by Mike Weil, executive editor

No matter what you may hear in the field, over the dinner table, at trade shows, or in association meetings, the truth of the matter is there is no “us and them” when comparing the hydronics and forced air comfort markets — both technologies have their place. As contractors, it behooves you to know about both so that you can offer your customers the best solutions to their comfort needs.

The issue

Air conditioning. Some believe air conditioning gives forced air a leg up over hydronics systems. Some say the forced-air sector spends more money promoting their products and services. Some say the media plays favorites to the forced air marketplace. And some would argue that hydronics offers higher levels of comfort than forced air systems do.

To a certain degree, all these statements have a grain of truth to them. A grain. Here are some facts you might not know: the cast iron boiler market is very stable market with continuted future growth potential.

The opportunity

New housing construction. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in 2002 there were 1,705,000 new housing starts. Imagine how your business could benefit if hydronics were to capture only 1% more of that business — that’s 17,050 more installations with hydronic heating. This raises another question — what needs to be done to take advantage of this market?

On April 30, 2003 a group of contractors, distributors, and builders were invited to the Willard Inter-Continental hotel in Washington D.C. by Burnham Hydronics, Contracting Business, and Contractor magazines to answer that question and discuss strategy. The idea: set the groundwork to help contractors grow their hydronics offerings in the residential new construction arena.

Attending this first meeting were:

  • Contractors: Rich Goelz;, Tim Taub, T&F Enterprises, Inc.; Chuck Graber and Jeff Allen, Allen Plumbing and Heating; Jim Reid, James Reid Contracting; Bob Miles, Jr., Bob Miles and Sons.
  • Distributors: Prisco Panza, Shelton Winnelson; Terry Cain and Rick Shute, Redlon and Johnson; Rick Thatcher, Grand Junction Winnelson; Mike Michel, RE Michel Co.; Kevin Sossin, Blackman Corp.
  • Home Builder: Ray Spencer, Spencer Masterpiece Homes, Classic Custom Builders.
  • Manufacturers: Denis Marino, Burnham Hydronics, Lancaster, PA; Jim Eisenbeis, Burnham Hydronics, Daisy Lilley, Burnham Hydronics; Rich Simmons, Honeywell, Inc.
  • Mike Weil, Contracting Business magazine; Bob Miodonski, Contractor magazine.

Situation definition

Some of the key issues that came out of this discussion include:

  • The industry has allowed air conditioning to drive the heating business.
  • Many real estate people and new home builders, who are the key influences with new home buyers, are unfamiliar with hydronics comfort systems.
  • Consumers are better informed today because they research products and companies before buying, mostly on the Internet.

Situation resolution

Some of the solutions that came to light include:

  • Development of better educational programs — technical training, soft skills, business fundamentals, and better marketing and promotion programs.
  • Development of better relationships with builders and developers. There is a great educational need to show builders that hydronics is valuable and sellable.
  • Development of industry-wide consumer/builder awareness campaign.

These are just some of the ideas that came out of this first roundtable discussion. Please stay tuned to future issues of both Contracting Business and Contractor magazines for more in-depth reporting on these discussions. Excerpts from transcripts of the meeting will be made available on the Contracting Business Interactive website in July 2003.

If you have any comments or would like to add to the discussion, please e-mail either me at mweil@penton.com, or Bob Miodonski at bmiodonski@penton.com.

Mike Weil is executive editor of Contracting Business magazine. He has been writing about and active in the HVAC industry for 20 years. He can be reached at mweil@penton.com.