Published In September 2000
Consider the last time you drove your car to the local Quick Lube shop for an oil change. Chances are, the service technician showed you something on your vehicle that needed repair or replacement. He may have spotted a radiator hose that was about to develop a crack, a fan belt that looked slick and worn, or something more serious while conducting a free inspection. While the free service inspection is designed to spot potential problems, it also represents a savvy way for any business to secure additional sales revenue from its existing customer base. The technique of selling customers services or products they’re not necessarily looking to buy at a given time is known as upselling. You can use this technique to work smarter rather than harder and to cultivate additional revenue. When you think of every service call as a golden opportunity to leverage your technical expertise, you’ll be fast on your way to increasing your profit outlook—both short term and over the long haul. In today’s competitive business environment, it’s important not only to get the job done competently and efficiently, but also to market yourself and continuously build a loyal customer base. Upselling is an integral part of this process. The electrical safety inspection One way to boost revenue from every service call is to offer your customer a free electrical safety inspection. While some customers may be more receptive than others, presenting them with printed literature that describes key electrical safety hazards in the home will add to your credibility and your customers’ comfort level with the process. The National Electrical Safety Foundation (NESF), National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), and even some electrical product manufacturers may be helpful in providing information about home electrical safety hazards. A step-by-step approach to uncovering these hazards, as well as recommending improvements to energy-efficiency, power quality, and aesthetics, follows. Exterior grounds Starting with the exterior of the house, check the grounds to note any obstructions to power lines, excessively worn cables, or a defective meter socket. Outdoor wiring and cables are routinely subject to wind, lightning, and storm damage. While these repairs are typically the utility company’s responsibility, you’ll be doing your customers a big favor by identifying any problems you observe and instructing them to immediately contact their utility company for the repair work. This will build trust and loyalty with your customers. Outdoor lighting As you inspect the basic electrical infrastructure outdoors, don’t overlook the lighting system. Front and back porch areas, garages, decks, and walkways should all be well lit. An inadequate number of outdoor fixtures for a given property, or fixtures that are poorly located or have lamps that aren’t bright enough, can lead to dark, “hidden” areas that present potential safety hazards at night. A well-lit exterior also helps deter would-be intruders, adding an essential measure of security to your customers’ properties. Police and security experts agree that using outdoor lighting is the best way to discourage trespassers. Outdoor wiring and wiring devices Moving on to other aspects of the exterior grounds, be sure to note the condition of all outdoor switches. They should have weatherproof faceplates that are free of cracks and defects. For homes with pools or outdoor hot tubs, all equipment wiring should be in good condition. These areas should have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) with appropriate weatherproof covers installed, as required by the NEC. In fact, all outdoor receptacles should always be GFCI-protected with the proper weatherproof covers. For outdoor cord-connected equipment that is unattended and plugged into a “live” GFCI receptacle, the NEC requires the GFCI to have an approved “while-in-use” cover, rather than the flip-up style cover that is acceptable for temporary connections. Check the outdoor components of the security system for exposed or frayed wiring. Again, repairs to the security system may be the manufacturer’s responsibility, but you can help your customers by spotting potential problems. And while you’re examining the grounds, remember to check doorbells, bug zappers, all outdoor switches, and GFCIs for proper wiring and operation. Garages Making your way into the garage and other secondary structures, ensure that electrical wiring devices are in good working order and free of defects. Old, worn switches and receptacles, especially non-grounding, two-wire receptacles, should be replaced. You’ll often find “jerry-rigged” extension cords and multi-tap adapters feeding tools, work lights, and appliances in garages. Explain to the homeowner that this potential electrical safety hazard requires immediate correction. Inspecting the interior of the house Starting in the basement, check the service equipment panel. Carefully inspecting the main breaker box, checking the listed and labeled equipment, identifying the conductors, condition of grounding clamps, grounding electrode conductor, and bonding. Also, checking each fuse/circuit breaker for proper