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Hiring plumber vs hydronic specialist

josieT Member Posts: 53
edited January 2015 in THE MAIN WALL
I have a hydronic and radiant system that needs to be evaluated. I am finding that every plumbing and heating company will provide a quote. However, after a bad experience with my initial installation, I'm wary of who can do the job. There are a few contractors who I found who specifically talk about hydronic and radiant. However, the ones I have spoken to are very high end price wise and seem to do commercial or luxury homes. There are also reputable plumbing and heating companies who claim they can also do the work at a lower cost. Most in business 20+ years. I don't know how much is advertising. Is setting up a boiler and hot water heating system something that is specialized work within the plumbing and heating industry? Or is it in the domain of normal plumbing and heating? Most companies do all kinds of heating - HVAC, hot water, ductless etc. So I'm not sure if one of these licensed and more affordable plumbing companies can do the job.


  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,808
    edited January 2015
    This is strictly my opinion based on my experience in the Chicago area. I have not seen many (ok, zero) plumbers anywhere in my area who have the background or skillset to properly design a radiant system.

    On the east coast, it appears to be different by far based on what I see on the Internet, specifically this website. I haven't been on The Wall much recently but I was a long time ago, a regular. There seems to be many, many plumbers who are more than capable the closer you get to the Atlanic.

    When meeting with these companies, ask them what method they use to do load calculations and design. If you get a blank stare, that will tell you all you need to know.

    Ask to see pictures of their work. I let job pictures and references do much of the selling for me. The ability to execute the design inside and outside the boiler room is just as important as the design itself.

    References. Get them.

    Good luck, Josie.
    Steve Minnich
  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,808
    The one or two plumbers in the Chicago area who I know nothing about probably put a green light on me already.
    Steve Minnich
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752
    Where are you located? We may know somebody who can help.

    First, though, if you want the job done right, you'll need to evaluate your bias on "high end" price. Heating specialists that will service and install the system correctly are not going to offer their work at a cheap price. Find somebody that you trust, and consider the cost an investment for relieving future problems. Any good heating contractor should be able to guarantee in writing what he proposes to do and what will be solved. Look for somebody who is willing to put his reputation on the line to help you.
  • billtwocase
    billtwocase Member Posts: 2,385
    Well said JohnNY
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    edited January 2015

    "" Someone's going to try to kill me now. Watch. ""

    Not me.

    You should see what some Airheads do when they try to be Plumbers.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    We all sell ourselves short and take the blame for being "more expensive" for quality work that is never seen. Much of our best work is covered up by a wall or ceiling. Just because a copper solder joint is going to be covered up, we still wipe the goobers off. Not just because it looks better, but you can tell if the joint was soldered properly.

    Recently, some HO posted something they were worried about. The installer had used white plastic "Mouse" clips on every hole that was drilled through wood I-Joists to stop noise from pipe expansion, rubbing on the wood. It takes time to do that. That's a quality installer. No one will ever know the care and pride he put in to that job. But someone will blame him for being too expensive.

    Its almost like some go to a consignment shop, find an old 150 YO painting by some unknown artist, buy it, and take it to some well known artist. And ask them to turn the painting into a Picasso. "I'll paint you one of my own, but I won't turn that painting into a Picasso".

    There's never enough time to do it right. But always time for someone else to do it over.
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    edited January 2015
    Thanks, pal. It's about the passion of a job done right.

    It's daunting to find the "right" guy in any field. Look at me- despite my best judgement, I've had my own slew of roofers, foundation guys, etc that at the time "sounded" good, only to find that talk is cheap. That familiar chafing and burning when you see the job isn't going as expected and it's too far in to stop, mostly.

    My personal suggestion is to contact customer service at a mfr. Like Uponor or Viega, perhaps some boiler manufacturers. Ask if there is any trained "team" members they can refer you to, they may direct you to a wholesaler in your area that then can pinpoint the guy (s).

    I get a lot of referrals from various radiant heat companies, reps, boiler manufacturers, control and pump companies, air conditioning manufacturers. The vendors that get my business are the ones I have seen stand the test of time in reliability and good service that gets passed down to my clients. They bleed resources to keep my skills sharp. In turn, my name is in their database.

    I have found that generally, guys that take the time and effort to immerse themselves in continuing education and training are the guys you want. They don't usually do things on the job just because "that's the way it was always done".

    It could be a plumber, a heating guy, an HVAC guy. They all may have a crossover into intelligent hydronic work. So I would start with sources for referrals in that genre, with possible names from vendors IN that game.

    You going to Chicago, John? I'm 90 percent sure I'm making the trek west.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 21,844
    It's really about the actual GUY, or gal that shows up. I've seen amazing hydronic work done by electricians and mechanics.

    In larger mechanical shops i've found theynusually have a few employees that specialize in hydronics. attend classes, read the books, have the willingness and technical skills to get it.

    Reading this site should help you build a check list of questions to quiz potential contractors. You should be able to screen with a handful of questions.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • maybemark
    maybemark Member Posts: 1,131
    From I own experience i will say this, but this does not have to be true for everyone.
    I am a general contractor that needs a new boiler in my own house. i decided i wanted to go with a high effeciency boiler, and asked my plumber who i have know for over 20 years to install it.
    He really has reservations on installing it, because he is not a proffessional at these boilers.
    Yes, i am trying to save money i don't have, by asking him to do it, he told me would do it, if i get the boiler, and also get a piping layout for the boiler. These boilers have to be installed right, or they will not work right.
    If I would have the money, I would go with the proffesional and not my plumber. My plumber is great at what he does, but he is old school, and this is new technology.
    I am greatful for the pros on this site to try and help me out thru this.
    I am only saying this from the experience that is happening to me right now. This does not mean that all plumbing contractors can not do the job, but if i would have the money, i would go with the professional
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    JohnNY said:

    That said, with all due respect to everyone touched by this statement, the worst "professional" boiler/hydronic installations I've seen have been done by HVAC or warm air companies.
    A close second is by plumbers who just don't know what they're doing. There's a lot of that.
    It's the same thing. Plumber and HVAC techs are not inherently boiler guys. It's a professional's personal choice to excel in that area.

