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Tankless Water Heater an Easy Fit and an Even Easier Replacement in a Residential Laundry Room Tight on Space
Contractor Matt Carver persuades homeowner to go tankless when the drip pan for a new tank water heater proves too large for the space. Reusing the same gas, water and vent lines as the tank system, Carver cuts installation time by more than half.
BY JASON FLEMING
KENNER, LOUISIANA (May 2015) — Persuading a homeowner to switch from tank to tankless in a water heater-replacement situation usually “takes a little bit of salesmanship,” admits Matt Carver, owner of MLC Plumbing Inc. in Kenner. Putting on the hard sell is a task most of us — plumbers included — would happily avoid. But having successfully worked with tankless technology for the past five years, Carver has become a true believer, both professionally and personally:
“I always try to sell the homeowner on the advantages of tankless, including any available rebates,” he says, pointing to his own experience. “The first thing I did when I bought my own home several years ago was to run a new gas line, rework the water lines, and install a new outdoor unit.”
Given his own successful experience with tankless, Carver doesn’t shirk from the chal-lenge of persuading skeptical customers. “People tend to like what they know,” he says, explaining the reluctance of the average American homeowner to forsake their storage-tank water heaters in favor of tankless. “Tankless is still kind of new in this country, which makes people uneasy at first. Plus, the initial cost of tankless versus tank scares many away.
“But I remind them that six to 10 years is all the life they are going to get out of a tank water heater: When it hits its warranty, it’s past its prime,” he continues. “Meanwhile, spending $500 every six to 10 years on a new tank is not a terribly satisfying experience, especially it if breaks down and dumps its contents everywhere. Buy a tankless water heater, and you’ll recoup the up-front premium in fuel-bill savings over time, and you won’t have to deal with the headaches of replacement nearly as often. It’s peace of mind.”
Carver’s arguments are undeniably strong and get people thinking. But the cost gap between tank and tankless is still a major hurdle for many households. Carver’s business focuses on helping consumers renovate their homes, which should be a ideal scenario for going tankless. The problem, he says, is that “most older homes are not set up for tankless. New gas lines must be run, the water lines reworked, the venting changed out, the roof refinished, and all those costs can add up pretty fast.”
But new tankless technology that arrived on the market last fall allows the installer to use the same gas, water and vent lines as the old tank water heater, sparing installers the or-deal of creating new ones. That cuts installation time and cost substantially. Carver used the new, Noritz EZTR40 condensing tankless water heater on a recent residential re-placement job and slashed his normal tankless installation time by roughly two-thirds. The 28-year old plumber, who has worked with the tools since he was 13, came away an enthusiastic convert.
The problem: There were a couple of special twists to Carver’s first encounter with the new technology this past winter. First, the situation did not require the usual hard sell, thanks to the homeowner’s openness to a different approach. Second, while the switch to tankless was driven by anticipated savings, it wasn’t on installation labor or even monthly fuel bills, but on… space in her home.
Most contractors who champion tankless as strongly as Carver stress the energy-savings story, and rightly so: Why waste fuel and dollars cooking water 24/7/365 when you can have it far more economically on demand? But the “zero footprint” advantage of a wall-hung tankless water heater can be every bit as compelling to a homeowner.
Carver’s customer in this instance — the owner of a 40-year-old, single-family residence in Kenner — was having problems with her 40-gallon, gas-fired tank water heater. Serv-ing the needs of the one-bath household, the unit was located in a 5-foot x 8-foot laundry room with a stacked washer-and-dryer setup inside the slab-on-grade structure. The own-er, who bought the home in 1998, says the unit’s installation predates her purchase. Giv-en its age, there really was little surprise when it began to leak in early February.
After tucking in a few towels to staunch the slow-but-steady leak, the homeowner phoned Carver to alert him to the problem. She then headed for The Home Depot where, without much hesitation, she went the customary like-for-like route, reserving another 40-gallon unit. Carver would pick it up and install it in another day or so, once he had time to get to her house.
