PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In any business, the people are more important than the widgets. Air Conditioning Contractors of America did a good job assembling the right people at its first Radiant & Hydronics Council meeting here in mid-September.

Council Chairman Dan Foley, Foley Mechanical, Lorton, Va., led the event that featured a keynote speech by Rich Trethewey of This Old House, and speakers such as Greg Jannone of William Jannone & Sons, John Siegenthaler of Appropriate Designs, Robert Bean of Healthy Heating, and Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr of Caleffi.

ACCA Chairman of the Board Laura DiFilippo, DiFilippo Services, Paoli, Pa., emphasized to the group of approximately 120 attendees that ACCA is a contractor-led group. Approximately 15% of 4,000 ACCA member firms perform hydronic heating, making the Radiant & Hydronics Council the country’s largest radiant group DiFilippo said.

Foley, a long-time ACCA member, said that approximately 10 months ago he sat down with Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA President & CEO to discuss forming a radiant advisory committee within ACCA. Foley and the other advisory board members plan to integrate radiant and hydronics into the association. For example, at the association’s upcoming 2013 convention, Foley will lead a seminar session entitled, “Selling the Wet and Dry Side Together,” and Brian Stack of Stack Heating will speak on “Integrating Hydronics into what has been a Predominantly Forced Air HVAC Business.”

Trethewey kicked off the event with his keynote that covered his experiences with This Old House, a show conceived by producer Russell Morash at WGBH in Boston, a man Trethewey credits with inventing how-to television. Morash also discovered Julia Child, Trethewey said

Trethewey said he introduced radiant heating into the show in 1985 and always strove to find the best or most expensive way to do it because, he said, “The market will find a way to cheapen it.”

Greg Jannone has attracted a good class of customers in Bound Brook, N.J., with many of his jobs approaching commercial scale. Jannone told the crowd that the key is to win your first quality radiant job and to use that as an entrée into the right circle of people, especially architects who work for wealthy clients. Performing that type of work, however, entails getting into markets with which most residential contractors are not familiar — architect-driven and involving GCs and construction managers. It’s work that involves change orders, AIA contracts and retainage. Plans might be updated 10 times and all submittals are date-stamped and approved. Jannone said he’s spent as much as $20,000 just on drawings.

The radiant contractor has to use his connections with architects, GCs and CMs to get into the project long before it goes out to bid. The contractor also has to understand the strengths, weaknesses and mindset of his partners. For example, Jannone said, when they ask for a budget numbers, what they’re really asking for is the price. Don’t wing it, he warned. The radiant contractor has to be as detailed as possible about what is and what is not included in the price.

He has to understand the scope of work and try to find out the owner’s expectations. Jannone said the construction manager is often a good source to find that out. The contractor also has to be clear about the scope of work so he knows how he will have to coordinate with other trades and the impact of change orders.

On design/build jobs, the engineers will often supply plans but the radiant contractor has to tweak them. He also has to pursue the products that are best for that project, Jannone said, because it’s the contractor’s responsibility to make sure the system works — you can’t just blame the engineer.

In the Washington, D.C., metro area, Foley has less land to work with than Jannone, so his projects are more compact. Foley said that architects are his number one source of business. Foley works with five or six, but his best source is Washington architect David Jameson, who even designed the furniture for his houses. Foley also gets good leads from two engineers with whom he works all the time.

Foley said the key to being successful in that market is to read and understand the specs — every valve, circuit setter and length of insulation.

While the meeting featured a couple seminars that were along the lines of Intro to Radiant, it also included two intense, calculus-heavy seminars by Robert Bean and John Siegenthaler. Bean told the attendees in his session about how to do radiant cooling in humid environments that there is no substitute for doing to math to calculate sensible and latent loads and to size radiant and air-side capacity. Anyone entering that market had better learn how to read a psychrometric chart, he said.

The event also included a sponsor showcase. Hydronics Roundtable sponsors included Daikin; Federated Insurance; Grundfos; IBC Condensing Boilers; Rehau; Taco; Tekmar; Uponor, and Viega.

ACCA is planning to hold another two-day radiant and hydronics session in the fall of 2013.