Similar to water treatment, the statistics and customer trend reports show that indoor air quality (IAQ) is a growing and profitable industry. Outdoor air is typically cleaner than indoor air and considering Americans spend the majority of their day indoors, examining air quality and cleaning it up are necessary steps. We recently interviewed Tony Kircher, president of Winix America and Winix Europe. Kircher notes some opportunities in selling IAQ and the market’s latest developments.
Water Technology: What key metrics are supporting growth for the indoor air quality industry, particularly for residential and light commercial settings?
Tony Kircher: Firstly I would say that the growth in the category seems to be rather steady over the last several years. Even during the recession, air quality products continued to see a steady increase in sales both in terms of units and dollars.
One of the reasons for this, in my opinion, is that consumers have improved their level of knowledge. Perhaps due to the availability of honest information on the Internet and consumers’ improved ability to discern “real” from “phony” information, but the fact is that consumers appear to be moving to more honest products that offer real benefits and real performance and away from the old gimmicky air cleaners that do very little. Therefore, for example, there has been an increase in the sale of True HEPA filtration and away from ionic machines; a move toward higher priced air cleaners with substantial AHAM certified CADR ratings and away from low cost products of dubious benefit.
WT: What new technologies are emerging today in the IAQ market?
TK: Well, we have some things on the drawing board that I am not allowed to talk about … but other than those I would say everyone is looking at ways to offer a “smart” or “connected” product in almost every category of home appliance, and air cleaners are no exception.
This, of course, is not revolutionary in and of itself, but air quality products are certainly participants in the revolution of a connected home.
And, the connected product, of course, is in part possible because of the preponderance of companies that have now added smart sensors to their product. Sensors allow the product to adjust the fan speed and other operational parameters based on the conditions in the environment.
WT: Has IAQ equipment moved into Wi-Fi capabilities, providing users with off-site monitoring and/or controls? If so, please explain why and how these capabilities meet users’ needs.
TK: I am not sure if Wi-Fi or connected capabilities meet users’ “needs,” but they do meet users’ desires. And the fact is that this is not difficult technology to execute; the only question is whether it is a cost that the market will accept. So, if it is a “desire” rather than a “need,” some consumers will choose this as part of their connected home and some will not. Manufacturers are certainly going to offer options.
WT: Is IAQ a seasonal service for water treatment dealers? Please explain why or why not as well as how often indoor air should be tested each year.
TK: There are most definitely seasons to the interest in air quality products… spring (pollen) and autumn (dust) are two of the peak seasons for the sale of air quality products. But there are year-round opportunities depending on the region and the local situation as well.
Regarding the testing of indoor air quality, I am not sure that testing is really an issue. Air quality in a building or home can and will change daily. With every item you carry inside or every door that you open or every change in weather the air quality indoors will change.
And, air quality products, unlike water treatment, do not offer as many targeted solutions for specific pollutants. It is simple enough to remember that humans, pets, furniture, carpets/rugs, all produce dust — household chemicals, paint, plastics all produce VOCS — nature produces pollens, molds, bacteria, odors, etc. These things are finding their ways indoors constantly; and yet, in an enclosed environment we do not benefit from the wind moving it along.
So a good quality air cleaner with filtration (True HEPA, Carbon), advanced technologies like Plasma for attacking organic pollutants, sensors for adjusting the operation, reliable certifications such as AHAM, CARB, Energy Star and UL, are helpful to maintaining healthy air in your [customers’ homes] … as is a good quality furnace filter, a good quality vacuum cleaner and regular cleaning and washing of textiles and linens.
WT: What is on the horizon for IAQ technologies and equipment features?
TK: I think there are great opportunities for air filtration and smart sensors integrated into whole house systems – and the ability for connected air quality system (including heating, cooling and humidity control) to adjust and react to external information such as weather or pollen counts.
Tony Kircher is president of Winix America and Winix Europe.
Winix is a 40-year-old manufacturer of products that bring clean air, clean water and comfort to the indoor environment.
For more information on selling IAQ services, read these recent Water Technology and WaterTechOnline.com articles: