A very successful businessman recently detailed why he had pulled out of a business opportunity. “They just never proposed any economics that were compelling,” he wrote. “To be a good business, you need to have the customer relationship, rather than being an anonymous subcontractor.” This seems to be the greatest challenge for the mechanical contractor involved in new construction — not remaining anonymous.

Getting past anonymity is important for any business, especially when you have a talent that you want to tout. Mechanical contractors involved in hydronics must approach builders with a marketing plan to grow their business. The mechanical contractor has to gain the trust of the builder to be included as part of the contract negotiation.

Scott Strickland, owner of Commonwealth Custom Home Builders of Virginia, said, “When I start working with a new client, I send them over to meet with my mechanical contractor. He is very good at staying on top of the latest technology and working with my customers.”

The best opportunity for the mechanical contractor in new construction for home developments is to be included on the builder’s option list. This is especially true when installing hydronics and radiant floor heating. The contractor also has to be able to offer a radiant system that integrates with the air conditioning system for total comfort — a hybrid system. Better windows, countertops, rooflines, kitchen cabinets, and floor coverings are typically available in most builder packages as upgrades, and the builder is prepared to add these costs during contract negotiations.

The mechanical contractor needs to provide the builder with a bundled program to install an upgraded mechanical system for each floor plan being offered. This program will include a pre-negotiated cost to the builder. The builder is now positioned to make the offer to his client without any time delays. The proper marketing material for the system should also be available in the model home.

What follows are observations from three of the most successful radiant contractors in the United States offering fully integrated radiant with air-side systems. The three are from different geographic areas.


Greg Jannone of William Jannone and Sons Plumbing and Heating in Bound Brook, NJ, is known as one of the best contractors at marketing in the radiant industry. It has taken 10 years to get there, but Jannone has built a solid marketing foundation from the beginning that is now paying off with leads coming from all levels, from homeowners to builders. Recognized for his radiant expertise by his peers, Jannone receives referrals from other mechanical contractors as well.

“Once our company works with a builder at the request of their client, the builder will recommend my company for their next radiant heating project,” stated Jannone. “I see the radiant market growing with energy costs rising, people really understanding comfort and becoming more and more health conscious.”

Jannone does his part educating all his contacts about living in a healthier and more comfortable environment. He also “shows them the money” by detailing the energy savings his systems can provide.

Dan Foley used Danfoss ZCP control panels for this multiple-zone radiant project. (Photos courtesy of Foley Mechanical.)


Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical in Alexandria, VA, is another contractor that knows from experience that he is the best salesman for his company’s systems. “One of my goals on every project is to develop a relationship with the homeowner,” Foley said. “I will not commit to a project or provide any costs until a meeting happens between the homeowner, architect, builder, and my company.”

Since involving the homeowner at this early stage, he has found great success in introducing radiant and other hybrid mechanical systems. Foley sees a five-year plan for his company to make a transition from being totally dependent on custom homes and renovations to becoming involved in the tract home market.

Foley’s vision is that the equipment options for hydronic systems allow a more systematic installation, much like the way heat pump systems are installed. Products are now on the market that will lead to this as they evolve.

Towel warmers are an option that might not be familiar to many homeowners.


Clay Thornton of Thornton Plumbing and Heating, Midvale, UT, has personally seen to it that the market for radiant, hybrid systems, and other new technologies develops beyond the norm. He has led his company to be aggressive with the new technology, but to also be conservative with introduction.

No heating contractor wants a system to go down. This is especially true in Utah, where two to three hours of traveling time can separate jobs. Thornton has developed a reputation with his builders as having the “go to” company when it comes to being at the highest level of comfort and dependability, Thornton said. “The builders I work with ask for my input from the beginning of the project,” he noted.

Thornton and his partner, Ken Barney, are so confident in what they do, that they are active in training other contractors in their geographic area and on the national level. They have expanded their business with great success to include both radiant and air-side applications, designing and installing hybrid systems that they believe provide the best comfort in heating and air conditioning.


Mechanical contractors that are looking to expand their business opportunities have to call on local builders, distributors, and their supporting manufacturers to develop these relatively untapped markets for radiant and hydronics.

Understanding how to fully integrate systems and to market to homeowners and builders will allow mechanical contractors to be known by their “signature system.” Such signature systems will break through the wall of anonymity and provide the economics for a successful business.

Hayden is owner of Premier Comfort Systems (Norfolk, VA). He can be reached at 757-965-3538 or ghayden@premiercomfort.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 11/11/2002