LOVELAND, CO — Any industry that grows at an average of 25% or more a year for a sustained period of 10 years should make those affected by that industry sit up and take notice. That is just what has happened to the radiant heating industry.

Since data was first collected in 1991, the volume of hydronic tubing sales in North America has not doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled — it has grown almost tenfold. The interesting thing is that this has not occurred due to a massive marketing budget or advertising spots during the Super Bowl. It has come about primarily by word of mouth.

Good news travels fast.

So what is this good news that attracts consumers to radiant heating? What makes them abandon the tried and true for the seemingly new and exotic?

The truth is, it’s the promise of a more comfortable heating system. And it is the radiant floor heating concept that has been driving this new market. Visions of warm, cozy wood or tile floors on a cold winter’s day make homeowners hungry for more information. Truck mechanics see themselves rolling around on their creepers without the chill of cold concrete seeping into their bones. Business owners equate warm floors with physical comfort that will make their employees more productive.

Of course, radiant heating isn’t anything new. As almost everyone knows who has done any reading on the subject, radiant floors can be traced back to the ancient Romans and their hypocaust systems. If you want to get technical about it, you could say the early caveman used radiant heat when he found that rocks heated by the sun during the day continued to give off radiant heat long after the sun went down.

What is relatively new is the use of plastic pipe, modern controls, and well-insulated buildings. This combination brought an age-old concept to a modern world where it was reborn as the most comfortable heat distribution system available.

Having said all that, radiant heating is not the be-all and end-all heating system. It is simply a very good way of distributing heat to a space. With the tight construction practices in today’s buildings and the desire to maintain a constant environment, air still plays a big role in maintaining comfort.

Radiant heating proponents have a tendency to feel that they have the complete solution to comfort, but the reality is, it takes all the disciplines to make an environment truly comfortable. The “comfort contractor” should have his/her quiver full of all the available options.


The Radiant Panel Association (RPA) was formed in 1994 as a nonprofit trade organization dedicated to the education and promotion of radiant panel heating. “Radiant panels” is a term coined by the engineering community in the 1940s for any surface designed to heat a space where more than 50% of the heat transfer is by radiation.

This could be a wall radiator, heated floors, warmed ceilings, or other surfaces. Hot water, electricity, or even warm air can be used to carry the heat to the panel; it really doesn’t matter. The focus is the surface that transfers the heat to the space. Currently, radiant panels heated with hot water are the most prevalent, followed by panels with electric heating elements.

The RPA membership is made up of contractors, wholesalers, sales reps, and manufacturers with an interest in radiant panel heating. Some are wholly involved with radiant, while others have found radiant heating to be a lucrative niche in a larger market.

Many RPA contractor members are HVAC shops that use radiant to deal with formerly difficult-to-heat basements, truck garages and hangars, day care centers, and other applications (including custom homes where their clients demand radiant). They can offer the full package: radiant heating, air conditioning, humidity control, and ventilation.

Several state-of-the-art RPA schools are offered at locations across the country throughout the year, as well as at the association’s annual convention. Members receive discounts at these events as well as on books from the RPA bookstore.

Any contractor or supplier interested in taking advantage of this burgeoning radiant field would find RPA’s educational benefits alone well worth the cost of membership. The organization also provides marketing materials, Internet pull-through, standard guidelines, technical assistance, certification, insurance programs, and more.

Drake is the executive director of RPA. The association’s 2003 convention and REX (Radiant Expo) will be held in Sacramento, CA, May 7-10, 2003. For more information, visit (website) or call 800-660-7187.

Publication date: 10/14/2002