    Somehow, the installation and service of hot water and steam heating systems long ago was annexed by two industries that require two COMPLETELY different skill sets: plumbing and air conditioning.
    Plumbing and Heating, Heating and Air Conditioning

    Hydronics should never have been mixed up in these fields. The evidence is out there in droves.

    Amen to that. I would love to see some kind of hydronics licensing here in NM. Closest we have is an MM-4 (process piping), but that covers refrigeration, medical gas, and fire sprinklers along with hydronics (unlimited size) and steam (unlimited pressure.)
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,905
    For what it's worth, John, I'm the one who suggested that the OP could call you... keep up the good work!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • AlCorelliNY
    AlCorelliNY Member Posts: 63
    edited January 2015
    I am honored that you would include me with those other fine gentlemen.
    We go through our years and sure, we always get those great emails and texts from customers that they "finally" have heat in a certain area of their house, or that their system is quiet for the first time, or perhaps even their heating bills went down a little. Those emails are priceless to me, and I save every one of them.
    But to be recognized by you, who I consider to be of great intelligence, and a good businessman, is truly a great honor.

    I make my business troubleshooting systems.
    Systems where perhaps previous persons (Plumbers, electricians, GC's, homeowners, HVAC guys) have not exactly repaired them correctly. I am "in my element" when I'm the third or fourth guy in, and I am truly happy when the system lights off correctly. Most of my work is done for plumbers directly.

    Not doing too many system designs or installs lately, as people are focused on price, not serviceability or quality. Let the trunkslammers screw it up, I'll be along after the first season to fix it.

    Still retaining some of my Grandfather's customers, and their descendants as well. Three generations of nothing but heat!

    Again, Thank you for mentioning me.
    Al Corelli

  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    There's never enough time to do it right.

    But always time for someone else (like you) to do it over.
    Jean-David Beyer
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    People are scared. They have no protection. If any of you were hiring an employee to handle hydronic installs, start to finish, you could sort out the **** with a few questions. Maybe a list of questions might help. I don't think an intelligent craftsman would be offended by that.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Most large shops split their crews into specialists. In the age of specialization, no one wants or appreciated the Multi-Talented. Unless they work in an area which requires them.

    In Plumbing, doing Plumbing, they have a crew that does only plastic drain, waste & venting. Then, the water pipe crew comes in. Then, another crew comes in and sets fixtures. There is little if any crossover. Same with if they do heat. They don't want their water pipe specialists to be contaminated with the vagaries of running heating pipes.

    Its sort of like my old dead boss used to say about hiring. He'd rather hire someone who knows nothing, and teach them properly. Than hire someone with some experience. And have to break them of all their old habits. Some hacks and their hack habits are harder to break than others. It was a policy that there be NO Boogers or lunger's left on soldered pipes, ANYWHERE. Especially in walls and under houses. No dirt hangers under houses to hold up soil pipe instead of a proper hanger.

    I know what it is like to be a **** for explaining to the helper that a pile of dirt in a crawl space isn't a proper hanger. And that he is going to have to crawl out to the truck and get the hangers we brought to hang the pipe under the house, that he neglected to put in the fitting box when we crawled under the house. And make sure that you brought some roofing nails for the hangers.
  • jonny88
    jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    here is my situation and really cant add more than Johnny.I worked in a plumbing/heating company for 12 years in nyc.We did it all.High end plumbing to service in the projects.We also installed a lot of boilers.I worked directly with a nyc licensed plumber.His strengths lied in larger pipe work and hated 1/2 inch copper and roughing in bathrooms.Problem,he fancied himself as a boiler specialist.Steam cut in 3 cut out 5.I thought he was God.I eventually ventured out on my own and got licensed in Long Island.I cant believe how many houses I walk into and look at the heating systems.
    My old company started to use a consultant when they started to install mod/cons.To this day I still use him,why you might ask.
    He performs heat loss.He designs system.He selects circs.He performs combustion analysis on boiler etc.He has like many here about 20 yrs studying hydronics.We go over everything and I put it all together.(plumber part of me)
    Do we get a lot of work?hell no and the answer is money.We offer premium systems but unfortunatly the average home is looking for a series 2 and water heater.Our material is more expensive than what they charge.Its a very tough situation and am curious how others sell their services to customers.I dont want to be a slap it in and run guy but bills have to be paid.
    Answer to your ?A hydronic specialist can make your house more comfortable,save you money,and take pride in their work,
    from what I see your average plumber is looking to get in and out.Just my two cents but a great topic.Like Swei said if only there was seperate licensing for hydronics and steam installs.
    You came to the right place and as you can tell people take this business seriously and I was always told every day is a school day.I come here to learn and am thankful people share their knowledge.
    Take care,John
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    John, you should really be doing the heat-loss and designs on your own, sell yourself! You need to be the guy who measures each room, determines insulation and window quality. You know that if you come here with the pertinent information you will get excellent advice on both heatloss and design. It's always good to learn and I can't think of a better place to do it (other than a classroom, maybe).
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Learn it yourself. You can and should. I have a very good friend that I have known for years. There's nothing that he decides to do that he can't do. He has an expression. "Any fool can do it". He's no fool, and neither are you.