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Room for Two

Dan Headshot 2

Room for Two

The Radiant Professionals Alliance, which was once the Radiant Panel Association, mysteriously left the stage for a while and then came dancing back as a part of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials group. Around the same time, Air Conditioning Contractors of America kicked off its Radiant Hydronics Council, the purpose of which is to expose the huge ACCA membership to the joys of hydronic heating and cooling, particularly of the radiant variety.

I sat back and watched as that happened and it made me wonder. The old RPA had withered due to a general lack of interest on the part of its members, or at least it seemed that way to me. What if you throw a convention and nobody comes? The group had never seemed to be able to find a focus and then came the Great Recession. With IAPMO now behind it, the new focus seems to be on coming up with codes and standards for doing jobs hydronically in a way that makes sense nationally (or internationally?). But I wonder if this is realistic or even, considering our political climate, even possible. Each contractor has his or her way of doing things, based on experience and habit. Most will find fault with a hydronic code on principle alone. Not so the equipment manufacturers, of course, and I have a feeling IAPMO will have better luck attracting manufacturers (and their money) into their new RPA than they will in getting contractors to sign up. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

ACCA’s group (Disclosure: I am on their advisory board), on the other hand, is totally geared toward contractors and the sharing of their experience. That’s what attracted me to them. They seem to be closer to the way the business really works. ACCA has a strong and growing mainly contractor membership, and they’re in the delightful position of being able to offer something new to that 89 percent of American contractors who focus mainly on the air side of the business. As the economy improves, I think these contractors will look more closely at hydronic heating and cooling as a great addition to their HVAC mix, and that’s why I’m betting that the ACCA group will be more successful than the IAPMO group.

Will there be room for two radiant groups? I guess we’ll find out.

*Dan Holohan has authored numerous books on the topic of hydronic heating systems and operates the wildly successful website heatinghelp.com. His numerous appearances throughout the country have him hosting seminars on topics such as “Dead Men’s Steam School”, “Classic Hydronics”, “Marketing By Example” and “The World of Green Heating”.  He has the style and expertise not soon forgotten and has won over audiences for decades with his ability to teach by example and respect his contractor friends.

The views of this blogger do not necessarily reflect the views of Mechanical-Hub. Our goal is to bring news and information that is relevant to the industry. You are encouraged to continue the conversation by adding your comment below. As always, please be respectful of the author and their viewpoint of the subject at hand.

~Thank You, Mechanical-Hub


  1. John Langan
    John Langan09-12-2012

    Sounds like the old conflict will arise between the “air benders” and the “water benders”…hey that could be a really cool buisness name! Anyway back to the topic. My concern falls with more repeat issues with codeifying hydronics as what my post is pointing to. We will have a code and then we will have code officials interpretation of the code. This can be a slippery slope. On the other hand there is no warm and fuzzy feeling with AC contractors taking another slice of pie off of my table…just my take from this corner of the industry…
    As Dan said “we will see”…

  2. Rich McGrath
    Rich McGrath09-12-2012

    I am on the fence on this one . If we get behind codes and standards , We must have a seat at the table when how and what will be implemented is being discussed and determined . The people that hopefully are involved in such an undertaking must be guys that can stand firm on best practices being used yet impartial enough to know where to be less rigid . The hydronics market has a very small share of the HVAC industry . I think the most important thing code and standards wise would be ethical design and installation practices . The consumer needs to be represented !
    The industries and programs that have made a big showing in the last four years are in serious trouble because of unverifiable installs and questionable science . Maybe we could make a noise in those markets where we have not been represented . Lots of windows got changed , lots of insulation went in , lots of building envelopes got tightened up and lots of people made alot of money for performing poorly and lots of utility bills did not go down that much . Well it seems that all that does not make that much of a difference if the equipment that consumes the fuel is not replaced or is installed by folks that don’t care that much about anything but the almighty dollar . these very same industries are now scrambling and I beleive our time may be here if we can seize it .
    I beleive codes and standards are a good thing but not in the traditional sense .I think inspectors , plumbing & mechanical will have to play a part , their role should be to confirm that backflow , venting , and safety are proper , pretty much just what they should be doing now .
    I think the answer is factory training , education , and a way to verify contractors’ know how and skill set . A performance based registry should be kept to verify the efficiency of the installs done by all entities . The gas companies like to keep track of all that stuff , hell they already track this years fuel usage against last years , it should’nt be hard to hold out rebates and incentives for say 8 months to verify savings of fuel and a record of who performed the work . As far as verifying someone’s credentials before they can be certified to do the work maybe something along the lines of having to show you have passed a course dealing with the design and installation of hydronic systems . Maybe one of the factories could even get paid to educate the masses just like the companies that popped up and made a fortune training people to do energy audits . Except the price for training could be reasonable unlike the mentioned entities .
    Maybe ther is a manufacturer or distributors that have classrooms and the facilities to do such a thing . Can anybody here think of any such distributors and/or factories that already do this ? HMMMM !
    Anyway , those are just some starting points . Now who can we send to the tabble to represent us ? I have some thoughts on that . if anyone is interested in having a say in the next round of energy efficiency retrofitting you have until October 9 to make your thoughts known to HPwES program , I will provide a link for all to comment if Eric and John would give me their blessing . We have to protect our industry from further losses . Please be part of the solution and remember that We sell COMFORT not just heating systems .
    Hope this discussion gets the attention it deserves befor eit’s too late . If you don’t take part , don’t complain about the outcome !

