with allergies and sensitivities are considered, up to one-third of North Americans may have a respiratory condition. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has ranked IAQ as a high priority health risk. Perhaps the most well known research fact on indoor air comes from the USEPA’s studies of human exposure to air pollutants that indicate air pollutant levels indoors are typically two to five times worse than outdoor levels. With recent world events and homeland security issues, much has been written about protecting and maintaining air and water quality. Improved IAQ is a legitimate concern.

Factoring in IAQ
IAQ is simply the impact that properties of indoor air have on our personal comfort as well as airborne contaminants on the air we breathe and subsequently our health and well-being. A basic understanding of the factors affecting IAQ is needed to be a successful air treatment dealer. These factors follow:

  • Heating and cooling system—An improperly sized heating and cooling system can lead to personal discomfort. For example, if an air conditioner is oversized, thereby cooling a home too quickly, less moisture is removed from the air—thus, increasing the possibility that mold may form.
  • Duct system—Oftentimes a higher air particle count reading in a certain room relative to others can indicate a lack of airflow. Both supply and exhaust ductwork needs to be sized properly to support required air flow for control of temperature, humidity and, assuming a central filtration system is used, contaminants.

These first two factors affecting IAQ should be dealt with by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) experts. The next three IAQ factors are where water treatment dealers can establish themselves very effectively.

  • Contaminant control—Human activity and building materials are largely responsible for the production of many airborne contaminants. Much of what composes indoor dust is primarily dead skin cells that flake off and hair. Building materials can “off-gas” or release compounds such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive element that’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. It’s typically present in damp basements that don’t have sealed foundations and can be released from aerosolized water such as in showers. Installing the proper air treatment system will solve many contaminant concerns and improve lifestyles.
  • Ventilation system—Newer homes are designed to be more energy efficient, albeit at the expense of poor air ventilation. This can lead to too much humidity, promoting mold growth, increased levels of gases such as carbon monoxide and other combustion by-products as well as odors. When installing ventilators for a home, compliance with all local building and gas codes is a must. These installs can be sub-contracted to an HVAC worker or performed in-house with the proper training. Good engineering practice suggests, in general, that a ventilator should be able to exchange the home’s interior air every three hours.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. revealed that the majority of ventilators installed aren’t maintained properly because homeowners do not know how to maintain them. Water treatment dealers can educate customers on maintenance or provide excellent ventilator service (see Figure 1) while at the customer’s home servicing their water treatment products.

  • Filtration and treatment system—It’s desirable, especially for special needs customers with respiratory conditions, to remove particles 2.5 microns in size and smaller as these are respirable. As in water treatment, systems should be sized accordingly. In-line filters (see Figure 2) need to be sized within manufac-turer’s specifications to permit enough airflow.

When choosing a whole-house bypass high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system (see Figure 3), it’s important to not undersize a system and make sure it’s a sealed system. An undersized system won’t restrict airflow but needs to be powerful enough to reduce interior contaminant levels significantly. Installed systems can be suspended or left freestanding. In the install shown in Figure 3, the customer needed floor space for storage so the whole-house HEPA system was installed wall-mounted. Some of the benefits our customers have shared with us include less asthma and allergy attacks, reduced medication, reduced nasal congestion, improved sleeping and breathing and improved dust levels.

Airing consumer concerns
Marketing research conducted by Itasca, Ill.’s Chelsea Group, which specializes in indoor mold and related IAQ issues, in July of 2001 asked American homeowners “When you think of home, do you think the quality of air inside the house is… The choices and responses follow:

  • Very important—80.6 percent
  • Somewhat important—16.4 percent
  • Not important—2.5 percent
  • Don’t know/refused—0.5 percent

In summary, over 95 percent of the general population is concerned about IAQ at home with the vast majority finding it “very important.” Another intriguing trend coming out of this data is homeowners prefererence for whole-house as opposed to room-by-room solutions for controlling dust, mold and other allergens by nearly 2-to-1. Similarly, a Canadian Lung Association Survey indicated 82 percent of Canadians would purchase products having a positive impact on home air quality. This survey was taken over 10 years ago in 1992!

Market potential
Here’s a list of the top 10 complaints homeowners have:

  1. Inconsistent room temperatures
  2. Dust, pet hair, allergens*
  3. High utility bills
  4. Dry air in the house*
  5. Odors in the house*
  6. Window condensation*
  7. Outdated kitchen
  8. Home security against break-ins
  9. Damp basement*
  10. Stuffy rooms*

* NOTE: Six of the top 10 complaints are IAQ related.

Mass merchandisers know this. Take a walk in the aisles of a Sears, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Lowe’s and even Radio Shack! They offer portable air purifiers and some even offer whole home purification systems. As small business owners, that’s our competition along with the progressive HVAC companies. Now, here’s the good news. Currently, IAQ consumer education is trailing opportunity. Mass merchandisers may advertise air purification helping boost the market in much the same way as Brita or PUR do for water filters, but they simply do not have the means to educate consumers about the various types of air purification technologies available. Consumers need to be made aware the right solutions are at hand and offered professional guidance in choosing appropriate options. People are looking, actively looking, for a qualified salesperson that can sell them an effective solution for their IAQ needs.

Dealer advantages
This is the big advantage niche businesses like water treatment dealerships will have in IAQ. There are a number of similarities in how the products are marketed and contaminant issues often run parallel to waterborne contaminants, i.e., radon, VOCs, etc. Technologies, while applied differently, are also similar: filtration, aeration, ozonation, ultraviolet light, etc. Thus, the curve for an educated water treatment professional in learning the technical nature of airborne contaminant removal may not be that great. And they’re already well versed in explaining complex subjects in lay terms to consumers. As a matter of fact, many of our customers tell us we were the first ones who were able to answer their questions in a way they understood. Being able to impart knowledge and great customer service is a reward for selling only a select few high quality products instead of selling everything and anything.

Additionally, our largest air treatment dealer is not an HVAC company—it’s a water treatment dealership. Home Comfort Centre has four retail outlets in southern Ontario, Canada. We started training the company’s staff about two years ago. Their learning curve was not much different than that of an HVAC company for technical education. In teaching Home Comfort how to market and sell air treatment, they were well in advance of an HVAC company. Colin Wong, the company president, said, “Air treatment has been a great addition to our existing business. There’s less competition in the aftermarket filter replacements compared to water, so the residual is good. I can see how in the future that air treatment will represent an ever-growing, larger portion of our business, perhaps moreso than water treatment. It’s helped to enhance our company’s image in our customers’ minds and the marketplace. Our marketing potential has increased.”

Conclusion
Indoor air quality is becoming an ubiquitous concern. Thus, a growing IAQ market is inevitable. Water treatment dealers are ideally suited to take advantage of this. The market offers much opportunity for those seeking income diversification and willing to learn. Diversify and start digging your well now before you need to drink from it.

About the author
Mario Di Franco holds an honors degree in chemistry and physics from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, a masters of science degree in education from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, and has five years experience in air and water purification. He’s the president of Purahome Inc., of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, a wholesaler and distributor of air and water purification equipment. Purahome also provides training on IAQ. Di Franco can be reached at (905) 934-3168 or email: info@purahome.com

 

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