rating. You should also check the current and voltage of the service switch to make sure it’s properly rated for the home. Once you’ve completed your examination of the service equipment, you should conduct a thorough examination of all equipment and appliances in the basement, including the boiler, sump pump, humidifiers, and hot water heater. Check the washer and dryer for proper wiring and grounding of their metal frames, if applicable. Basements, like garages, often contain workshops with haphazardly connected appliances, equipment, and tools that can pose electrical hazards. If these conditions exist, point them out to the homeowner at once. As you make your way through the home, note whether the kitchen, bathrooms, and unfinished basement areas have properly installed GFCIs. The NEC requires properly installed GFCIs in all wet and damp areas in new construction. Owners of older homes will likely be willing to replace existing receptacles with Code-compliant GFCIs, once they’re educated about the potential electrical safety hazard ground fault current represents to them and their families. All indoor lighting fixtures should be checked for any exposed or frayed wires. Switches and receptacles throughout the home should be checked for excessive wear and tear and properly fitting wall plates. Again, note the improper use of extension cords. Extension cords are designed for temporary connections and should never be used as a permanent connection to an outlet. The frames of major appliances in the home, such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and stoves, should all be checked for proper grounding. Finally, the home safety inspection should include checking for smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers on each floor. Profit-making upgrades Once you’ve completed the electrical safety portion of the inspection and noted exactly how to correct every safety violation you encountered, you can move on to the more creative, and incidentally, the more lucrative part of your inspection. This is your opportunity to note upgrade recommendations that the homeowner may deem beneficial. These upgrades will add value to the home—both to the existing occupant and for resale purposes. Designer-styled devices Virtually every standard receptacle and switch in the home represents an upgrade opportunity for you. Standard toggle switches, for instance, can be upgraded to today’s popular designer-styled rocker switches. The contemporary design of these devices coordinates with virtually any décor and when combined with a screwless, snap-on wall plate, adds a sleek, attractive look. Traditional receptacles can also be upgraded to designer-styled receptacles to give any home a more upscale appearance. Designer-styled switches and receptacles are available in an extensive selection of popular dimmers, electronic timers, occupancy sensors, multimedia devices, and home automation products that coordinate with these stylish devices and can be installed to upgrade the appearance of the home. Two-wire receptacles Many older homes still contain two-wire circuits. Often the kitchen, dining room and home theater/entertainment areas will have been modernized with two-pole, three-wire grounding receptacles; while other areas, such as the living room, den, and bedrooms may still have the old two-wire service in place. These areas are likely to contain three-wire-to-two-wire adapters to enable newer equipment to be plugged into the old style outlets. Outdated two-wire receptacles present a lucrative sell-up opportunity. Provide your customers with a quick education about three-wire grounding systems. The NEC requires these, because they are safer than two-wire service. At some point your customer will need to consider running three-wire service to areas of the home that have not been upgraded so that safer grounding receptacles can be installed. Non-grounding receptacles According to the NEC, GFCI-protected receptacles can be used to replace non-grounding receptacles when a means of grounding is unavailable. GFCI-protected receptacles are much safer than ungrounded receptacles. A GFCI will operate properly in the event of a ground fault condition, even without a grounding connection. Receptacles downstream on the same circuit can be feed-through wired from the GFCI so they receive GFCI protection as well. The Code allows these receptacles to be the newer two-pole, three-wire grounding type as long as they are labeled “GFCI Protected— No Equipment Ground.” This is an excellent solution for updating two-wire service in a home when the homeowner is not ready to rewire the entire branch circuit. Other receptacle upgrades Receptacles can also be upgraded to surge protective receptacles in home entertainment, home office, and other areas of the home that contain sensitive electronic equipment. Hard-wired surge receptacles avoid the clutter caused by plug-strip surge protectors that typically lie on the floor. In kitchen counter areas, bathrooms, and unfinished basement areas, duplex receptacles should be replaced with GFCI receptacles. Where additional receptacles are needed in the home, four-in-one or quad receptacles are an excellent solution. These can be used