When the world closed down last March, comfort became crucial for many people. And what’s more comfortable on a cold day than walking on a warm floor? Hydronics and electric floors, like many other parts of the HVAC business, have thrived since the second half of 2020.
WarmlyYours, a provider of radiant heating products, saw the effects of a shift to working from home last year. The company focuses on electric floor heating, and executives said the trends hold up for traditional hydronic heating as well.
One example is that in the third quarter, WarmlyYours saw insulating underlayments make up a significant portion of total underlayment sales. This moved to 44% of sales in the third quarter of 2020, compared with 38% in same period a year before. WarmlyYours’ study of third quarter results stated this implies “that more basements and bottom floor rooms are being targeted for floor heating as insulating underlayments are highly recommended for systems being installed over a concrete subfloor.”
WarmlyYours saw an increase in floor heating projects for flooring types that could be used in a home office such as engineered wood (up 88.7%), laminate flooring (up 72.6%), luxury vinyl plank/tile (up 40.5%), and nailed hardwood (up 35.2%). These changes indicate that renovations to incorporate home offices may be driving at least part of the growth in total remodeling expenditures.
This would match up with more people working from home and converting their basements into home offices. WarmlyYours said that floor heating projects for home offices were up 221.4% year-over-year through the third quarter.
STAYING CLOSE BUT GOING REMOTE: Julia Billen, owner and president of WarmlyYours, credits earlier IT investments for the company’s ability to keep in touch with its workers and customers while staying remote.
“The modern ‘workplace’ has been changed forever by COVID-19. Remote work was always an attractive concept for many employees and now that it has been implemented on such a huge scale, it is unlikely that this particular genie will ever go back into the bottle even after we’ve contained the virus,” said Julia Billen, owner and president of WarmlyYours.
“While it will be unlikely that we exceed this rate of change increase in 2021, we do expect to see year-over-year growth in total floor heating projects for home offices as more and more workers make that a priority in their own home-buying criteria,” she continued. “This kind of seismic change is rare and it’s certainly daunting, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was also very exciting.”
Increase in Remote Options
WarmlyYours was an early adopter to e-commerce, online quoting, and other remote services for its customers when the pandemic hit.
“We have always placed a lot of value on making sure that WarmlyYours was staying at the forefront of technology,” Billen said. “When it was clear that COVID-19 was going to be here for the foreseeable future, we knew what we had to do — and more importantly, we had the team to do it.”
In June 2020, the company launched a remote service to help with installation that allowed users to video conference via their smartphone with a WarmlyYours technical support team member. The support team is then able to see what is happening at the job site and ensure that an installation is a success and that the system will function optimally.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all of my years in radiant heating, it’s that if you eliminate issues during installation, you eliminate 99% of issues with a heating system,” Billen said. “That’s why we’re so focused on being able to provide support to our customers during the installation itself with video conferencing. The technology exists — we’re all walking around with a smartphone that can connect to almost anyone in the world — so why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?”
Increased Demand Strains Supply
Not all of the investment in floor heating comes from converting underused spaces into home offices. Some of it derived simply from the fact that entire families were spending more time at home and wanted additional comfort, Billen said. It’s easy to ignore the home environment when people are out of the house for most of their waking hours. When they shifted to spending all their time there, the need for increased heat became noticeable.
Increased demand in all fields of home improvement has caused supply issues. Billen said WarmlyYours did face some shortages, but it was better than what company management planned for. She said their design staff remained flexible, so they were able to rework projects based on what elements were available.
Consumers wanted more floor heating, but they stayed within a budget, Billen said. There was a 1.08% increase in the average order size in 2020 over 2019. Much of this came from the increase in insulating underlayment, so it was more about where the floor heating was going. Overall, WarmlyYours saw a 1.71% increase in total orders and a 2.86% increase in sales revenue for radiant heating from 2019.