Architects and Contractors—A Meeting of Hydronic Minds

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Larger square footage houses that feature hydronic heating normally require an architect and a contractor to be on the same page. What is the menu or choice of items offered?

By Norman Hall

Granite vs. marble: casement vs. double-hung: paint vs. stain. The architect or builder proposes a variety of choices to the person building a new home. One question that may not be asked is, do you want a comfortable temperature in the home or not? Architects and contractors may want to offer choices when it comes to hydronic heating.

Do We Offer New Home Buyers the Right Choices?

I live in Michigan where most homes are heated by single zone furnaces. Hydronic heating is rarely a suggestion unless the home is over 6,000-7,000 sq. ft. When I explain hydronic heating to friends in smaller homes, they wonder why it was not offered to them as an option. Architects, builders and contractors may be missing a great opportunity to create extremely satisfied customers by offering choices in an area most buyers do not even know about.

Architects, Contractors, hydronics, selling hydronics, selling radiant, circulators, Bell& Gossett, ecocirc, pumps

We are guilty of being too close to the industry. I recently asked a few people about heating system choices. Most of the couples I spoke to were in their mid-30s with two professional incomes. They were first- or second-time homeowners of homes in the 3,000 to 4,000-sq.-ft. range. I asked if they knew the term hydronic heating. There were a variety of responses but nothing close to correct. The best I heard was one couple who knew you could put separate furnaces in for the upstairs and downstairs.

I asked the following questions:

  • Would you like separate temperatures upstairs and downstairs? Maybe there are rooms you do not want to heat too much when not in use. How about separate temperatures in specific rooms?
  • How about warm bathroom floors on a cold morning?
  • Are you interested in mobile conductivity? Checking and setting temperatures by your mobile device? (Note: many thermostats, boilers, and even pumps have this capability)
  • Have a swimming pool or hot tub? The home heating boiler can be used through a heat exchanger. This removes the ugly pool heater.
  • Worried about snow in the walkways? The heating system can take care of that.

I coupled the conversation with a price tag of 5 to 7% more for the price of the newly constructed home. Every one of them were interested.

You get the idea. The list and the marketing pieces to present the offerings are up to the contractor or architect. The important thing is to recognize that most home purchasers are not even aware these things exist.

Do Not Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Design

Architects, Contractors, hydronics, selling hydronics, selling radiant, circulators, Bell& Gossett, ecocirc, pumps

Bell & Gossett PL series circulator

I laugh at times when I think of what we, in the HVAC world, think of as new. I still refer to products introduced 10 years ago as new. I mentioned mobile conductivity. This is very important to the buyer who uses this technology all day long. Thermostats can be monitored and programmed remotely. Stopping there might miss a “new” value to offer. Whether controls, condensing boilers, or even the ECM hydronic heating pump, technology catches attention.

Today, you can install a smart ECM circulator instead of yesterday’s technology. Look at the two pumps below. Both the red PL series circulator and the black ecocirc 20-18+ are provided by Xylem Bell & Gossett.

Architects, Contractors, hydronics, selling hydronics, selling radiant, circulators, Bell& Gossett, ecocirc, pumps

Bell & Gossett ecocirc

Both will do the job of providing water flow to terminal units. The ecocirc 20-18+ offers features that align with your prospective customer. Let me mention just three of them.

  • The Variable speed pump with an ECM motor saves money and reduces electrical energy waste compared with most pumps.
  • Bluetooth conductivity to a mobile device
  • Internal protection against damage if the homeowner closes a valve to stop the flow.

Architects and contractors should get together to market the option of hydronic heating in new homes. Make sure the options include the latest technology for their fast moving and totally connected customers.

Norman Hall is an engineer and leader at the R. L. Deppmann Company, a manufacturer’s representative, in Michigan and Ohio. Norm has assisted in the design and troubleshooting of hydronic and steam systems for 45 years.