to replace a standard duplex receptacle with four receptacles, while fitting in a standard-size, single-gang box, often without the need for adapter plates or additional mounting hardware. Four-in-one receptacles are also available in surge protective versions for home offices and home theatres, combining space-saving convenience with protection for valuable electronic equipment. Combination devices Combination devices are often installed to a single-gang wall box in limited spaces, such as in kitchens and bathrooms. One popular combination device is the switch/single-receptacle, typically used in bathrooms, where the switch controls a light fixture or exhaust fan and the receptacle is used for a hair dryer or other personal appliance. Here, a combination switch/ GFCI receptacle is an ideal upgrade for safety and convenience. Older-style combination switches can also be upgraded with designer-style duplex and triplex switches. Home multimedia systems The wired home, once a novelty, is essential in today’s digital technology age. High-speed, low-voltage wiring systems that enable VDV and audio signals to be distributed throughout the home will increasingly be in demand by homeowners. Research suggests exponential growth in the structured wiring/home networking market. Installations have grown from 39,000 homes in 1998 to 90,000 homes in 1999, with an anticipated climb to 200,000 in 2000. Structured cabling’s total market potential exceeds $1billion in revenue to the industry. While structured wiring installations are more economical during construction, they are well suited to remodeling a new home office or home entertainment room. New central distribution panels are available that organize and consolidate all low-voltage cables. Their modular design allows contractors to customize and reconfigure whole-house distribution for computer networking and Internet access, multi-room audio, and video and home and family monitoring applications. The best room-by-room connectivity solution is using wall plates with snap-in modules. These wall plates can be configured on site with any combination of low-voltage modules as required. This provides maximum connectivity in one neat, attractive wall plate. These wall plates and snap-in modules provide an ideal way to “futureproof” any home because they can easily be reconfigured when connectivity needs change. Dimmers By replacing a standard light switch with a dimmer, homeowners can control lighting levels for comfort and task lighting requirements, while paring down energy costs. Dimmers range from the familiar rotary and slide varieties to sophisticated digital models that offer convenient multi-location control schemes. For example, high-end, scene-capable models enable programming of distinct lighting scenes that correspond to the various home theater, home office, large dining room and living room uses. Modern dimming controls offer a simple, energy-efficient way of using lighting to enhance any interior design scheme in a room or across a group of rooms. Occupancy sensors Wall switches can also be replaced with wall switch occupancy sensors. These devices monitor a room for occupancy and automatically switch lighting on when someone walks in. They switch the lights off automatically once the person leaves the room, avoiding lights being left on for hours in unoccupied rooms. Occupancy sensors easily install in single-gang wall boxes and provide convenient, hands-free lighting control for entranceways, basements, hallways, and home office areas, as well as substantial energy savings. Electronic timers Electronic timer switches provide yet another retrofit alternative for an existing wall switch. Like occupancy sensors, these devices offer automatic light switching combined with energy savings. These switches are ideal for timed control of indoor and outdoor lighting, heat lamps, pool and spa pumps, and attic and exhaust fans. They provide a choice of time intervals at the push of a button and are more accurate and user friendly then mechanical, dial-type devices. Home automation controls Home automation controls that replace standard switches and receptacles provide home automation and cost-effective installation. Power line carrier controls are one example. They consist of a network of transmitters and receivers that use the home’s existing AC wiring to send coded command signals for remote and programmable control of lighting and appliances anywhere in the home. Power line carrier devices permit automation of key areas of a home and outdoor areas like walkways, yards, and pool areas. Their control capabilities can be expanded according to a homeowner’s needs and budget. Tamper-resistant devices to protect children Tamper-resistant wiring devices, such as switch and receptacle covers, protect children from the hazards of electricity. These devices are compatible with standard toggle- and designer-style switches, as well as standard- and designer-style receptacles. Hidden switches and outlets prevent toddlers and young children from coming in contact with electricity. WINIKOFF is marketing specialist, Leviton Manufacturing Company. She may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at (718) 281-6155.