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Coming Full Circle

Sept. 14, 2018
This time around is better than the last.

When I first began writing for Contractor Magazine around 22 years ago, I was employed by what I consider one of the best hydronic contractors in the world, that being Advanced Hydronics, Inc. I helped to grow the firm from its infancy, back when it was just the owner, Tom Olds, and his sole employee, Nathan Burtz. Many of my stories and ideas for articles come from my experiences at AHI.

I eventually decided to pursue my own career developing what I still to this day consider one of the most fabulous comfort tools in the world, that being radiant windows. I spent many hours, and a lot of personal funds attempting to get the comfort ball rolling. I started with a local glass company, which was imitating a product that they’d seen in Europe. Unfortunately, they fell short in the monetary area, and eventually closed down their radiant window division. I didn’t lose sight of my goal of achieving the ultimate in comfort and efficiency. In fact, during that tenure, we had the product tested at Kansas State University’s National Gas Machine Laboratory, and what they found blew me and the rest of the product development team away. They said that based on their Actual Building Occupied Verified Efficiency protocols that the radiant window significant raised the comfort levels, and reduced the energy consumption of the building by 40 percent. That is a huge reduction in energy consumption, but evidently not enough to convince investors to climb aboard the radiant window train.

I then discovered a second Colorado company that was working on the same plan, except with a different method of making the electrical connection to the glass. They too were imitating the work of a well-established organization located in Belgium, owned by a French family. Again, this firm had physical proof of the significant increases associated with the application of radiant windows, and they too saw a 40 percent reduction in overall energy consumption needed to maintain excellent human comfort. They too struggled to find investors who could see the future vision that we were all very aware of. They had a better method of control than the previous company, which was a step forward, but again, we struggled trying to get the comfort machine off of the ground.

When I approached mechanical engineers, they seemed somewhat standoffish, and after the fact, I think I understand why. The majority of their basic work is based on the fact that windows constitute significant heat losses and gains, and if these are significantly reduced their jobs will require significantly less of their energy to create and maintain human comfort. Kind of a conflict of interests if you will. They understood the potential impact, and it didn’t bode well for their ongoing employment. I get it. I’m not out to sack anyone’s job. I’m out to increase human comfort wherever possible, and wouldn’t mind reducing their energy consumption by 40 percent or more.

 They accepted my offer to work for them for the last few years of my hydronic career, and added to my title Educator.

I eventually made a connection to an American who was representing the European concern. He had been working for many years trying to convince the original parent company to bring its production facilities to American soil. For whatever reason (and I suspect it is basic business economics) they decided to stay on European soil. They had and still have significant business to do over across the pond, and the American reaction to their product was rather weak, as I’ve noted above. So I worked with this organization, promoting the product, writing articles about its existence and potential applications, all to no avail. It came to the point where I had exhausted my personal funds, and was eyeing my retirement funds, which technically, I could take without incurring penalty, other than the taxes owed on the income, but quite honestly, even though I am of legal age for retirement, I was not ready to retire. I still have the passion and fire to make people comfortable, and energy efficient.

After my four-year stint operating the Radiant Professionals Alliance I came to the realization that education was still extremely important, and decided to pursue my own career as an educator. I am still an active member of the RPA, heading up its Technical Committee. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that most contractors are so busy running around putting out fires their own employees started, that they don’t have the time or resources to learn how to avoid setting these fires in the first place.

One of my customers, Advanced Hydronics’ Jim French, who started as a mentee of mine, was now Vice President and General Manager of the organization, and was doing a bang-up job running the organization. I approached him and Tom Olds, the owner, with the proposition of going back to work for them as a hydronic systems designer/estimator/project manager. They accepted my offer to work for them for the last few years of my hydronic career, and added to my title Educator. I proudly accepted their generous counter offer and am once again an employee of the finest hydronic contracting firm in the world, Advanced Hydronics, Inc.

This time around is better than the last, because AHI has built an extremely energy efficient building, with radiant floors, radiant ceilings, and even a radiant cooling system. The company has 18 full-time employees, and is still on the top of their game, doing radiant floors, walls, ceilings, panel radiators and have since moved into the air handling business and service business as well under the direction of Dave Phillips, Master Mechanical contractor.

So, with all that said, I look forward to working with my old (new) company, and will be sharing some of the work we are charged with that incorporate hydronics as its primary source. Thanks to Tom, Jim, Dave and the rest of the excellent crews at Advanced Hydronics that I have to work with for the last few years of my hydronics career. I am putting together a book titled “Recommended Practices Manual for Hydronic Installations,” based on my 42 years worth of hydronic experience to share with the public. Stay tuned, and Happy Advanced Hydronicing! It’s good to be back home after nearly a 10-year hiatus.

Mark Eatherton material, in print and online, is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the express written permission of Mark Eatherton and CONTRACTOR magazine. Please contact via email at [email protected].

About the Author

Mark Eatherton

Mark Eatherton material on this website is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Mark Eatherton and CONTRACTOR Magazine. 

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