A series of online interviews with hydronic executives and how they see the industry changing.

"Without a doubt, the industry is limited by the amount of qualified installing contractors. Jobs are being turned away because most HVAC contractors are not qualified to bid or install radiant systems."

"I expect to see a shakeout in the hydronic radiant market as growth slows down and late entrants to radiant decide to pull back and focus on their core capabilities."

"EPDM is as different from nitrile, as PEX is from polybutylene pipe. EPDM has a very strong track record, both in the industrial field and in the radiant heating field."

Mike Chiles has spent more than 20 years marketing radiant and his former family-owned company, Heatway, was a charter member of the Radiant Panel Association. Today, Watts Radiant's sales engineering/design team evaluates thousands of systems every year, and collectively has more than a century of hands-on experience designing hydronic and electric radiant and snowmelting systems. In addition, its RadiantWorks 2002 radiant/snowmelt design software has been updated every year since its introduction more than a decade ago. Watts Radiant offers its products through a network of professional engineering sales representatives, who sell a full range of boilers, valves, pumps, and affiliated hydronic products.

Mike, tell us about how your company has been doing the last 18 months under new ownership by Watts.

We're doing very well as a subsidiary of Watts Industries. Watts' global network of manufacturing and technical capabilities gives us opportunities to deliver new products to North America at attractive pricing.

The Watts management group is young and focused on the future. We enjoy working with them.

What impact has it had on how you market your product?

We continue to market our products in the same way, through a longstanding network of professional engineering-oriented reps and heating wholesalers. Our RadiantWorks software, installation videos, technical manuals, and marketing materials are developed using the same group of in-house software engineers, technical writers, video production people, web artists, and technical writers we have used for years.

When the acquisition was first announced, there was talk about how such a large company as Watts could add products to your product mix. What's going on in this area?

Watts has been very active in acquiring companies with strong engineering and manufacturing abilities. An example of this is Watts Dumser, one of Europe's leading OEM manufacturers of manifolds and preplumbed boiler modules. We've brought over their new stainless steel hydronic manifolds, as well as Watts Cazzaniga's cast-brass manifolds. We're also sourcing many brass valves and fittings from various Watts subsidiaries.

In recent years, several boiler manufacturers have actively marketed their own "brand" of PEX tubing in a "one stop" shopping attempt to sell to installers. Your company goes it alone with tubing and accessories. What are your views on the "one stop" shopping philosophy and what impact has it had on your company?

I believe that the boiler companies have done a great service to the radiant industry by spreading the good news of comfort and energy savings. Their entry has helped legitimize the new radiant market to a lot of older, conservative hydronic contractors. I have many friends in the boiler business and wish them the best in their efforts.

As for us, we've elected to only sell products where we can offer added value, through superior products, technical choice, and service. We sell both Onix and PEX tubing. On the PEX side, we offer three different connections systems: crimp, compression, and slidelock. I believe we offer more manifold choices than any competitors, including plastic, copper, tubular brass, cast brass, and stainless steel. We sell preassembled equipment panels. We sell controls.

Ultimately, we sell choice to contractors. With our technology and assistance they can heat, warm, or snowmelt virtually any surface, under almost any condition.

Let's talk about the tubing. Watts Radiant markets Onix EPDM hose, as well as PEX pipe. Tell us more about the Onix product.

I have been involved in the sale of rubber products for hydronic heating since l981. When we introduced Onix, our aramid reinforced/aluminum barrier hose, we went back to our roots. Onix has been on the market for six years, but its rubber chemistry is based on the very favorable 20-year history I have had with EPDM hose since the early 1980s. Heatway and its customers had some very regrettable experiences with nitrile hose, sold under the Entran II name.

However, EPDM is as different from nitrile, as PEX is from polybutylene pipe. EPDM has a very strong track record, both in the industrial field and in the radiant heating field. The EPDM hose and tube systems sold by Heatway are still going strong after almost 20 years of service.

What are the benefits of using EPDM vs. PEX?

Onix offers contractors and engineers a high temperature, tough, flexible alternative to PEX and copper tubing. Onix is essentially invulnerable to sunlight, unlike PEX. It will also tolerate slab movement and aggressive chemical conditions that will cause plastic and/or copper tubing to fail.

We see it widely used in commercial installations, commercial snowmelting projects, and in staple-up projects, both in new construction and retrofit. We have a strong contingent of contractors that will use nothing but Onix, and many others that selectively use Onix where its flexibility and strength is required.

And what about PEX?

Watts Radiant is a major player in PEX hydronic systems, too. We sell millions of feet every year, and offer more PEX fitting system choices than anyone else in the industry. Watts is a significant PEX manufacturer in Europe, and one of its subsidiaries. Watts MTR, is a well-known German radiant supplier.

Your company is also in the electric radiant market. Tell us more about this side of the business.

Watts Radiant sells electric radiant mats under the Heatweave name. We're introducing our new Heatweave Underfloor mats, and featured them at ASHRAE last January. Wherever you have access, you can suspend these mats under virtually any cold floor, regardless of the floor coverings. They deliver 38 Btuh per square foot to any joist space, and will warm most floors about 15 degrees, depending on the application.

We also have our traditional Heatweave tile warming mats for heating tile, stone, brick, and any other cementious floor covering. You can even install it under carpet, wood, or laminate floors, as long as it is covered by 1/8" of a cement product. This is usually used in new construction, or major renovation projects.

These products are a great way for Wet Heads to get warm floors into forced air homes.

How does Watts Radiant share of market break down between replacement/retrofit and new construction. Also, how do your sales break down between residential and commercial uses?

First of all, we don't break out sales between residential and commercial projects, but aim to offer superior technical service and products in each line.

As I mentioned earlier, most of our reps are heavily engineering-oriented so we do a lot of engineered industrial/heavy commercial projects; and super high-end homes.

We also do a lot of midincome retrofit projects where the easy installation of Onix and Heatweave are very popular. We haven't been as strong in the midlevel projects as I would have liked -- say, homes in the $150,000 to $250,000 cost range -- but we're making progress.

How does Watts Radiant plan to increase its share of the market?

By offering outstanding technical support and labor-saving products that meet existing and future needs. Our sales and technical people have worked together for many years. We see very little turnover among our key people and reps.

Collectively, our technical and support staff have well over a century of radiant hydronic and electric design experience under one roof, working as a team. I don't think anyone else in North America can say that.

Beyond marketing, give us your opinion on the quantity of installing contractors. Are there enough hydronic/radiant contractors to meet the demand?

Without a doubt, the industry is limited by the amount of qualified installing contractors. Jobs are being turned away because most HVAC contractors are not qualified to bid or install radiant systems. The Radiant Panel Association and many manufacturers are training more people, but the size of the task is immense. This is the biggest challenge faced by the industry, and the one that most limits the industry's growth.

Has your company noticed any increase in European competition here in North America?

We haven't really seen any new significant entrants into the hydronic market. I expect to see a shakeout in the hydronic radiant market as growth slows down and late entrants to radiant decide to pull back and focus on their core capabilities.

What are your thoughts on the new ISH North America show?

I think we're going to see fewer shows in the future. The shows that deliver the best value to the exhibitors are the ones that will survive. Value includes show focus, successful outreach to potential attendees, fairly priced exhibition space, services, professional assistance and value-oriented labor unions.

Does Watts Radiant plan to exhibit?

We'll give it a try this year.

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