  3. Eric Aune
    Eric Aune09-12-2012

    Don’t we already have the desired codes in place? Venting, gas supply, wiring, pipe support, design standards based off heat loss calculations etc. Why/why not add more?

    Will a hydronic code limit the research and design aspect from a manufacturer’s perspective? Usually when something has a standard that something is rarely improved because there is little to no demand for a better product at a higher price. Is this what we want? Less innovation?

    Maybe standards need to be set that render the existing products or methods below spec. Maybe a set of standards beyond what we are seeing now need to be in place so that we can better our industry and have goals to reach. The government imposed CAFE standards on the automobile industry for this very reason, maybe our industry should adopt this model to better ourselves.

    Standards can be placed on many things. Methods, materials, efficiency, you name it. Would we be better off going this route?

  4. Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton09-13-2012

    Interesting take on all the changes going on here. I thought I’d throw my $0.02 worth into the ring for people to comment on.

    And, in the sake of full disclosure, I have decided to remain a member of the new RPA, and have in fact been named the chair person for the Education committee. Education has been, and will always be my primary focus. With that said, I have to say that I have made a very good living over the last few years acting as an expert witness on cases involving poorly installed hydronic heating systems, primarily radiant hydronic systems. Every time I am deposed by the defending attorney as to wether or not there are any “Standards of Care” as it pertains to the design/installation and maintenance of hydronic based systems, I have to honestly answer that there are no “Codified” standards in our industry. This is a sad but true fact. Oh sure, there are minimum standards in the Mechanical Codes sections of the I and U codes, but nothing that really spells out what an accepted method of installing a hydronic based radiant heating system should be. And trust me on this, I HATE an over bearing government at ANY level, and I don’t use that word (hate) freely, but I am tired of having to pursue really nice people who are out there doing WRONG installations just because there are no minimum standards as it pertains to these highly technical systems. And unless you’ve ever had your life turned inside out and upside down by an attorney, you won’t understand. It is not a good thing to have happen to you.

    As for standards, and codes, we can look to our Canadian friends to the Northwest (B.C. in particular) where at one point in time, the situation got SO bad, that the code authorities almost BANNED the installation of hydronic heating systems. The AHJ’s were tired of being co-named in lawsuits over installations that should have never occurred. In an effort to avoid complete shut down, a group of people came together and developed a code that was acceptable to all parties concerned. This group consisted of people from the governing agencies, equipment manufacturers, installing contractors and the like. The final product that came out of this committee was an extremely comprehensive code that required the contractor to provide technical proof BEFORE the permit was issued, that showed that due diligence had been performed. What a concept. Heat loss calculations for losses and gains, and heat/cooling source sizing, along with pump selection information MUST be provided for EACH job. No “canned” specs alowed.

    What I find particularly interesting is the fact that the AHJ’s were ALSO required to become educated, and when they go to the field for inspection, they bring along the case file for that project. They have a check list they are required to go through to make certain that what was proposed is what actually got installed. If you show on your drawings a pump model XX for space heat distribution, and the inspector shows up and see that you installed a YY pump where an XX pump is supposed to be installed, your inspection fails. Simple, clean straight forward and no misinterpretations on the AHJ’s part, and no corner cutting on the contractors part. This is my personal vision of what a Hydronic Code will look like, and I intend to use my knowledge to hopefully push it in that direction. Its a win win proposition for all involved, and will (hopefully) guarantee that the consumer gets what they paid for in the way of efficiency and comfort. This stands a better chance of getting our trades more hydronic business, because, as it stands right now, when one consumer gets burned by a bad install, they tell ten of their closest friends about it, who in turn tells 10 of their friends that hydronics suck and so on and so forth. Not conducive to more sales. And quite honestly, in the grand scheme of things, hydronics makes MUCH more sense for reducing human impact on environmental impact than any other system.

    Do hydronic contractors need to know about air movement? ABSOLUTELY. We are ALL in the “comfort” business. If we are not moving air, then we are not seeing or delivering the whole “comfort” package. I was approached by people from ACCA to join their ranks, and I looked into it, and found that there is no representation here in Colorado.

    I decided that my remaining time on this planet would be best used promoting education and promoting a unified, acceptable, enforceable code of standards, and as such I have decided to stay the course with the new RPA.