In the meantime, the busy plumber dispatched a colleague to the home to measure the space for the drip pan that would be required. The pan would fit the space beneath the new heater; but, to the distress of Carver’s customer, only barely. The way it would pro-trude into the room left the homeowner fearful that she would be forever tripping over it, risking injury and scattering laundry everywhere. There had to be another, safer and more workable solution.
At that point, Carver made his case on behalf of tankless. But the installed cost of $2,000 — roughly twice that of the 40-gallon tank unit on hold at Depot — put a chill on Carver’s pitch. This hesitation did not last long, however, as the homeowner pondered her predicament. After all, the tankless water heater could hang on a wall, and no drip pan was required. Instead of absorbing more precious space in an already cramped area, this solution would actually use less — much less — making the room both more attrac-tive and more functional.
“To her credit, my customer was thinking about more than her immediate needs,” recalls Carver, who has worked for this owner on many household plumbing projects. “She real-ized that she will want to sell that home some day, and a money-saving, energy-efficient tankless water heater could be an awesome selling point to a potential buyer. The price tag of the installed water heater was no longer just a cost, but an investment that raised the long-term value of her home.”
Thus, another tankless convert had been won.
The solution: Given the green light, Carver had his first encounter with the new EZTR40, and the unit’s installer-friendly features did not disappoint. The home’s existing half-inch gas line was quickly disconnected from the tank unit and, once the latter was removed, reattached to the tankless unit. The new unit’s top-mounted connections permitted easy hookup to the connectors used by the previous tank unit. For venting, Carver threaded the two-inch, flexible polypropylene tubing that ships with the water heater directly through the existing B-Vent used by the old water heater it is replacing.
Total installation time for Carver, working alone: about two hours, which was a huge im-provement over the four to eight hours he would typically need to replace a tank water heater with a conventional tankless unit.
Carver recalls only two complications during the installation. The sheet rock in the ceil-ing began to crumble when he went to fix an adapter plate for the venting on its way to the roof. “I had to use wood around the sheet rock to connect the vent adapter. That slowed me down a bit, but it was not an impossible situation.”
The EZTR40 is a condensing water heater, and the second complication involved the condensation line. It had to be tied into the home’s sewer line, rather than run through the wall to the outdoors. Here Carver capitalized on the location, the laundry room, by cut-ting into the waste stack next to the washing machine, adding a tee and running a half-inch line about four feet from the water heater to handle the condensation.
“The job wasn’t difficult because the stack is made of ABS,” he says. “Had it been cast iron soil pipe, I would have needed more time to make that connection.”
These minor issues not withstanding, Carver believes he can and will speed the clock on future installs. “With experience, I believe I can cut that two-hour time frame — maybe by half,” he says. “This was my first experience with a very different, new product. I took my time, making sure I did everything by the book.” Familiarity, in short, will bring greater installation speed without sacrificing workmanship.
And there will be plenty of “next time’s,” Carver promises.
“I change out a water heater a week on average, with 40-gallon units representing about a third of the total,” he explains, noting that the EZTR40 is engineered specifically to fa-cilitate replacing 40-gallon tank models. “In those situations, I would absolutely use this technology again.”
Jason Fleming serves as marketing and customer care manager for Noritz America, based at company headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif. He can be reached at: (714) 433-2905 ext. 7813.
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NORITZ AMERICA CORPORATION, a subsidiary of Noritz Japan, has corporate offices in Fountain Valley, Calif., and Atlanta, offering a full line of tankless water heaters to meet the hot water demands of residential and commercial applications. Noritz supports its products with a national network of skilled representatives and employees who are committed to providing the finest products and services to our communities by helping consumers live in a more comfortable, efficient and healthy lifestyle. For more information on Noritz America and the entire line of Noritz’s ENERGY STAR® tankless water heaters, please call (877) 986-6748 or visit our website at our website at www.noritz.com.
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