BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
IF YOU LOOK only at boiler shipment statistics from the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, it looks as if the hydronics market is in for a rough ride. Shipments for residential gas cast iron boilers will finish down about 8% in 2005. That, however, tells only part of the story.
GAMA doesn't have a good method yet to measure shipments of high-efficiency, low-mass condensing boilers, explained Dave Dolan, vice president/ marketing for Weil-McLain. Today, high-efficiency products are 20% of sales, he said, with traditional cast iron comprising the other 80%. He predicts highefficiency boilers will have 40% of sales in five years.
His competitors agreed with him, reporting strong sales for anything that can be considered high efficiency, save energy-in some other way or that has anything to do with radiant heating.
Electric radiant is opening up new markets. And the manufacturers expect the commercial market to be good for products such as volume water heating and snow melting for retail, banks and other commercial establishments
Consequently, we expect the hydronic heating market to be up 4% to 5% in 2006.
Lochinvar expects a good year because of its high-efficiency Knight and Solutions boilers on the residential side and the Power Fin for the commercial market, said Mike Lahti, vice president/sales. Lahti said the company has had strong sales for export, in the extreme West, Mountain States, Midwest and held its own in New England.
"With the combination of higher energy prices and because the new home construction market is looking for sealed combustion, I think that [cast iron] will lose unit sales over time," Lahti said "The high-efficiency, sealed-combustion product will win out."
Lahti suggested that atmospherically fired cast-iron boilers would become a replacement market only product.
Lahti said he expects new construction to remain strong in the Rocky Mountain area, which will be good for sales of high-efficiency boilers and radiant systems. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, wanting multiple zones or mixed temperature systems such as radiant and baseboard. Those demands, along with high energy costs, make it incumbent upon manufacturers to make boilers that contractors want to buy, Lahti said, with builtin controls with features such as outdoor reset as standard.
U.S. manufacturers also have to keep an eye on European boiler manufacturers who are building a good product and gaining market share, Lahti said.
"One thing I would emphasize is the trend to advance technology is happening at a stronger rate than we all thought it would," said Bill Root , vice president/sales and marketing for Laars Heating Systems Co. European heat exchangers and control designs are becoming common, Root said, with some U.S. makers copying them and others buying components from Europe and assembling them here.
"Then there's European manufacturers themselves," Root said. "They are penetrating the market better than they were five years ago. It's part of the globalization of the heating business, like tankless water heaters coming in from Japan and Italy. We didn't have to contend with those products five years ago."
Like his compatriots, Root said Laars is experiencing growth in all geographic markets because of high-efficiency products that it introduced two to three years ago that are now catching on. At the AHR Expo this month in Chicago, Laars will introduce the Mascot, a wall-hung condensing boiler with a fairly sophisticated control package built in.
A boiler has become a "heat engine," Root said, that's supplying radiant, snow melting, baseboards, hydro-air and domestic hot water, modulating its output to match the shifting loads.
"That's high-end growth," Root noted. "It's not the 79% AFUE atmospheric boiler that sits in the basement and goes on and off."
The problem is getting it to all work together, Root said, like a pointand-shoot camera.
To that end, Watts Radiant is introducing the Hydronex packaged control panel, Vice President Dan Chiles said. Watts is working with the big three pump makers — Bell & Gossett, Taco and Grundfos — and it's talking to Wilo. Watts Radiant is using Watts Regulator valves and controls from tekmar and from a Watts European subsidiary. Watts Radiant has always made custom control panels, Chiles said, but this will be the first time it will fabricate panels as an off-the-shelf item. The product will handle up to four zones.
The residential market will also be influenced by high energy prices and in 2006 by federal energy tax credits.
Grundfos Pumps is addressing energy concerns with multi-speed circulators that better match changing loads, said Tony Radcliff, regional segment manager for building services in North America. Another advantage of a multi-speed circulator is that previously a wrongsized circulator had to be replaced. Now contractors can change the operating curve on a pump after it's installed.
"You'll see a lot of growth in any industry that can claim to be solar in the coming years," Chiles said.
That's been the case with Calefi Hydronic Solutions, General Manager Mark Olson said. The maker of valves and manifolds is getting more phone calls asking if it has solar-rated products that can withstand high temperatures.
"In New Jersey, tax credits are having a positive affect," Weil-McLain's Dolan said. "There was already a $750 rebate [for high-efficiency equipment] from PSEG, and then with the tax credit on top of that, the dollars are getting large enough that the residential customer is really starting to take notice."
Also in the residential market, electric floor warming systems are taking radiant to places it's never been before, Chiles said. Homeowners in Atlanta, Orlando and Phoenix want warm bathroom floors.
Electric radiant has become a good niche market for one of Chiles' customers, Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical in Alexandria, Va. He quotes it as part of a total mechanical package. It seems that neither the electricians nor the tile guys want it, Foley said. He installs the mats, the wiring and the controls and then a licensed electrician connects the power supply.
Lochinvar's Lahti believes the commercial hydronics market is "getting its feet under it." State budgets are improving so the industry will see more government work. He said he expects commercial construction to increase 4% to 5% for both space heating and volume water heating applications in the institutional market for hotels, motels, schools and universities.
Commercial construction will be strongest, Lahti said, in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, the mid-South, Texas, Las Vegas and the Rocky Mountains. It will see softening in the Midwest, especially Michigan and Ohio, which are suffering along with the automakers.
"From my personal interactions with customers in Philadelphia and Baltimore, I'm looking for a spike in commercial business out there," Dolan said. "There are a lot of commercial contractors looking for a strong year."
A commercial market that's not limited by geography is the market for volume water heating equipment and pool heaters, Root said.
Engineers are looking to cut energy costs and one way to do it is with variable-speed, differential-pressure controlled circulators, Radcliff said. Boilers have varying firing rates and zones turn on and off, so in order to optimize energy savings, the system needs a pump smart enough to handle those load changes, he said.
Liability is driving the market for snow melting, Calefi's Olson said. Industries with just-in-time inventory management can't put up with snow when they're sending or receiving product, Chiles said. Any establishment that deals with the public, like a bank, can't afford the liability of a slip-and-fall injury.
"They're sensitive to what attorneys can talk juries into," Chiles said.