At 100 years old, the Hydronics Institute is engaged in a very current discussion with the U.S. Department of Energy regarding proposed efficiency standards for gas-fired water boilers. DOE has proposed 85% efficiency while HI and partners such as the American Gas Association are lobbying for a different number.

“The efficiency should be at 83% for safe chimney venting,” says ECR International President and CEO Ron Passafaro, who also is chairman of the Hydronics Institute, a product section of the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute for manufacturers of hydronic equipment and system components. “At 85% efficiency, you are getting to the ragged edge of near-condensing. When condensing occurs in a chimney, bad things begin to happen. Over time you can see chimneys start to collapse and the chance for unintended CO production increases.

“You could make 85% efficiency work if you line every chimney with stainless steel, but we can’t ensure that happens. A different number will provide safer chimney venting.”

HI’s emphasis on heating equipment safety and performance is very much in keeping with the organization’s origins in 1915 when producers of cast-iron boilers and radiators formed the National Boiler and Radiator Manufacturers Association. HI is celebrating its centennial this year, culminating in an invitation-only event next month in New Jersey. The celebration will include networking receptions, golf and speeches from prominent industry figures such as PM columnist Dan Holohan, who will deliver the keynote. 

“The core goals of the Hydronics Institute always have been product safety and performance along with a true measure of performance through certification,” says Mestek Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tim Markel, who is HI’s vice chairman and chairman of the Centennial Committee. “Despite being competitors, our members work together to ensure the safety and performance of their products. And that should be celebrated.”


Safety first

When manufacturers banded together 100 years ago, they raised $12,000 for the purpose of writing national standards for boiler performance and installation. These eventually were incorporated into the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code.

“We address the same issues today: Efficiency and the safe use of heating equipment,” Passafaro says. “Just as it did back then, the Hydronics Institute supports exclusive professional installation of our members’ products for the health, safety and overall protection of the consumer.”

The group changed its name in 1929 to the Institute of Boiler and Radiator Manufacturers. One of its primary functions became industry education through its I=B=R schools. Industry veterans, including Holohan, attended these classes to learn about the technical aspects of the hydronics industry.

 “I had my first exposure to HI when I was working for a manufacturers rep on Long Island,” Holohan recalls. “My boss tasked me with passing out counter cards to local wholesalers to spread the word that the I=B=R school was coming to town. We’d shove some stuff out of the way on the counters, put up the cards and hope for the best.

“The classes filled quickly because hardly anyone was doing any generic teaching in those days. If you wanted things straight up, this seemed to be the place to be.”

In 1970, I=B=R evolved into the Hydronics Institute. The I=B=R schools continued for years after the group’s name changed but eventually dwindled in number before vanishing. Industry education, however, continues to be a key component of HI’s mission, Passafaro says.

“Over the years, HI’s biggest contribution to the heating trades has been through education,” he says. “Education no longer goes through the I=B=R schools but has been taken over by individual companies that are HI members. We’re teaching them dynamically on live-fired equipment in our training facilities.

“Professionally trained experts provide greater outcomes for consumers’ comfort. We also realize the equipment we make can be dangerous in the wrong hands if not properly installed. It’s important to have standards for manufacturers and standards for professional installations.”

Other key dates in HI’s history are 1995, when it became the Hydronics Institute Division of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, and 2008, when GAMA merged with the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute. The Hydronics Institute maintains a product section within AHRI.

HI continues to emphasize education through AHRI’s product section via courses that train the trainers and teach best practices to instructors.


Challenges ahead

Through its first 100 years, HI always has been a self-regulatory organization to ensure products manufactured by its members perform as advertised.

“Certification of our equipment is still crucial,” Passafaro says. “We have self-regulated as an industry from the beginning and continue to do so. In comparison, the U.S. DOE was established in the 1970s to perform the same function. In my career we had DOE efficiency standards change in 1992 and then went another 20 years to 2012 before creating new efficiency standards.

“We’ve been involved in self-regulation and certification much longer than the government has.”

Government regulations will be a primary challenge to the hydronics industry going forward, he says. DOE’s proposed efficiency standards for gas-fired water boilers, mentioned earlier, comprise only the most recent example.

“As manufacturers of these products, we probably have the most collective knowledge of  their performance and safety,” Markel says. “It will be a delicate balance of working with the government and continuing our tradition of self-regulating the measurement and safety of our products.”

Ironically, though, future government regulations may be based on total system efficiency and actually could aid the hydronics industry’s efforts to increase its share of the heating-and-cooling market in new construction.

“Hydronics is extremely well positioned for comparative system measurement vs. other space-heating technologies,” Passafaro says. “Boilers and other types of heating systems will likely be measured on system efficiency, not just product efficiency. Besides AFUE, government efficiency standards are looking at electrical usage of pumps and other ways to save energy, so I think it is just a matter of time before they consider the whole system.”

HI’s heritage of including not only boiler and radiation manufacturers but also companies that make pumps, controls and any other products supporting a hydronic system will aid its quest to increase overall system efficiency levels, he says.

“HI is like no other AHRI product section in that along with boiler and radiation manufacturers, we’re all the components of the system,” Passafaro says. “That diversity will be our real strength in the future. At AHRI, we have formed working groups on how to measure system efficiency. We’re perfectly positioned to tackle that challenge and be poised for growth.”


Let’s celebrate!

The Centennial Celebration will take place Sept. 15-17 at the Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in Absecon, N.J., which has hosted HI meetings for years. Along with celebrating the 100th anniversary of what could be the oldest HVAC association in existence, the event also will be a reunion for current and former members of the hydronics industry.

“We’ve reached out to individuals who have retired from the industry and hope they can spend some of their valuable time with us,” Markel says. “So many people have put so much of their career into this industry. Their work with HI was based on their volunteering to do  something for the good of the industry. We’d love to have a great turnout.”

Passafaro adds: “We really are an industry made up of a wide array of people who wake up every morning and try to do good for society. I am proud to be associated with it.” 

Tell us about your experiences with the Hydronics Institute -- under any of its previous names -- in the comments section below.