Plumbers must understand tankless technology

April 1, 2009
You've probably heard about tankless water heaters, and you may have even sold a few. But, have you really grabbed hold of the technology and all it offers you?

Unless your head has been buried in the sand the last few years, you've probably heard about tankless water heaters, and you may have even sold a few. But, have you really grabbed hold of the technology and all it offers you?

As an industry we must understand that tankless water heaters are the fastest growing products within the plumbing industry, and it is truly a once in a lifetime ground floor opportunity. Unfortunately, however, we as an industry have not grasped the technology and we have not adjusted our normal operational and sales methods to be truly successful with this technology. Because of this, our industry owns the smallest share of this growing market and we are losing this opportunity more and more each day to non-traditional plumbing channels.

To reap all the benefits this technology offers, you must understand it and how it differs from a tank, and you must be willing to change how you do business as a plumbing contractor. We also need to understand that it will play a significant role in our future, and whether it has a positive or negative impact will depend on our willingness to accept and understand the technology.

Every manufacturer offers significant training opportunities, including applications, installation, proper sizing and service. Some even offer courses on how to sell the technology. To be successful, we must be willing to devote the time and resources necessary to attend these training sessions, even if it takes more than once.

Among the basic concepts we must understand is that it is not a tank, and therefore it cannot be sized or installed like a tank. Tanks are sized on gallons per hour ratings, and tankless are sized on the GPM demand of the home or business. We must also understand that tankless water heaters cannot use the same venting as a tank, and they will require a larger fuel supply. Because of this, we must also change how we conduct our business.

Before tankless, we could sit in our office and wait for a homeowner to call with a failed tank water heater, and since we could usually put the replacement water heater back in the same location, we could often quote the replacement costs over the phone. And in general, the lowest price and quickest service got the job. However, with tankless water heaters, we cannot do that.

To be successful, we must understand the technology and all it offers the consumer. And, we must understand that it is a features and benefits sale, and not a price-based sale. Many consumers will pay for the features and benefits of a product if it meets or exceeds their desires and wants. Yes, consumers do care about energy efficiency and operational costs, but the number one complaint regarding hot water is that they do not have enough. When tankless water heaters are sized and installed correctly, they will not only provide a more efficient product that is better for our environment, but they will also provide an unlimited supply of hot water.

Tankless water heaters require different venting, more fuel capacity, and possibly more combustion air, so therefore you must go to the home before you can successfully quote a job, and getting into your customer's home or business before their tank water heater fails will increase your sales success opportunity.

A good rule to practice with all tankless quotes is to ask yourself, “Is there a better place?” Usually, it is more economical to run water lines to a new location than it is to vent the tankless water heater and upgrade the fuel piping to the existing tank location. Therefore, as a general rule, the shorter the vent and the closer to the fuel source, the more economical the installation. In addition, by relocating the water heater, you may add value to your quote by providing the consumer more room in their home, whether it's a pantry, linen closet or storage area.

We must also understand that tankless water heaters are a consumer-driven product and we must remember that 70% or more of all water heater sales are in the replacement market. Therefore, to be successful you must be proactive. You must let the consumer know you sell tankless water heaters, whether it's through advertising, truck decals or participation in home and garden shows or green expos. It's not the norm for most in the plumbing community, but to be successful with this opportunity, we must change the basic way in which we conduct our business.

Whether you're a plumbing contractor or wholesale distributor, failure to grasp this new technology and adapt to the sales and marketing strategies necessary to be a success will have a negative impact on your company's long-term future.

W. B. “Butch” Aikens is a tankless resource manager for Rheem Mfg. He can be reached at [email protected].

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