    As Dan pointed out, the “old” RPA went through some extremely tumultuous times, and nearly went down in flames. At one point in time, there were numerous organizations including ACCA vying for their purchase. The old board made the decision to go with IAPMO, and I am certain that it was a tough decision to make.

    End part 1,

  5. Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton09-13-2012

    Part 2:

    I encourage all former members to give the “NEW” RPA a fresh look. They have much more oversight than the old RPA, and they have the ability to make significant good changes that will positively impact our industries (air and hydronics) in a positive way. I also encourage the two different entities (RPA and ACCA) to cooperate in their efforts to move this industry forward as a whole, and avoid being devisive. I personally dropped the term Scorched Air from my lexicon long ago when I realized I needed to move air in order to deliver full spectrum comfort to my clientele. I would LOVE to see more classes given under the RPA banner on teh proper way to design, install and maintain these critical forced air systems. I’d also love to see ACCA use the educational systems that were developed, and are being upgraded and enhanced by the RPA in their class offerings.

    I believe that WAY too many man hours were instilled by this industry’s best in the old RPA to simply walk away from it. Why reinvent the wheel? Theres a perfectly good one sitting there waiting for people of ALL trades to put it to use, and I will be behind the wheel, along with many other dedicated wet heads and watt heads, pushing it along.

    I welcome people of all trades to comment, right wrong or indifferent. I personally remain committed to the RPA, and to ACCA if they desire to use my educational services.

    Thank you to the fine folks here at MechHub for the opportunity to express my opinions and ideas.

    PS, Sorry for the long missive. I violated your word count and had to break it into two posts…


  6. Rich McGrath
    Rich McGrath09-13-2012

    Well said Mark . This advice should be heeded by all involved . It would certainly be an easier system to live with if the people reviewing / inspecting if this comes to be had the same level of knowledge as the installers ,I beleive that would be imperative . So many times though this is not the case and hampers innovation and competency . You hit the nail right on the head , EDUCATION . I would add that ALL PARTIES would require like levels of knowledge and a common GOAL .

  7. John Barba
    John Barba09-14-2012

    Back in the ball game! I’m about the join the RPA Educational Committee and am looking forward to learning from some of the best minds in the industry and adding whatever input I can to further the educational process.

    I see two roadblocks to any Association-sponsored educational efforts:

    1. Does it duplicate what responsible manufacturers are doing? If yes, then it will be hard to support. As a manufacturer I’d much rather customers come to my company for that info, because we’ve made the investment to develop it. Had issues in my previous stint on the RPA board with other companies that couldn’t or wouldn’t make that investment using the Trade Association training program as “their” program. Somehow doesn’t seem right to me, but maybe that’s just my own warped view.

    From the contractors perspective, if it DOES duplicate manufacturers efforts, why wouldn’t I just go to the manufacturers training (see below)

    If it doesn’t duplicate a manufacturers efforts – then what does the association actually teach? IBR had wonderful training programs that tried to be as generic as possible and they couldn’t survive. If a code is developed, then it’s pretty clear the association should teach the code. Beyond that, well…I’m looking for answers too.

    2. The other roadblock, as I see it is “why should I, as a contractor, attend this training?” It’s the old “what’s in it for me?” question. That’s a challenge anyone who offers training faces – manufacturer or association. If someone attends a manufacturers training, they get to see the factory, develop relationships with people who can help them, get wanted information on products they use or wish to use, answers to problems and specific solutions. And maybe a hat and t-shirt.

    What will they get from an association training? I know, I know — knowledge, and that’s good. But specific, solution based knowledge that can be applied on the job the very next day is different. A manufacturer may be better suited to offer than info, even if it is “tainted” with their particular slant.

    At the old RPA – the two questions we could never answer very well were “why should I join your group?” and “Why should I attend your training programs?” The thought that people would flock to “independent” non-manufacturer-based educational programs may have been a tad optimistic.

    Don’t see why both groups won’t succeed as long as both have pretty clear goals and the focus – other than to promote hydronics done right – doesn’t overlap.

    Peace out….


  8. Michael Robert Brown
    Michael Robert Brown09-18-2012

    Does this site have a page on Facebook?

  9. Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton09-22-2012


    Your concerns have been noted, and discussed to a small degree. We didn’t want to continue the discussion without you. Sorry you didn’t make it.

    This organization is listening to ALL concerns, from the smallest to the biggest members/concern. We missed you during our meetings, and really do look forward to your very valid input. There is a renewed spirit in this organization that is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The IAPMO folks are extremely nice, and very professional.

    Dedication like you’ve never seen before. We (especially ME) look forward to working with you to move our industry forward. A high tide floats all boats, regardless of the source of water. Will be in touch in the near future to discuss our goals, wishes wants and needs.

    Thank you for your participation and support. Very much appreciated.


  10. Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton01-26-2013

    Michael, Yes, we have a FB page. While you are in FB, use their search tool and enter Radiant Professionals Alliance.

    We also have a LinkedIn page. Please feel free to come visit and chat.


  11. glendaleacrepair

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