Cementing the radiant floor relationship--with the tubing in place, the concrete is poured. (Photo courtesy of Rehau.)

What do contractors have to say about the state of radiant heating? All report that business is steadily increasing, and some note that consumers are getting more radiant savvy.

First, heading north to Alaska, Rusty Powers, president and co-owner of the Plumbing & Heating Co., Juneau, AK, said that 10% to 15% of his business is radiant, including high-end residential and commercial work. He is also now getting into snow melting.

One of the first shops in his area to do radiant systems, he said that portion of his business has been averaging 10% growth over the last five years. Asked if there’s now a better understanding of radiant, he remarked that his firm is “still educating general contractors on radiant work.” He said that they seem to have the attitude, “Yes, I’ll try something new, as long as it’s something my grandparents did.”

The contractor has done a variety of commercial projects including aircraft hangars (a niche that has provided major, consistent business), warehouses, print shops, and other jobs.

Price-wise, he thinks that radiant is more competitive, and he says use of plug-and-play variable-injection pumps makes it simpler.

Regarding the Heatway lawsuit and its impact on the industry, Powers stated, “I don’t think we’ve lost any jobs because of it.”

On the Sunny Side

Going south to sunny Colorado, Mike Tierney, co-owner with wife Annie of Aspen Solar Systems, Aspen, CO, takes the more unique approach of combining radiant and solar energy. About 85% to 90% of his work involves radiant systems.

He’s been doing radiant work for 15 years, both residential and light commercial. He specs it into all sizes of homes and is also retrofitting it, replacing electric baseboard. “It can be time consuming to retrofit but not difficult,” Tierney said.

The company has been averaging 10% growth per year, but this year his radiant business is up 35%.

One of the first to apply solar-heated radiant, he says that people realize the environmental benefits of his method and the fact that it’s economically cost effective. However, he doesn’t believe that consumers necessarily understand radiant any better. But, he added, “Websites are helping to educate consumers.”

Next door in Utah, Ken Barney, vice president of Thornton Plumbing and Heating, Inc., Midvale, UT, relates that about 75% of his business is radiant and it likewise is residential and commercial.

The firm has been seeing 15% to 30% growth in its radiant work over the last five years. This year the contractor is up 20% over 1999.

Does he think consumers understand radiant better? “Definitely,” he stated. “When we do home shows, very seldom do we get people who come up and say, ‘Does this really work?’ ” He feels that home shows have done a lot to promote the industry.

The company’s residential jobs are primarily in larger homes, Barney said, “but we do smaller ones as well.” He noted that radiant prices aren’t going up, so the systems are becoming more cost effective.

The Heatway situation has not had a negative impact on his business, he said. There’s only been a couple of failures in his area. There was some concern when the problem was announced, but he assured people that the tubing was no longer being manufactured. When there has been a failure, remarked Barney, Heatway has taken care of the customers.

Publication date: 10/30/2000

By the Bay

Hitting the road to Michigan, we hear from Mike Norgan, vice president and co-owner of Phillips and Norgan Plumbing and Heating, Bay City, MI. Almost 25% of his operation is radiant, again residential and commercial.

“Everybody’s more informed now from home shows,” he noted. “Consumers are knowledgeable and ask specific questions.”

His radiant business has shot up 500% over the last five years. He does homes ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 sq ft. In one, he just did a basement; in another, he did just a master bath. He’s currently working on a log home.

“People see the value in radiant,” said Norgan. “They want comfort rather than just something that’s cheaper.”

Traveling east to Massachusetts, Gary Wilson, owner of Wilson Plumbing & Heating, Easthampton, MA, reports that about 20% of his business is radiant, with 90% of all sales residential.

He’s experienced a radiant boom this year, gaining four times more work. “In the past, it’s been about 5% of total sales,” he said. “When this year came around, it seemed like everyone wanted radiant heat.”

He doesn’t believe that customers and builders understand radiant any better. “I still need to explain the basics,” said Wilson, adding, “Builders are typically not open to new ideas, much less ideas that cost more money. I try to bypass these people and get right in front of the homeowner.”

He calls the radiant heating consumer “a mature and discriminating homeowner who is looking for the best comfort. And only a few of those seem to be interested in the fuel savings radiant heating offers.”

And radiant is reaching the middle class. “I’m seeing more radiant being installed in mid-size homes these days, ranging 2,500 to 3,500 sq ft.”