The World is Changing
January 3, 2012
Hydronics is experiencing new industry alliances, rapid changes in HVAC technology, and growth in alternative energy sources.
To say radiant heating is on the cusp of major change is an understatement, industry sources say. Not only is radiant getting serious attention from industry professional groups, it also is increasingly being merged with other technologies and fuels to create innovative heating solutions.
"While it's no question traditional HVAC systems will continue to play an important role in commercial building projects, radiant will definitely see an increase in market share as a valuable system to integrate energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality," said Mark Hudoba, senior product manager/heating and cooling, for Uponor Inc., in Apple Valley, Minn.
On the residential front, with the introduction of pre-assembled, complete radiant mechanical room panels and application products for installing radiant tubing faster and easier, manufacturers are making radiant more accessible and affordable to homeowners, Hudoba said. "These labor-efficient products allow radiant systems to be installed in remodel and new construction applications in hours or days instead of weeks or months.
"On the commercial side, prefabricated radiant tubing 'mats' are helping to decrease install times in large-scale applications by nearly 80 percent. These radiant mat installation products are making it much easier for professionals to add the comfort, energy-efficiency and indoor environmental quality of radiant into a value-engineered project."
The growth, acceptance, and need for alternative energy sources necessitate a degree of integration previously reserved for the commercial HVAC world only, said Dorothy Biggs, president of the Radiant Professionals Alliance.
"As the concept of mean radiant, rather simply sensible temperature, becomes more accepted for both heating and cooling, as the need for conditioned make-up air becomes mandated in increasingly tighter buildings, and energy availability/financial considerations dictate the highest efficiencies, integration will be inevitable.
"The typically low-grade heat energy readily available through and biomass is most efficiently transported and often distributed hydronically," Biggs said. "Obviously there are many considerations in designing a comfort system beyond simply delivering the requisite number of BTUs and, as we evolve in our perception of what is the 'comfort norm-as we have in virtually every other aspect of our technologically advancing lives- the need for integration of all systems within the built environment will become very apparent."
Hydronic floor heating has become more of a commodity in the HVAC market agreed John Siegenthaler of Appropriate Designs in Holland Patent, N.Y. "I do think radiant floor heating designed around low water temperatures has a good future because it ties in well with renewable heat sources such as solar collectors, heat pumps, and biomass boilers-all of which favor low temperature operation."
"I also think that radiant wall and ceiling panels have the potential to gain market share away from floor heating in applications such as: radiant cooling-ceilings are ideal for this-and applications in low-energy and net-zero houses, where low thermal mass of the panel is essential for quick response."
Blending solar with radiant, possibly including a geo or boiler input is the trend, said Bob Rohr, director of training and education for Caleffi North America, in Milwaukee.
"Solid-fueled appliances are also gaining acceptance. Bio-energy could include wood, pellets or briquettes. Wood burning boilers can consume multiple cords of wood per season. So with this technology you would need to be near a good, consistent, affordable wood source."
While pellets and briquettes are more transportable, many states are now cautioning against moving firewood due to various bugs, beetles, etc., Rohr explained.
"Pellets and briquettes are processed to avoid transporting insects. Currently the U.S. and Canada are two of the largest exporters of pellets. There is a huge appetite for this fuel source in European countries. Fast-growing grasses and other crops could be an excellent fuel source."
Radiant is gaining ground in the HVAC market by integrating with traditional systems to help make them more energy efficient, Hudoba said.
"For example, in commercial applications, radiant systems can offer a 'passive' means of heating and cooling a structure by storing unused heat or cooling during off-peak hours and then using it at peak hours to maximize energy efficiency."
He said great example of this is the radiant heating and cooling system in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory research support facility: "By integrating a radiant system into the traditional HVAC system, the facility was able to maximize the efficiencies of both systems to achieve net-zero energy usage and become the nation's largest net-zero energy project," he said.
With renewable energy systems such as geothermal and solar continuing to expand in the HVAC market, integrated system controls are becoming more and more important for maximizing the systems' energy efficiency.
"Some innovative new products on the market today offer 'smart' systems that provide two-way communication between all systems in a structure-radiant heating and cooling, forced-air heating and cooling, humidification, dehumidification and renewable-energy sources-for total comfort and energy-efficient control," Hudoba explained. "These 'smart' control systems are helping to pave the way for more radiant integration in both residential and commercial applications."
Multiple energy sources also require a greater ability for integration and control. Caleffi's Rohr said. "There are two basic challenges with combining multiple energy sources with radiant or any hydronics. We see a need for piping and control devices to make this a trouble free and simple 'marriage' for the supplier and installer."
