Busting Customers’ Radiant Heating Myths

Customer Misconceptions Stem from Lack of Awareness, Fear of High Cost

By Kimberly Schwartz

While radiant heating has been around for a long time and is common in Europe, there are still many misconceptions swirling around these systems on this side of the pond. Some customers consider it a new and untested technology, while others categorize it as a luxury beyond what they can afford.

However, according to experts in this field, it’s time to bust these myths and introduce radiant heat to the masses.
Lack of Awareness

According to Paul Pollets, owner of Advanced Radiant Technology in Seattle, there has been a lack of marketing of radiant technology and its benefits. He compared the problem to someone with an amazing voice whose talent is never discovered. “Radiant is a five-octave singer stuck in the shower,” he explained.

The lack of marketing means that many consumers have yet to discover what radiant heat can offer them.

“For many customers who’ve never been exposed to the technology, radiant heat is still considered a ‘new design,’” explained Andrew Januszewski, marketing manager, Armstrong Fluid Technology. “They may have difficulty understanding how it can provide real comfort for indoor spaces.”

This lack of exposure means that many customers aren’t aware of the possibilities available in radiant heating and may think that air systems are their only option, according to Mike Dietrich, director of REHAU North America’s Building Technology business unit.

To challenge this mindset, “We need forwarding-looking contractors and organizations such as the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA) to broaden the discussion to a more holistic view of the built environment,” Dietrich said.

“Customers, both trade professionals and homeowners, must be aware of hydronic systems to have misconceptions. Those without experience in this type of heat don’t necessarily understand its benefits,” said Tracy Young, product manager at Rinnai America Corp. “We feel the biggest obstacle is awareness.”

As an example, Young noted: “The majority of hydronic applications are in Northern climates. Consumers and professionals in Southern climates may not be able to justify the cost of such a system, as they are unfamiliar with hydronic products, such as in-floor heating, in warmer climates.”

And when people are clueless about radiant heat, they don’t ask for it. “When consumers don’t understand the benefits of hydronic heating systems, they aren’t as likely to include this type of equipment in their building or renovation plans,” said Nate Warren, hydronic sales manager, Bradford White Corp. “Hydronic systems provide many advantages and options, but they must be explained to consumers and installed properly.”

Brian Fenske, specialty channel sales manager, Navien America Inc., offered some ideas for how to increase awareness of radiant heat.

“As strange as it sounds, people seem more interested in heated seats in their new car than radiant in their floors. But where do we spend more time?” he asked. “Those who have experienced and lived with radiant heating desire to have it forever. Are more radiant showrooms in order? How about radiant in hotels for more people to be exposed to the experience?”

According to Jim French, manager, Advanced Hydronics Inc., Denver, even when consumers have heard of radiant, their knowledge is still very limited.

“One obstacle our industry will be required to overcome is that the majority of consumers have become focused on radiant floors exclusively without considering other heat emitters to deliver radiant comfort, such as walls, ceilings, and panel radiators,” he said. “These conversations depend on the hydronic professional educating the consumer properly so that they have the ability to make an informed decision for the appropriate application.”

Gregory Jannone, president, William Jannone & Sons Inc., Bound Brook, N.J., added that people don’t realize that radiant heating provides heat for the whole home.

“Most believe that it is only to warm floors and not the heating system to heat their home,” he said. “I believe we need to take a systems approach and provide complete comfort systems, which incorporate the proper system based on the type of structure that it will be installed in.”
Too Expensive and Complicated?

For those who have heard about radiant heating systems, many have also heard that they are a luxury outside the average customer’s price range.

“A widely held misconception is that radiant is too expensive,” Dietrich said. “In many residential and commercial buildings, radiant can be installed for a cost close to that of traditional heating systems. This is particularly true of cases where you’re pouring a concrete floor, so the thermal mass for radiant is already there and the additional cost of integrating radiant piping is not significant.”

And, he continued, “There are a variety of reasons why radiant may be the best value, such as energy efficiency, comfort, quiet operation, and minimal maintenance.”

Stating it simply, Jannone said, “Radiant heat can be implemented at all budget levels.”

Mark Hudoba, director of heating and cooling at Uponor, added: “One misconception is that radiant floor heating systems are expensive, complex, and only for luxury homes. On the contrary — a system installed in only a portion of the home, like a basement, garage, or master bathroom, can be both simple and affordable.”

Chuck O’Donnell, marketing director, Laars Heating Systems, also noted that this is an affordable radiant option.

“Hydronics can be used selectively for portions of the home, but not necessarily for the entire structure,” he said. “The mere mention of hydronics shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to up-charge. Rather, why not approach the system improvements as a comfort improvement?”

According to John Sweaney, senior product and customer support manager, Watts Radiant/Suntouch, education and outreach are needed to combat the idea that radiant is unaffordable.

“I think the most common misconception is that hydronics and radiant are too complex or expensive,” Sweaney said. “The best way to address this is by educating contractors on how to explain and sell this technology to consumers and homebuilders. Also, the hydronics industry and manufacturers must have the outreach to explain the value of hydronics and radiant.”

He pointed to the “Beautiful Heat” marketing campaign in Canada as an example of this type of outreach. “Manufacturers and others in the industry need to promote greater awareness of hydronics and radiant heat and its superb comfort and efficiency,” Sweaney said.

Yet they also need to educate contractors so that they do not fear the complexity of the system.

“Another unfortunate facet to this is the misconception that it’s so much more involved — like a finely-engineered system. This isn’t rocket science,” said Bill Root, general manager, Laars Heating Systems. “Contractors want to balance value with complexity, and this can be done through proper training.”

Not only do contractors worry about the complexity of the system, but they also worry that radiant heat will limit the choices they are making in their home or building design.

“Another common misconception is that radiant floor heating systems cannot be used with many floor coverings,” said Hudoba. “On the contrary, the vast majority of floor coverings, including carpet, hardwood, tile, slate, linoleum, and concrete can be used with a radiant floor heating system.”

Warren added that, ultimately, customers will be impressed by these systems.

“Today’s market provides engineers and installers with a lot of ways to integrate hydronic equipment into heating and cooling systems,” he said. “The ability to install radiant heat and decorative radiators, and provide higher levels of control and comfort throughout the living space, can really provide a ‘wow’ factor for customers.”
Promoting the Benefits

Hopefully, the Internet will help increase public awareness and understanding of radiant heating, Hudoba said.

“With tech-savvy consumers quickly gathering product information via the Internet, Web-based communication will play an important part in dispelling the aforementioned myths,” he said. “Long term, the increasing number of homeowners experiencing radiant heating systems will continue to show customers the facts about radiant systems firsthand.”

Januszewski agreed, saying, “Over the long term, the best approach for overcoming misconceptions in the marketplace is a consistent pattern of creating great customer experiences, then accurately relating those success stories to potential customers.”

Dietrich added: “Every time I go to Europe, I realize I’m in a radiant zone — I feel it, yet I do not hear it. We need consumers to experience these settings.”

Publication date: 10/28/2013