It’s not easy making a living selling radiant heat in new construction for the middle-class housing market. Heck, it’s not easy selling plumbing in new construction for that matter. And it’s definitely not any easier selling radiant heat in new construction for middle-class housing in the middle of June when it’s 95 degrees in the shade.

So having a Burnham race car parked right out front of your latest job comes in pretty handy.

Thanks in part to the highly visible, high-powered stock car, about 2,000 people toured the work of heating contractor Joe Giandalia, Comfortable Design Heating & Cooling, Wrightsville, PA, during a recent Parade of Homes. The 2,900 sq. ft., two-story home, located in Bloomingdale, PA, listed for $219,000 — OK, maybe not middle middle-class, but certainly not the radiantly heated mansions that we’ve typically written about in these pages.

“People don’t realize the comfort level that they can get from radiant heat,” Giandalia says. “They just take for granted that forced air is the only way.” Giandalia’s been in business for himself for the past 10 years. The majority of his work is in the hard scrambled arena of new construction. But he estimates another 40 percent comes from boiler retrofits. As the name of his firm implies, he does no plumbing.

Strange Bedfellows: A race car parked in the driveway no doubt drew the public’s eye to this particular house. But for us, the more unusual site was the guy working with Giandalia much of the day — residential home builder Fabio Pini, who along with his brother runs C&F Contracting, Lancaster, PA.

Heating contractors — particularly radiant guys — and builders aren’t exactly oil and water. No, they’re more like oil and vinegar: they’ll mix when they have to, but only when someone else shakes the two up enough. Afterward, they’ll separate ASAP. And a Parade of Homes, after all, is set up to benefit local builders more than any other player in the new residential construction market. Real estate agents are onsite during the open house tours and act as matchmakers between prospective homeowners and builders. So what’s a heating contractor doing there to begin with?

Joe and Fabio’s story is a bit different. That’s because after no small amount of prodding, cajoling and persuading, Giandalia finally installed a radiant system in Pini’s own new home.

“The best thing we ever did was put a radiant system in Fabio’s house,” Giandalia explains. “He wanted something different, something new and exciting. Now he’s really into the radiant mindset now and loves the comfort.”

Adds Pini: “I grew up in a electrically heated home so I know what discomfort is!” As a result, Giandalia and his three-man crew have added plenty of marketing leverage to their pursuits of turning on mainstream homeowners to alternative heating options for the biggest investment of their lives.

Running an end-around pass by the builder direct to the consumer is one way contractors have successfully sold radiant systems. We recently highlighted the success, for example, New Jersey contractor Greg Jannone has had by doing just that.

“If we tell homeowners about the options they have to heat their homes, people will pay for comfort,” he told us earlier this year after winning our Publisher’s Choice Award during the Third Annual Radiant Panel Association Trade Show and Convention. “Most of the time I hear people say that they would like radiant heat, but the builder they are using says that it’s no good or that they will only run into problems. Even plumbing and heating contractors are talking potential customers out of using radiant.”

Jannone got the nod for our award by capping off many of these tales by winning over reluctant builders themselves, and eventually installing systems for their own personal enjoyment.

Now along comes Giandalia with similar marketing success by directly converting a builder into one of the best radiant salesman a contractor could ask for.

Big Plus: Right from the start, homeowners are introduced to additional heating options since the office in which Pini meets potential customers is radiantly heated.

“We’ll start there and then move on to the kitchen, which also has a nice warm tile floor thanks to the radiant heat,” Pini says. “Once we get to that point we always figure that we got them. Having a radiant system in my house has been a great sales aid. Even if they go with a standard heating package, homeowners know we can go above and beyond.”

Giandalia and Pini actually started emphasizing radiant at last year’s Parade of Homes. The Bloomingdale home featured this year was the third home built with radiant. “It may not seem like much, but to go from zero to three in a year means a lot to me,” Giandalia says.

The home has the typical upgrades you might expect in this day and age, such as a satellite dish, big screen TV with surround sound, central stereo, Jacuzzi in the master bath, as well as a security system. But the abode also includes a couple of upgrades you might not expect, particularly for this price range — not just radiant heat, but a snow melt system too.To help explain away the mysteries of radiant, Giandalia purposely left the tubing exposed during the Parade of Homes festivities. And he was on hand all day long fielding questions about “just how does the heat come through the floor.”

“Frankly, I originally wondered about that myself,” Pini says. “Hey, the system still confuses me and I know a little bit about it.”

While the heat wasn’t on during such a hot summer day, a portable radiant floor heating display on loan from Burnham helped would-be homeowners experience another way to heat their new homes, and no longer take for granted that they’ve got to settle for the run-of-the-mill forced air system.

“It’s easy to get someone to spend an extra $3,000 on a kitchen because they can see that,” Pini adds. “But for radiant you’ve got to have a ‘touch-feely’ situation to help explain the benefits of something they’ll use maybe four months out of the year.” (For more of these exact same sentiments, see our next feature, “Feeling Is Believing.”)

In addition, prospective home buyers may no longer take for granted that they’ll spend their winters shoveling the walk either. The special benefits of the home’s snow melt system even garnered Giandalia and Pini a nice front-page write-up in the local paper’s real estate section.

Price-Conscious: Builders are, of course, notoriously price-conscious. “We’re numbers guys,” Pini says. “Plus, I’m young and I’m bidding against people who have been at it for 15 years longer. We have to have a low number.”

But not necessarily the lowest. “Fabio is price-conscious just like I am,” Giandalia adds. “But at least he’s in the radiant mindset now. He lets me do what other builders won’t do.”

As a result, the home isn’t entirely radiant; the radiant tubing flows under the two-story hall entry, the kitchen and up to two upstairs bathrooms. In addition, the radiant system is a staple-up job. As for the snow melt system, it works off a manual switch and runs just under the front walkways of the home.

“We figure just the radiant adds about 30 percent to the cost of my basic heating package — in dollar terms that’s about $3,000,” Fabio says.

Not so much for a lot of comfort and convenience. No word yet on any business gained from this year’s Parade of Home. But both contractor and builder are confident they’ll do a little better every year.

“People really like the comfort,” Pini adds. “I think we’re going to sell a lot of these systems.”