A time for renewal at the RPA — Part 3

Aug. 9, 2010
Editor's Note: This is Part 3 of a four part interview conducted by Mark Eatherton with the new executive director of the RPA, Ted Lowe.

Editor's Note: This is Part 3 of a four part interview conducted by Mark Eatherton with the new executive director of the RPA, Ted Lowe.

Question: I was quite shocked to see a few former board members who had previously dissolved their relationship with the organization coming back into the fold. I assumed that the reason for their rejoining had to do with the change in executive director. What is going to change as it pertains to getting old members to come back into the organization?

Answer: I am hoping that as an organization we do create that attraction, but like any business, it is harder to get new customers than it is to keep existing customers. We are presented with the unique opportunity that we are now in a position to press the reset button, and offer a wider range of topics and appeal to a wider range of interests, and honestly, I think we want to present ourselves in terms of perception and reality, as a much more user friendly or member driven organization. We are actively soliciting suggestions, comments, criticisms, whatever it is that makes us more responsive to our membership, and more of an organization that provides what the membership wants and needs.

Q: Our common friend Dan Holohan always asks, "What's in it for me?" My question to you is, "What's in it for them, the members?"

A: What is in it for a member, at this point, is we really want to unite an industry. We want to unite it in a way that we actually have a voice, so that when we go to Washington, to talk about high performance buildings, as I mentioned during my speech, we have a voice. We've been offered and have accepted a seat on the High Performance Building Caucus, a voice at the National Institute of Building Science. All of these things count when it comes to legislative initiatives.

"What's in it for me" from the legislator or administrators point of view is how many people are you speaking for, and if I represent myself, you get one reaction and if I represent 10 people you get another reaction, and if I represent thousands, then it is an entirely different response. So I think it is essential that perception and reality shows that we represent an entire industry when we are talking about wanting to promote hydronics interest groups. I think from a members point of view of "what's in it for me" it's an organization that is going to promote them both directly as it pertains to the consumers needs to find a good contractor, and generating leads. We are a clearing house for that kind of thing through the RPA's website, but also indirectly through promoting an entire industry, so that when the tide rises, all boats float. If we can create more hydronics and radiant businesses, the whole industry benefits. Quite honestly, and I had a long conversation with John Barba about this, that if we can gain a 1% share of the annual HVAC installation market going in, we would have more work than we can handle.

Q: At present, we do carry a small percentage of the market. I think there are two ways to look at that: some people, the pessimists, would say that you only have a 5% share of the market and an optimist's point of view would be that there is a 95% market potential waiting to be tackled! How do you see it?

A: That’s the way I look at it, a 95% market potential. Do you see the donut or the hole? Do you see the glass half full or half empty? I always see the glass half full, and however you want to state that, we as an organization have no where to go but up, and we have tremendous potential to do just that. I think that for so long, we've looked at it like manufacturer A takes so much business from manufacturer B, who then covets manufacturer C, and all of those manufacturers are part of that 5%. Really what we need to do is unite as an industry, and take 1% of something new, and then we will all have so much work that we won’t know what to do with ourselves.

Q: Can you tell me about the cross pollination of this organization with some of the newer organizations that are just hitting the deck, a lot of the newly organized "green" organizations?

A: Well, we have a dialogue certainly with the Green Mechanical organization, although we don’t have any concrete plan for going forward with them as of yet, but we are talking to them and the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) as it pertains to education programs. Their members need to know more about radiant heating aspects, and our members need to know more about the intricacies of ground source heat pump systems, so we’ve talked about trading educational expertise. We've successfully reached out to some solar groups, for example the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference that we attended, and figured out how we can do more hydronic and radiant training sessions with them, and see how they can help teach our members more about solar thermal.

What concerns me about these green groups is that they have a lot of passion, and a lot more youth than we have, because they are perceived as sexier and greener, and green is the hot topic right now. But I am concerned that these groups know how to collect solar thermal energy, but what are they going to do with it? Are they just going to staple up a tube in a joist bay and have a very, very small solar fraction as a result of that, or are they going to truly understand low temperature distribution. But there is the chance for a truly symbiotic relationship that we show them how to best utilize their specialty, which is low temperature precious BTUs, and they can show our members how to apply their high degree of hydronic knowledge, and make our members shine brightly as well.

So what I see is our organization doing out-reaches to relatively small, specialty organizations, the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) is a case in point, or IGSHPA, or the solar energy groups and even the wood groups. If we can figure out what our commonalities are, and what the truly symbiotic relationship ought to be, then again, I think we start to talk about strengthening an industry and cause it to grow. As Siggy said, "The glue that binds is the hydronic parts of the system," particularly low temperature distribution. Ground source is a prime example. If they are going to move air, they need 130°F water at a minimum, and even that may be too cool, but on the other hand, if they are doing a hydronic radiant heating system, lets talk about using water temperatures around 95°F and get the COP up over 5.

Tune in next month for Part 4, the final article of the Ted Lowe interview series.

Read Part 2

Read Part 1

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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