Radiant Professionals Alliance
January 7, 2013
The Radiant Professionals Alliance has come a long way since its merger with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials in January 2012.
"In a year under IAPMO, the biggest RPA accomplishment is that we have rebuilt and regrouped," said director Kathleen Mihelich. "We have full committees now and many of the industry leaders have come on board. We have the website updated, the conference and membership meeting in order, all of the webinars going; everything has been reestablished and stabilized."
Mark Chaffee, chair of the RPA Board of Directors said, "What we were able to get immediately when RPA joined IAPMO were professional staffing, a membership group, and people in Washington DC that were already advocating for the industry. Now we can add the RPA and specific needs of the radiant/hydronic/electric radiant installer to the lobbying and awareness efforts that take place in Washington every day."
The Radiant Professionals Alliance began in 1994 as the now-defunct Radiant Panel Association, a grassroots organization with the purpose of promoting radiant heating and advancing the understanding and acceptance of radiant and hydronic technology. The original RPA's efforts included national conferences, radiant system showcases, Radiant Living Magazine, RPA Standard Guidelines for the Design and Installation and Heating Systems, a Web site, the Designer and Installer Certification Program and a Radiant Rewards program. When the association faced financial difficulties, IAPMO stepped in, assuming all RPA management responsibilities last year.
The new RPA still has work to do in getting across to its former members the true purpose of a trade association, Mihelich noted. "It isn't just about training, being in the company of guru notables, and networking with friends. It's about being a comprehensive, non-partisan agency that the industry can rely upon to protect and promote its interests."
There is room for an organization that wants to bring the entire industry together so that everyone has a voice, said board vice chair Ingrid Mattsson, a brand manager with Uponor, Inc. "So, when we start creating codes for hydronics or for radiant, it's to make sure that manufacturers have some say in it, that contractors are aware of it and so they know how they can use the codes to benefit their business, and work to the codes. We want distribution to be involved, even architects and engineers to be involved. Additionally, we want the boiler people, the pump people, now we also want to take this opportunity outside our walls."
The RPA is focusing on public relations activities such as advertising the industry to consumers, decision makers, and influencers which will help stimulate growth, Mihelich said. "The RPA is focusing on standardization of the industry in order to give consumers confidence in the industry which will in turn develop the industry beyond its current sluggish growth. And, the RPA is positioned to influence governmental policy in a direction favorable to the industry members.
Members want the RPA to foster the awareness of radiant and hydronics, "which is why we are endeavoring to develop a campaign that will promote the benefits and value of radiant and hydronics systems to not only the consumers but also to influencers such as contractors and dealers." The RPA will continue to sponsor the Radiant Living Magazine and the Radiant Flooring Guide.
The association also wants to launch a North American promotional campaign, with a "Beautiful Comfort" theme, along the lines of Canada's "Beautiful Heat" program, Chaffee said. "At the end of the day, we can support everybody that is currently in the industry, but if we don't have a focus on growing our overall industry, our percentage of the home comfort market, we would be remiss. So we're looking at doing a major industry-wide marketing campaign kicking off over the next couple of years.
"If everybody gets together with the focus of putting our industry on great professional footing and then delivering a great product to the consumer base, and then giving them a compelling reason why our systems should be in and why they should hire professional hydronic and radiant installers, then everybody in this industry is going to benefit from it," Chaffee said.
"A significant impact on the growth of the industry will be the creation of an ANSI-accredited Solar Energy and Hydronics Code," Mihelich said. "When properly implemented, it will help expand national, regional and international markets; help reduce costs and the time to market for products and services; and will allow code users to achieve a competitive advantage over those who do not follow the code. It also will serve as a sound basis for education and greatly needed certification programs."
"What we're trying to do is work with the IAPMO team to develop an ANSI-accredited radiant, solar and geothermal code," added RPA Board of Directors Chair Mark Chaffee, marketing director for Taco. Inc. "It's so key to advocate for those codes and standards so that the design, installation, methods and materials of our systems give consumers the confidence in the technology, give the installers a baseline for how it should be installed, and allow inspectors to inspect to it and allows educators to teach to it."
