Changing How Hospitality Heats and Cools

PORTSMOUTH, NH—Robert Barmore loves to solve problems. It’s what he did for a living. As an architectural engineer, his work was squarely focused on determining the structural integrity of buildings as well as the design of heating and cooling systems. While building homes in Aspen, CO, he came across a problem that was in need of a solution.

“I was building houses that required rooftop patios that needed to be snow-melted and we found problems with the type of snow-melt being used…,” said Barmore, owner of Therma-HEXX, based here. “We went to pavers that are elevated off the roof on pedestals and in the summertime, they became batteries, absorbing the energy, and stayed very hot. You couldn’t enjoy the patio and you couldn’t snow-melt it in winter.”

Then, the proverbial light bulb went off. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be a solution.’ I knew there was a need in commercial patios and plazas and I set about creating a solution to the problem,” Barmore explained.

He had never delivered a product before and it took him years to find a viable solution. A move to New Hampshire would serve as the catalyst for getting his company, Therma-HEXX, off the ground. Once there, he plugged into his local Small Business Administration, along with the University of New Hampshire, to be awarded a grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Designed to jump-start the U.S. economy, the Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.

“We made the panels out of aluminum and they came from China and we quickly realized it was less than favorable and it was too vulnerable to contractors not paying attention to instructions,” said Barmore. “We wanted an American-made product. It’s developed out of a new plastic from Dow Chemical, plastic PERT, typically used for tubing for domestic heat and water. And the best part, it’s fusion weldable. You can stick it to itself.”

Barmore’s persistence and ability to innovate has paid off, earning him clients from the military, Apple, Google and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He is also working on a patio project high above the world’s largest digital sign in Times Square. No project is too small. “We also do driveways for regular people and we do anything with a balcony or a rooftop,” he said.

Therma-HEXX also handles swimming pools and the patios around them. A resort client reached out to him to tackle a patio that was 185 degrees and, according to Barmore, they were still paying for propane to heat the pool.

“What appealed to them is that it’s an invisible solar collection of layers under the pavers and it absorbs the sun’s energy out of the patio and cools the pool by a significant amount—as much as 50 degrees,” he said. “Patios become safe to walk on and it’s been zero cost to heat the pool in four years. We thought they’d probably save 60% on heating costs, but it’s 100%. When the patio gets hot during the day, our product absorbs the energy and there’s still plenty of energy to heat the pool at night. In the winter, clients just want to keep the pool from freezing.”

Applications in the hospitality industry include heating pools and cooling patios, and use of the product extends to the driveways and walkways to melt snow in colder climates. Barmore recommends using the energy to help with heating domestic water, too.

The future looks promising for five-year-old Therma-HEXX, with a Series A round of funding completed and a Series B round coming up, according to Barmore.

“I went to ‘Google University.’ I’ve had about 10 businesses prior, mostly architecture- and real estate-related. I did whatever it took when I saw the real estate bubble happening. We were waiting for things to sell so we could develop this business. When they didn’t sell in time, we won the grant and we just weren’t going to give up.”

—Corris Little