Putting high efficiency into high-end homes

Farmington, Conn. Rejean Carrier, the owner of Carrier Home Builders, has been in the business for more than 35 years. Steven DiPietro, the owner of Depco Mechanical has been doing plumbing work for Carrier's company for the past 15 years which is about five years longer than he's been in business for himself. That long, profitable working relationship is what convinced Carrier to gamble on the new

Farmington, Conn. — Rejean Carrier, the owner of Carrier Home Builders, has been in the business for more than 35 years. Steven DiPietro, the owner of Depco Mechanical has been doing plumbing work for Carrier's company for the past 15 years — which is about five years longer than he's been in business for himself. That long, profitable working relationship is what convinced Carrier to gamble on the new tankless water heater technology, and the gamble has paid off.

Carrier has a system that works almost like a house-building assembly line. He picks a subdivision, gets it approved, does all the row work, all the site work and then builds and markets the houses. His company's current project is the Chimney Hills Estates, a 44-unit, active-adult (55 and over) development. Prices start at $560,000 and go up to $610,000. In size they range from 2,000 sq. ft. for a ranch style to 2,800 sq. ft. for a first-floor master style. The first unit was finished more than a year ago, and 18 have been sold so far.

The buyers are typical of their age bracket, with plenty of money to spend but not a single dollar to waste. Carrier — who in an Energy Star certified contractor — offered top-of-the-line building insulation, windows and doors, to make sure money spent heating the home wasn't heating the outside. Then when it came to the water heater he offered them a choice.

Steven DiPietro explained: “I was using tankless water heaters on other projects, and I had a discussion with Rejean, and at the end we decided to try them out.”

This involved a leap of faith on Carrier's part, and the reason is in the word “tankless.” The Northeast has always used a lot of oil-fired boilers for heating, and for a while a product was offered with tankless coils which did not perform well. The new tankless water heater technology is very different, but the stigma was hard to shake.

“I did the research,” said Carrier, “and I offered the homeowner the choice. Do you want to go with the 75-gal. tank water heater, or instant hot water? Well, after I made it a choice, I did not sell one more 75-gal. tank water heater.”

Again, the reason is energy-efficiency. Tankless heaters eliminate the standby loss from having to keep the tank heated to meet demand. The Rheem RTG-74 tankless water heater (that ended up in all the Chimney Hill homes) is designed to meet the capacity of a three-bathroom-plus installation. It can deliver 7.4 gpm at a 45°F rise.

And yes, capacity was a concern. The high-end bathrooms feature Kohler fixtures, including whirlpool tubs and some pretty elaborate shower set-ups.

“We installed some crazy power valve stuff that's pulling pretty high GPMs,” said DiPietro. “Basically, we're putting car washes in these houses.”

The unit handles all the hot water needs of the home, from bath and kitchen to laundry room.

The only unusual part of the installation was the gas line, which had to be increased from ½-in. black pipe to ¾-in. black pipe.

“The unit can ramp up from 19,000 Btuh all the way to 199,000 Btuh,” said DiPeitro. “But the beauty of it is, you can put it anywhere.”

The units have an small footprint, only 18-in. by 9-in. That combined with the newly-available direct-vent option means they can be installed in places with limited space (Carrier calls them ideal for designing a furnished basement). And the units are light enough for single technician to carry.

After an entire year of use — including a Northeastern winter that can put a terrible chill into the ground water — the design is running smoothly.

“I've only received one complaint on the whole system,” Carrier said, “and it's because the house was 75-ft. long and the unit was at one end and the demand was at the far end — but it didn't have anything to do with the unit.”

He's now made them a standard item on all the houses he builds.

“When the customer comes to me and is happy,” Carrier said, “that's the real test.”