Mark Urban
Mark Urban

Valve manufacturer Mark Urban, known to many as a consummate inventor and colorful character, died last month at the age of 70.

The cause was bone cancer, which had been diagnosed in spring.

Born Mark Urban Krumhansl in Ohio on Sept. 17, 1940, Urban was given his mother’s maiden name as his middle name. After a childhood spent in the suburbs of Cleveland, he served in the Army National Guard and attended Bethany College in West Virginia, and Ohio University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science.

As an adult, he went by Mark Urban, which he felt was easier to remember.

As a young man, Urban sold shoes and cameras, then became a restaurateur in St. Louis. Like many in the pool and spa business, he entered the industry by happenstance. While Urban was visiting with friends, they said that if they’d known he was coming, they would have heated the pool, adding that it took a long time to do so.

He then began brainstorming about how the pool could be warmed up more quickly, and a new career was born. He first established a firm called Innovation Pool and Spa, then opened markUrban.

“He was always about fixing problems and creating new things,” said his niece, Rebecca Morgret. “He was an avid inventor and always wanted to figure out ways to better things.”

Urban soon developed one of his most well-known concepts, called flow reversal. Designed to more efficiently warm a pool, this technology took advantage of the fact that heat naturally rises. When desired, the system would run backwards, with heated water entering the pool through the main drain. Heat would rise to the top, making the vessel swimmable in a shorter period of time.

He did this with a key development that appeared in many of his later inventions — the modular multiport valve system, which could be coupled together with multiple valves on a common shaft.

Many considered Urban ahead of his time. With the FlowReversal system, he explored the issue of energy efficiency a good 20 years before it became in vogue. He also designed systems that allowed a home and pool to share heat.

“Mark Urban is the guy who presented this to me in 1980, and here we are in 2010 and, because of tax credits and some advancement in the geothermal heat pump, it’s a viable option right now,” said Mark Ragel, former president of Tucson, Ariz.-based Patio Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.

Other associates said his legacy can be seen in the influence his innovations have had on myriad products throughout the industry. Urban inventions also included systems that allowed two separate filtration systems to share a heater, various bypass valves, and a system that could divert the circulation water to help extinguish fires.

His products were used for applications outside the pool and spa industry as well, including cooling towers, irrigation and water treatment.

Urban was known equally for his unique personality. Always an animated presence at trade shows, he wore orange shorts and a white lab coat, outfitted his booth with orange traffic cones, and hired local Hooters girls in skimpy attire to draw a crowd.

“He was one of the industry characters — he played to his own drummer,” said John Romano, president of All American Custom Pools & Spas in Norwalk, Conn., a Pool & Spa News Top Builder. “He added a little bit of levity and innovation.”

Friends and associates also said he was a bit of a contradiction: The same man who handed out candies containing lewd comments at trade shows would diligently correct friends’ grammar and word choices.

Urban’s company has closed, however the Website provides a contact number for those interested in purchasing assets.

In addition to his niece, Urban is survived by his sister, Victoria Badley, nephew Nicholas Morgret, aunt Lois Urban, and several cousins. Donations may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society.