The concerns for customers' well-being may outweigh the financial costs of installing commercial snowmelt systems.

Wet Heads searching for another radiant market should start extolling the virtues of another extremity. Call it Dry Feet.

"Commercial snowmelt is one of those items that comes up a lot during our seminars," says John Barba, Wirsbo's national training manager, who runs the company's Home Comfort Team program around the country. "Attendees will say, 'There's not much call for it around here.' But all you've got to do is look around and see there's plenty of opportunity."

To narrow it down, Barba says to focus on sites in which safety is a big concern. "Yes, it might be cheaper to just plow, but the plow service can't always do it when your potential customers need it done - and that can make a big difference."

Here are two commercial snowmelt systems where Wet Heads and Dry Feet come together:

The Congress Plaza Hotel

Chicago, Ill. We first learned about this project last year when it was submitted for an RPA System Showcase Award. It didn't win, but if one of the criteria for winning had been dramatic, last-minute job coordination, we think it would have won hands down. We also like how every player in the traditional supply chain pulled together to make it happen.

After years of moving mounds of snow off sidewalks, chief building engineer Patrick Fleming for Chicago's Congress Plaza Hotel began investigating the how-to's of a snowmelt system. It wasn't just the hassles of snow removal either. Salt deteriorates the sidewalk and doesn't do much for the carpet inside either. Fleming had a great chance to install the system anyway - the city of Chicago had already ripped up the block-long sidewalk in front of the hotel as part of a renovation project for Michigan Avenue, essentially the city's downtown "Main Street."

Fleming was figuring on heating a 10-foot wide path in front of the property that would stretch about 350 feet, plus a driveway measuring 90 feet by 30 feet. Including the 15 sections of melted runoffs to the curb, the job totaled 9,000 sq. ft. If the system were to be installed, the contractor would have to act in short order to quickly win the big project and then work with the general contractor to pull it off with few problems.

Fleming's search for snowmelt led him to Heatway, which referred him to its local rep, Bornquist Inc. The reps put Fleming in touch with Michael Bleier who runs hydronics wholesaler, Able Distributors.

"The real wrinkle with this job was the time frame," Bleier says. "There was only one contractor I knew who could handle such a big project and do it as fast as it needed to be done."

The task fell to Cooling Equipment Service (CES), Chicago, Ill., an unlikely named Wet Head firm with a hydronic hertigate nonetheless. "Despite the name of the business we've always done steam, piping and boiler work," says president Robert Axelrod, whose father started the business in 1933. "Radiant snowmelt, in particular, is a project we've gotten more and more involved in lately. We certainly didn't have any qualms about going after the Congress job. There were certainly some things that worked out for us." To say the least.

High Noon:After three planning meetings packed into as few days, plus a weekend in which CES engineer Michael Hartwig chained himself to a computer to produce the required CAD drawings, the company got the final go ahead at 12 noon on the first Monday of October. Sounds good so far. However, the concrete was to be poured that Friday morning or else the general contractor faced hefty fines. Since its wholesaler and rep agency had given Heatway at least some advanced notice that this project was a possibility, the manufacturer was able to ship the tubing to CES by the end of the day Wednesday. Tubing installation was completed on Thursday.

"We installed the heat exchanger, pumps and controls at a slightly more leisurely pace," Axelrod jokes. The system works off the hotel's existing steam boiler.

A couple of months after the job was completed, Chicago got socked with about 21 inches of snow. The sidewalk in front of the Congress was clean and dry.

Pacific Pride Station

Bethlehem, Pa. Deiter Bros. Inc. doesn't just install radiant heat, but also delivers the heating oil that powers the systems, too. In the early-1980s, the company expanded into supplying commercial fuel as well. Not bad for a company that started out delivering block ice to homes in 1929.

The company owns the franchise rights to operate its Pacific Pride commercial fuel filling station in Bethlehem, Pa. The station is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no attendants on duty. "An unattended site makes perfect sense to have a snowmelt system," says Frank Papovich, engineer coordinator. "Providing the customer with a dependable and safe environment, regardless of weather conditions was our initial concern."

Keeping the fueling island dry and clear of snow and ice is the best possible accident deterrent. An oil-fired boiler supplies warm water through 3/4-inch PEX. For additional customer comfort, Deiter Bros. installed panels in the floor and walls of the rest room facilities.

"We never have to send anyone over to shovel snow, plus the bathrooms are nice and toasty," Papovich adds.

A monitoring system keeps tabs on the snowmelt and radiant system and alerts the central office if any emergency arises.

The station also doubles as a sales center for residential and commercial customers alike. "We do have a radiant showroom, but we think of this as our 'showcase,' " Papovich says. "The piping that you normally wouldn't see is all on display here. It's a great place for people who want to see the nitty gritty of our kind of work."