First is the piping. "With multiple sources it is often best to look at primary secondary or hydro separators. This allows multiple, diverse inputs and outputs to get along, hydraulically speaking," Rohr said.
Next is the control logic. "Assembling a group of controls to bring on multiple sources at the appropriate time can be a challenge. Really, the control logic needs to be considered before the piping begins to assure the control can 'drive' all the ins and outs. We are starting to see these multi-energy controls that include Delta-T functions, required for solar thermal input, hitting the shelves.
And, what will all of these rapid changes actually mean to the plumbing and heating contractor in terms of training/skills to keep up with all of this new technology?
"Training on proper design and installation will continue to be needed as much as ever," Siegenthaler said. "There are still a lot of less-than-optimal installations. Those trained in the installation of solar collectors and heat pumps don't necessarily know what the best radiant subsystems for their applications are."
Contractors should "bone up" on piping and control options, Rohr advised.
"Hydraulic separators and separator tanks help simplify the piping. Controls run the gamut from multiple output solar controllers to programmable logic controls," Rohr said. "Caleffi has many years' experience with these integration products and will continue to provide quality, innovative products, and comprehensive training and support for the emerging markets.
Installers should also search the industry for low-temperature heat emitters to leverage the output from thermal solar arrays and GEO sources, Rohr said. "These tend to be more efficient sources at lower supply temperatures. Radiant has been a great match, but low mass emitters are often a better choice for retrofit and remodel projects."
Both residential and commercial end-users will be seeing and hearing more about the possibilities of radiant systems in coming months. Two signs of increased interest in hydronics are the formation of the Radiant & Hydronics Council by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America targeting support for hydronics-focused contractors and the acquisition of the Radiant Professionals Alliance by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
"The hydronic and radiant market is truly the beneficiary of the current dynamic," said Biggs, RPA president and a district manager in New York State for Viega in Wichita, Kan. "The RPA/IAPMO merger will create a much stronger organization with the reach, connections, and ability to take certification, installation standards, and code acceptance to the level to which we have always aspired."
The RPA nurtured an industry from early childhood to mature adolescence while breathing new life into the old HVAC craft known affectionately for its "dead men", Biggs said.
"The creation of the ACCA Hydronics Council is a reflection of that reality which I believe will serve to complement the industry with their typically thorough contractor training and development of standardized load analysis/design protocols. The byproduct of these developments will certainly be greater consumer awareness of radiant and, more importantly, the necessary labor and tools to do the job properly."
A key driver for the IAPMO acquisition of RPA was providing a broader base to serve not only contractors, but every level of the radiant/hydronics supply chain. "I think that the single most important point about the RPA coming to IAPMO is the international reach that IAMPO has," said Kathleen Mihelich, IAPMO's director of program development.
"The RPA had been looking for a way to extend its reach and services to its membership. IAPMO thought that the organization would be a good home for the RPA. "We have a large membership nationally and internationally."
Educational programs for manufacturers through consumers will be offered under IAPMO, she said. "We are acquiring all of the Radiant Professionals Alliance's intellectual property, everything that is owned by the organization," Mihelich explained. "We will be coming out with a brand-new RPA Web site which will be separate and distinct from IAPMO's Web site, even though they will be linked to each other. Memberships will remain separate although anyone who currently is an RPA member will automatically become a member of IAPMO, except for voting privileges on codes.
On the boards will be enhancement of all of the education RPA as well as an upgrade all of the publications. Along with better educational programs, we're going to take a look at the certification program, perhaps adding new certifications," Mihelich said.
"We definitely are going to create a technical committee. That committee is going to be out there looking at ways and opportunities to promote the radiant and hydronics industry. That technical committee also is going to be looking at codes and standards and how the RPA can be more involved in the actual codes. We're also going to continue RPA's work with the Canadian "Beautiful Heat" campaign.
"The RPA changed its name from the Radiant Panel Association to the Radiant Professionals Alliance last year. We like the word 'alliance'. An alliance is an association of groups, a collection of groups with a common aim, who cooperate toward a common goal," Mihelich said.
"We're not going to focus on just the contractors; we're also going to focus on the manufacturers of hydronic and radiant technology equipment, of course address all of the needs of the contractors, and also all of the other suppliers, dealers, distributors of these products; and we're also going to include consumers. Now, with IAPMO, we can reach all of these groups. Consumer education on radiant and hydronic products will be a key component, she said. We'll have campaigns for every one of our stakeholder groups." The new headquarters of the RPA will be IAPMO's offices in Mokena, Ill., outside of Chicago.