Sheets of a new conductive coating are being installed on the ceilings of a group of 128 town houses at the Highlands in the Laurel area to provide a radiant electrical heating system that now is being marketed by Thermal Ventures Inc. in Kensington.
Mike Feld, former associate of builder-developer Jery Wolman and now a partner in the building firm of Feld-Mulitz, said he is convinced that the new heating system called Energy-Kote will provide sufficient electrical heat for the town houses "and also save substantially on the amount of energy used." Essentially, the product is a graphite-based coating that conducts electricity and also turns it into radiant heat.
While Feld is making the first major residential installation of this form of heating, the developers and marketers are planning a major program to sell the system for new residential construction, to supplement heating in hard-to-heat rooms of existing houses and to heat warehouse spaces. "It's a new product with remarkable potential," said John W. Eden, president of Thermal Ventures and former executive vice president of Graham Engineering Co. in York, Pa.
The product itself has a fairly brief history. It was developed by Dr. Harold Ellis, now technical director of TVI and also president of Delphic Research Laboratories in Tampa, Fla., where the coating sheets are produced. Several years ago, after his building and developing ventures had declined, Washingtonian Jerry Wolman met Ellis. "I became intrigued by the possibilities of the product and gave it considerable thought," Wolman said.
Although Wolman now shrugs off his own connection with the development and marketing of the Energy-Kote heating system, he said he discussed the potential merits of the product with his son, Alan, 26, who eventually became a principal stockholder and vice president of TVI, which hold licensing rights to patents held by Ellis. A UCLA graduate, Alan works in the field of manufacturing and product development.
As Jerry Wolman tells the story today from what he calls an arm's distance posture, John Eden was recruited to join the infant firm because of his experience in new products. A graduate of Yale in 1951, Eden was assistant secretary of commerce for economic development in the last year of the Ford administration.
The TVI executive team also includes Steve Ross, vice president, who majored in industrial engineering at Columbia University and worked in the federal energy research and development administration after getting an MBA at Harvard. He and Alan Wolman work closely in the product development.
Marketing and sales are the province of Don Gilchrist, a TVI vice president who recently was the executive running the National Association of Home Manufacturers. Gilchrist insists that the uses of Energy-Kote include not only conventional new construction but also installations in the mobile/manufactured houses that are a major part of the low-price housing available in the nation.
As the result of what was described as a "substantial investment," former home builder (Artery Companies) Arthur P. Bildman recently became the Energy-Kote distributor for Maryland, the District and Virginia. Bildman, 42, said that he "came out of retirement" because he "watched the product for a year" and "has seen the installations." He said he is installing the new panelized radiant heating in his own Potomac house as a replacement for an oil-fired heating system.
While the Wolmans, Eden, Bildman, Rosa and Gilchrist tend to exuberance over the new product, they also are aware of the need to document claims with performance. Alan Wolman plans to install Energy-Kote in a new house he is building for his family in Silver Spring. He said the initial installation cost is 10 to 20 per cent less than other heating systems now commonly used. He added that savings on heating bills can be as much as 40 percent by using zone controls to put the heat "only where you need it when you need it."
The TVI executive team acknowledges the there are other heating systems in competition with their traddemarked, patented product but that they are confident that establishment of a track record will be to their advantage. Gilchrist said the product meets code requirements in this area and has been approved by the private Maryland Electric Testing laboratory. Energy-Kote is currently being tested by Underwriters Laboratories, he added.
Jack Stevenson, energy services manager for Potomac Electric Co., said that the product has to be tested and proven.He added: "It's a question of whether this product will heat an area cheaper and how much cheaper." Stevenson said that the Electric Power Research Institute in Menlo Park, Calif., has given a contract to Kansas State University to test Energy-Kote.
TVI now is producing Energy-Kote panels in 2-by-4, 4-by-4 and 4-by-8 feet sizes. A demonstration in the office of Thermal Ventures Inc., which is located in the Howard Avenue warehouse area of Kensington, showed that the light-weight panels resembling a metallic wallpaper provide heat within seconds of being connected to a conventional wall socket. Alan Wolman said that a circuit-breaker holds down the heat on the panel to 140 degrees and that each installation has breaker box and fuse protection for the low-ampere usage.
Even from his "arm's length" position in regard to Energy-Kote, it is obvious that Jerry Wolman has a considerable financial stake in an anticipated major market for this product that he describes as "low-cost, energy-efficient" means to achieve "comfortable heating with a five-year warranty."
Now it remains to be seen if the world will beat a path to the TVI doorstep in Kensington.