BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
MANUFACTURERS OF electric radiant heating products are forming their own trade association to work with code groups and testing organizations, to educate contractors and specifiers and to promote sales.
The association doesn't have a name yet, although the working title is the Electric Radiant Heating Manufacturers Association of North America, said Ada Cryer, marketing director of Delta-Therm Corp.
The founding members of the association are Delta-Therm, Warmly Yours, Dan-foss and Electro-Plastics.
The association plans to educate mechanical contractors, architects, engineers and electrical contractors about the products that are on the market, Cryer told CONTRACTOR. It also wants to work with the Radiant Panel Association to develop classes that mirror current RPA classes, such as an Electric Radiant Basics class.
The new association will have a lot of work to do with code bodies and testing organizations. Electric radiant products have been included in the codes for years, Cryer said, but those codes also have not been updated for years and don't reflect the products currently on the market. Some of the manufacturers have formed an Underwriters Laboratories ad hoc testing committee to work on a unified testing protocol for electric radiant products.
The manufacturers want to form relationships with UL, CSA and ETL Laboratories, and make sure they are properly represented in the National Electrical Code. The group wishes to form relationships with the standards committees of the American Society of Heating Refrigerating & Air
Conditioning Engineers, the National Fire Protection Association and the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission.
The manufacturers also want to get involved with the Tile Council of America and provide input into the ANSI Standard 108 committee that deals with floor tile. The association wants to work with electric utilities on marketing their products.
The manufacturers will remain members of the RPA.
"Although they still will remain members of the RPA, they feel they need an association that will address more specifically the technical issues and code issues that they deal with that are unique to the electric radiant industry," RPA Executive Director Larry Drake said.
The challenges facing electric radiant manufacturers are twofold, Drake said. One is that the supply chain is so different, unlike the manufacturerwholesaler-contractor chain for hydronic products. Few contractors are just electric heating contractors, Drake noted, while the electric radiant manufacturers also deal with tile contractors, electrical contractors, general contractors, and even some homeowners who put in their own radiant floor and then have electricians complete the hookup.
"We represent just one link of the supply chain for electric radiant manufacturers," Drake said.
The second challenge, Drake said, involves the technical issues of codes and safety, which the new manufacturers' association will address directly.
RPA is, by and large, a contractor's association, noted Electro-Plastics' Monica Irgens. Three-fourths of its members are contractors who do all sorts of hydronic and electric radiant, in addition to other heating work. Consequently, it isn't the best forum to address testing protocols and code issues, Irgens said.
The founding members of the electric radiant group are holding telephone conferences every two weeks, she said, with one scheduled for the first part of September.
"RPA has made some recent accommodations for electric manufacturers, which, being one, we appreciate, and you're going see more emphasis over time to accommodate the needs of electric manufacturers," said Dan Chiles, executive vice president of Watts Radiant. "As to the proposed organization, we are always open to any reasonable suggestions. If and when such an organization appears on the horizon, we will look at it and, of course, if it's a progressive organization we always want to be a part."
The formation of the new association is exciting and disappointing all at the same time, said former RPA President Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical in Alexandria, Va.
"I would hope you could keep it under one roof," Foley said, "but it's hard to keep everybody happy."
That might be one of the weaknesses of an all-inclusive group such as RPA where tensions sometimes crop up between contractors and reps or boiler manufacturers and water heater manufacturers.
Foley said he puts in "a ton" of electric radiant, making him the exception as a hydronic heating contractor, but that's dictated by his semi-Southern market around Washington.
"We do a lot of jobs that have gas forced air, and they won't do a boiler to put a radiant floor in the master bath," Foley said. "Electric gets radiant in a house that might not have had it otherwise."