People are in shock over high fuel bills, and that's good for heating contractors.

Winter is almost over and homeowners are punch drunk over their fuel bills. The big bad gas and oil companies are national villains, and American citizens are crying out loud for somebody (i.e., the federal government) to do something (i.e., wave a regulatory wand that will roll back prices). Wishful thinking aside, a big roll-back is about as likely to happen as a Beatles reunion with a special guest appearance by Elvis. Energy prices in the United States still have a way to go to catch up with the rest of the world. A more likely scenario is that they will continue to narrow the gap.

Except for you jaded folks living in the near-tropical South, most of us had to dig deep into our disposable, or even nondisposable, income to survive the winter. That's the good news.

I've had to adjust my sensibilities with regard to the weather whenever talking to PHC contractors. I can't count how many times I've complained about "lousy" weather, only to be chastised by you folks who look at frozen pipes as a sign from heaven that all is well with the world.

In that same vein, I hope all of you are frolicking amid the latest national sport of whining about sky-high energy prices. Sales of high-efficiency boilers, furnaces, water heaters and radiant heating systems ought to set records this year. If you don't get your share, it probably will be because you're not trying hard enough. Start planning now to capitalize on the nation's collective misery. Here are some ideas.

  • Springtime home shows are just around the corner. They are a wonderful opportunity to market high-efficiency heating. Start planning your displays now. Put up a big sign by your booth saying something along the lines of, "Put an end to killer gas/oil bills." Crunch the numbers and put the arithmetic on large displays showing how much plausibly can be saved with a high-efficiency conversion. Convert the annual savings to years of payback for the system.

  • Come up with clever promotions tied to energy cost savings. I heard of one southern contractor who ran TV commercials talking to the public about the rising cost of gas, and how much his high-efficiency furnaces could save. He made an offer to customers who buy a new furnace installation from him to pay their highest winter gas bill. This being the South, it probably wouldn't amount to much more than a $100-150 giveaway, which is in line with other discount promotions for a furnace conversion.

  • Make hay while the sun shines. Summertime is when you need to aggressively promote boiler conversions. That's when homes can go without heat for a few days. With warm air furnaces, you want to target spring and early fall so as not to knock out the a/c during the sweltering months. Be sure to time your promotions around these factors.

  • It's almost scandalous how many co-op dollars go unused in the PHC industry, or else get spent on feel-good but fruitless promotions like supply house open houses. Tell your wholesalers and equipment vendors that you intend to sell a gazillion high-efficiency installations this year, and would like their help.

  • Radiant heat in particular ought to get a boost from high energy prices. Sell the heck out of this most comfortable and efficient of heating systems. Suddenly, they have become more affordable than ever.