MOKENA, ILL. — Manufacturers of hydronic heating and cooling equipment for the commercial market see a usurper taking market share away from them and they have decided to fight back. Their opponents are manufacturers of variable refrigerant flow air conditioning and heat pumps who, the hydronic manufacturers contend, are appealing directly to building owners by glossing over some important facts.
Members of the Hydronics Industry Alliance — Commercial firmed up their marketing plans at a meeting here in June. The Hydronics Industry Alliance started out as the R-718 Group, formed by a handful of hydronics manufacturers with Tom Lawrence, senior vice president for sales and marketing, Taco Inc., as its chairman. R-718 is the refrigerant designation for water. Since the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials had taken over the Radiant Professionals Alliance and the R-718 Group had common interests with RPA, it made sense to get together and, thus, R-718 became HIA.
HIA members include Taco, Grundfos, Viega, Rehau, Mestek, Uponor, WaterFurnace, IEC, Bell & Gossett, Patterson Pumps, Multi Stack, Honeywell and KMC Controls. Other members not present who had indicated that they would back a commercial hydronics marketing effort include Aerco, John Siegenthaler, Aquatherm, Evapco, Fire & Ice Heating & Cooling/Ray Wohlfarth, Heat Transfer Products, Laars, Lochinvar, Dadanco, Multiaqua, Emerson Swan and Watts.
The group hopes to assemble a war chest of $200,000 for marketing directly to building owners and consulting engineers. If more manufacturers join and contribute, HIA-C would cap its marketing expenses at $400,000. The group worked out a dues formula to accommodate small, medium-sized and large manufacturers and calculated how much revenue the group can raise. It has $78,000 now that it will use to target members of the Building Owners and Managers Association.
The theme of the marketing campaign is simple — “Water, The Natural Choice.” The campaign will focus on water as a heat transfer medium being safe and efficient, modern, proven and engineered for flexibility. One ad in the campaign will focus on how water can provide comfort at lower cost. The energy efficiency message will say that no other medium beats water for moving energy around.
HIA-C also plans to enter into a contract with the Eneref Institute. Duane Huisken, IAPMO vice president of marketing and communication, described the Eneref Institute as bloggers and a public relations firm that specializes in energy efficiency. IAPMO has a history with them and they helped get IAPMO’s solar energy code into the Department of Energy. Eneref has strong connection with architects, LEED accredited professionals and institutions such as hospitals.
As a third party advocate, “It’s better to have somebody else say how nice you are,” Huisken said.
Taco’s Marketing Director Mark Chafee explained that Eneref is a third party that specializes in this niche, the building segment for energy efficiency, that has a strong relationship with DOE and that has worked with other industry organizations. Eneref, Chaffee said, coined the term “daylighting,” and got it accepted as an energy-saving tactic in the building codes. HIA-C is hoping that the firm can work similar magic for the hydronic heating and cooling industry.
HIA-C’s marketing campaign is aimed directly at manufacturers of VRF systems. VRF systems are gaining market share at a rate of 25% a year, said Taco’s Applications Engineering Manager Greg Cunniff, and taking it from all segments — hydronics, packaged terminal air conditioning, rooftop units, air handling units and split systems. VRF systems are sold as a single turnkey source, so they shut out the fan manufacturers, pump manufacturers and controls manufacturers.
The systems are sold directly to building owners with marketing campaigns that are light on technical information, Cunniff explained. HIA-C obtained a presentation from a VRF manufacturer from a Nashville manufacturers’ rep firm, and there were no technical slides in the presentation. Cunniff knows of a half dozen school districts that have declared that all future school construction will include VRF systems.
They tell owners that the systems are more efficient because there are no pumps, although the compressor is a pump and it uses more electricity than a hydronic circulator. Cunniff pointed out that a VRF compressor pumps at 66 feet per second in order to return oil to the compressor while a hydronic circulator pumps at 6-FPS.
They tell owners that they don’t need a mechanical room because all of the equipment is located outside, and that it doesn’t need any maintenance other than filter changes, so they can fire their maintenance staff and cut their maintenance budget.
Cunniff also showed the HIA-C members how the VRF manufacturers created their own testing and certification program under the auspices of the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute that includes operating parameters different from those used for testing any other types of air conditioning equipment. When the VRF equipment is de-rated and the testing parameters equalized, Cunniff said that VRF equipment is as efficient as any other type of variable speed HVAC equipment — no better and no worse.
HIA-C plans to launch its marketing campaign this summer. The campaign will tell building owners that commercial hydronics are energy efficient, easy to work on, easy to expand, and provide an easy compliance path the Net Zero.