Spring … a time for renewal at RPA

I attended what is known as the annual rite of spring for hydronic heating contractors ¯ the Radiant Panel Association’s Annual Conference.

Spring is my second favorite season of the year, led by fall. Spring always brings out the newest growth and best smells of the season - a fabulous time of renewal.

I attended what is known as the annual rite of spring for hydronic heating contractors - the Radiant Panel Association's Annual Conference. After some summer experimentation, it was decided to move the conference back to spring. The only issue I have with that is its proximity to Mother's Day. Maybe we should lobby Congress to move Mother's Day....

The annual conference is always a good time to get together with your hydronic heating, tube slinging brothers and sisters. East Coast attendance seemed to be down this year based on the number of friends missing from the East Coast, and with the train-wreck economy, it is to be expected. I had heard that attendance overall was up over the previous year, which is a good thing.

One thing I noticed - being the observant person that I am - none of my hydronic radiant compadres are getting any younger in age or shorter in the tooth, including yours truly. I've been writing about the pending labor shortage for years, but all of my good friends are getting older, grayer and smarter. Some are partially retired from the burning, turning, slinging business that is hydronic radiant heating. I saw a few younger faces in the crowd, but definitely not enough to make up for the mass exodus of older baby boomers.

What's an organization to do? Where are all these young folk who will take the reins of the industry and continue promoting this most wonderful means of delivering human comfort? They are out there, but they have settled into a more glamorous trade called solar thermal energy. That's OK, you young bunch of new-wave energy practitioners. You've still got to get the energy from the storage tank out to the points of use, and remember the intensity of that stored energy is fairly weak as it pertains to approach temperatures. There are a substantial number of very sharp individuals, relatively young, that understand how to collect and store this solar thermal energy, but they need the guidance of us old guys to tell them how to properly, efficiently and dependably distribute this low-grade energy throughout a given building.

The new executive director of the RPA, Ted Lowe, and myself, actually saw this first hand when we were asked to attend the Annual Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference this year. John Siegenthaler was there and had one of the largest groups he'd ever had in attendance at any of his training seminars. There was an open discussion forum on the nuances of interfacing hydronic radiant heating with hydronic solar thermal, and of the five guest participants sitting at the table, four of them were members of the RPA. That speaks volumes about our industry, and it also speaks volumes about the other industries needing to form a symbiotic relationship with the RPA. They need us, and we could use their talents and expertise in our field.

Ted Lowe is new to the position of executive director, and he brings a wealth of talent and experience with him that is extremely valuable to the organization. Ted has a lot of insight as to what has happened in the past, being a former president of the Board of Directors, and has a lot of really good ideas about where he would like to take the organization.

I interviewed Ted, asking him questions about his thoughts on numerous subjects after his opening remarks at RPA's general meeting, which got all of the RPA troops riled up, charged up and ready to move the organization forward. Below is part of the interview I conducted.

Question: How long have you been a member of the Radiant Panel Association, Ted?

Answer: Since 1994.

Q: So you are one of the original founding members?

A: Well, no not exactly a founding member, but I joined as soon as I heard that there was an organization.

Q: You were one of the first members to join?

A: Yes, I joined shortly after the group was formed, within months of it having formed.

Q: What caused you to want to join the organization?

A: At the time, I was doing radiant floor heating, and felt like I was a lone voice in the wilderness, and saw the organization as an opportunity to meet with people that had like interests and experiences and saw it as a great opportunity to network among other hydronic based contractors. At the time I was getting things in German and had to get the information translated in order to understand what I was supposed to be doing.

I speak about this a lot in discussing the birth of the RPA. Think about it, we have advanced so far in such a short period of time. Back then the Internet was not nearly as accessible as it is today, and you couldn't just go and Google "radiant" and be inundated with information like you can today. Back then most of the information was in a foreign language, and there just wasn't that many people doing it that you could sit down with and share information and war stories with, so I looked at the RPA as a place to meet with like minded individuals where we could exchange information.

Q: At that point in time you were a member as a contractor?

A: Yes.

Q: And what was the goal of the organization at that point in time?

A: Well as I've said, it was a great place to meet other people, exchange information and get education as it pertained to hydronic radiant heating. It was education and sharing information. That was and still is the focus of the organization.

Tune in next month for the continuation of this interview. In the mean time, check the RPA out at: www.radiantpanelassociation.org. It is a very worthwhile organization to belong to, in my humble opinion, with no where to go but up.

Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303-936-7606.

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