A related focus will be on education, specifically working with trade schools, Chaffee said. "I'm always amazed at how little percentage of time is spent in trade schools on installing radiant and hydronics. It's very important especially since we're seeing an escalation of technology and controls and sophistication in the systems."
Chaffee added that educating installers on codes will be vital. "They need to understand why the codes are good for them, why as professional installer, you'd want a basis of good design that can be inspected and certified. Then you need consumers to actually have confidence in the technology and the installer." There is also the education of the rest of the industry on multi-system technologies, "because we are seeing hydronics used in solar, geothermal, some electric, and air and they are all coming together. We need to be able to install correctly, efficiently and have an inspector come in and say, 'Yep, that's a good system'.
Growing the RPA membership and bringing back former members also is important, Mihelich said. "I cannot express strongly enough how critical memberships are in order for us to continue to do all we are doing and continue to have a definite and positive influence on the radiant and hydronics industry. We need the manufacturers, designers, architects, suppliers, distributors, builders, contractors and installers to stay with us or believe in us, give the RPA a second chance, and come back.
"Along with every other facet of the radiant industry, what plumbers and plumbing contractors need to know about RPA is that they can't do it by themselves. They need an association that is going to have their back, monitor legislation that will affect the industry, and help to promote either a product, way of doing business, or the concept of radiant."
Who should be a member of RPA? Everyone, Chaffee said. "Manufacturers, designers, distributors, contractors, installers, educators, trade schools. The RPA is the voice for the future of the hydronic and radiant industry. And everybody that is engaged in the industry should have a voice. What we are trying to do is create a place where all of those people can certainly get involved."
"I've met the most wonderful people in this industry," Mattsson added. " I think radiant and hydronics has attracted the most realistic, hands-on type of people, but at the same time they are scientists and inventors and they are excited about what they do. There's a real dedication toward taking care of all of us as homeowners, keeping us warm and improving our lives."
The RPA has led the radiant industry since 1994 and remains dedicated to sustaining that central role "because we believe there is no other place in the world where individuals who share a stake in the future of radiant and hydronics have the opportunity to be in immediate and constant contact with each other, and to make a difference together," Mihelich said. "The members of the RPA collectively possess the influence to facilitate growth in the industry; only focus is needed, and RPA is positioned to provide that. We believe in our tag line - 'Comfort's past has met its future'."
Meet the Director
Kathleen Mihelich is the director of the Radiant Professionals Alliance, based in Mokena, Ill.
Mihelich was a performance improvement consultant for various organizations before joining Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc., in 1987 as a manager of instructional services and curriculum development and later, Vice President of Professional Development Services. She moved to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials in 2007 as Director of Program Development. She took over the RPA director's post when IAPMO took over the association's management in January 2012. Mihelich holds a B.S. in education from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Arts degree in instructional and training technology from Governor's State University. She is currently completing a four-year term as a committee member of the American National Standards Institute Certificate Accreditation Program.
"I worked for BOCA for almost 20 years before the merger of the three model code organizations into the International Code Council," Mihelich said. "What enticed me to come to work for IAPMO was that they were more international. I had the opportunity to develop, with a colleague, a plumbing training program for India and a training program for Jordan."
During the two-year project she had the opportunity to go to both countries and design, develop and establish programs there.
"Primarily, for my whole 30 years in the industry, I've been in association management which is why I was really enthusiastic about being the director of the RPA. For the first time, I was able to use all of my association management skills."
Mihelich also uses her management skills in her off hours, planning fund-raising events on behalf of women's groups in the Joliet, Ill. community. A pet project is chairing an annual fundraiser for a local shelter for women and children. She also takes pride in watching her daughter Alexis Mihelich, an LPGA member and women's college golf coach, on the links.