PM is bringing the I=B=R Schools back to life.

For decades, hydronic heating has been viewed even by many insiders as a dying industry, and solely a replacement market. Every conversion from a boiler to a furnace put one more nail in the industry’s coffin.

But wait, don’t close the lid yet. A terrible mistake has been made. The corpse still breathes!

Hydronic heating has gotten new life in recent years for two main reasons, in my opinion. One is the excitement generated by the renewed interest in radiant heat in this country. Although still a tiny fraction of the warm air HVAC market, radiant is growing at an exponential rate.

A large dose of credit should go to the “This Old House” TV program and its longtime plumbing-heating expert, Rich Trethewey, a former PM columnist. Rich and his colleagues reach millions of people with that show, and their periodic programs on radiant have piqued consumer interest probably more than any other factor.

Reason number two is that the trade also has been thoroughly indoctrinated to the joys of hydronics, thanks in large measure to Dan Holohan and John Siegenthaler. Dan -- through his magazine articles, books, seminars and Web site -- has created a “Wethead” cult around the message that hydronic heat, whether radiant or steam or baseboard, is the best form of comfort money can buy. Hang around his site and you’ll meet scores of like-minded individuals to whom hydronic heating is a way of life in addition to a way to make a living.

These folks include many of the industry’s best and brightest craftsmen and engineers. Some of them know as much as Holohan does about hydronics technology. That’s when they turn to John Siegenthaler to advance to the next plateau.

Dan is the first to tell you that John operates on a different plane than he does. Dan is the industry’s poet laureate in describing the wondrous ways of hydronics. John tells you how to design and build a super system nut by nut, bolt by bolt, and why it should be done that way. We at PM are proud to have them write for us.

The Missing Link

Something’s still missing, though. There are not enough live people following in the footsteps of those Dan Holohan refers to reverentially as the “Dead Men.”

These were the designers, contractors and mechanics of yesteryear responsible for so many ingenious hydronic heating installations. Many of them were installed the better part of a century ago and still operate effectively to keep millions of us comfy. Their handiwork sings with the talent and passion of craftsmanship. The Dead Men documented their work in various books that Dan treasures more than anyone in the world.

Alas, no amount of tribute can resurrect them. The best way to honor their legacy is to carry on their expertise and even improve on it. But that’s hard to do with a technology widely regarded as dying out.

To replicate the works of the Dead Men, the industry needs thousands of people continuously learning the tricks of the trade and passing them along. We need to convince thousands of people to consciously and wholeheartedly devote their life’s work to hydronic heating.

The industry once had something like that. It was the I=B=R Schools. (I=B=R was the symbol for the Institute of Boiler and Radiation Manufacturers, forerunner of today’s The Hydronics Institute, now a division of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association.)

I=B=R schools started in the 1950s and lasted until 1995, passing along Dead Men’s knowledge to more than 60,000 students. Attendance dropped drastically in the later years, which is why they were suspended until earlier this year, when The Hydronics Institute/GAMA, along with the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), brought them back. Nobody really knows why interest waned. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to convince people to direct their talent, energy and passion to a field perceived as dying.

But as noted, hydronic heating has new life. That’s why the time is ripe for a renewal of the I=B=R Schools as well. And that’s why PM and its parent company, Business News Publishing Co., have thrown their lot in with The Hydronics Institute/ GAMA, to manage I=B=R Schools and thereby educate a new generation of people capable of sustaining and advancing this technology (see "Hydronics Institute Selects BNP To Manage I=B=R Schools").

Our partnership is a natural expansion of our mission to inform and educate the contractors of this industry. It frees up the Institute and its instructors from administrative chores and allows them to do what they do best in designing curricula and conducting the classes.

I=B=R classes offer detailed, systematic training for both novices and advanced students. To view a fall schedule of I=B=R classes, visit or contact Keri Wrobel at 248/362-3700.