As a Minneapolis licensed Master plumber, I focus on installing only the highest quality products that provide the best value for my customers. Like any product the best water heater will be the one with the lowest annual cost. That is why I only install only Rheem Water heaters. The annual cost is the purchase price plus installation divided by the number of years of service. This means that the lowest cost water heater is the one that will last the longest, even if you spent a little more for the item and installation. The error that many people make is thinking that all water heaters are the same except for price. Why is this belief so prevalent? As I have been telling my customers for years: Billions of advertising dollars have been successfully spent to brainwash people into forgetting what our parents’ generation knew: You get what you pay for.

My assumption in this discussion is that we are considering the most common residential water heater; a natural gas fired, tank style, gravity/atmospheric (this means the metal vent on top, not a fan/blower on top). An astute reader is already asking, ‘what about energy efficiency?’ That is a question that I will address in a different post as it is a somewhat lengthy discussion in and of itself. That discussion would include other types such as electric, power vent, condensing, and tankless. The short answer for here is: energy efficiency differences between various models of this type are so small compared to the following aspects of the water heater selection that I believe it is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.

I will illustrate what makes for the best quality and value water heater by describing a few of the significant features of a water heater and then pretend that you are the manufacturer deciding how to make the water heater with either more quality (lasts longer) or cheaper.

Water heaters have

  • Warranty. As the manufacturer you are providing a rebate to the buyer if the unit fails within the warranty period. Your job is to minimize this added expense, right? So you offer a warranty period that ensures that the vast majority of units will NOT fail within this time. Also, to further hedge your bets you and most of the other manufacturers “pro-rate” the warranty. This means that if the water heater dies 7 years and 11 months into an 8 year warrantee you get ONE month of value (1.4%) towards the cost of the replacement heater. So you (like Rheem) has to be pretty darn confident in the reliability of your water heaters because, you (Rheem) will give the customer a brand new tank even if there has been a price increase since the time of install. This does not apply to all Rheem water heaters.
  • Extended warranty. Most water heater manufacturers will add a few years to the warranty coverage period for an added cost. What’s the cheapest thing to do? Charge the customer for an additional 4 years and all that the installer does is to put a sticker on the tank! (This is done by a major manufacturer, no kidding). Since you are manufacturer that focuses on high quality, like Rheem, you are going to give your customers real value; you provide a second anode rod.

 

  • Anode rod. An anode rod is a standard device that is included with every water heater to help protect and extend the life of the tank. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacrificial_anode. If you want to make the cheapest water heater, would you;

Use the most expensive material for your anode rod? There are two types of materials used Magnesium and Aluminum. Magnesium is the most expensive and the more effective material. Oh, and by the way, do a search on the “health effects of Magnesium” (vs. Aluminum). You’ll find that magnesium has health benefits and aluminum may hurt your health. But you are competing on price, and you know people don’t know or care what is hidden inside a water heater, so you put in a 100% aluminum anode rod. Want to know the difference? A magnesium anode rod has a black dot or round bump at the top.

Pay for the research and development (that has to get passed on to the customer) by designing and patenting an anode rod to provide superior electrical conductivity which in turn provides the best protection for your customer’s water heater? Rheem does. Cheap does not. Remember the total years of service part of the lowest annual cost equation?

 

  • Glass Tank lining. No matter how good the anode rod performs, the metal of the tank needs protection. Want to know what the inside of a water heater lining looks like? They are visible from the road as you pass a farm; those huge blue silos. That blue glass is the same material used on the inside of a water heater. So, now remember, you are a manufacturer focused on providing the best water heater, like Rheem. You make sure that the lining is thick and has minimal voids (no glass lining) where the metal can get attacked by the corrosive hot water. Or if you are a manufacturer focused on making your water heaters as cheap as possible, you know your customers are to dim or skeptical and they think this is propaganda, so no need for that added cost. Alright!

 

  • Dip tube. Every water heater has a dip tube which sends cold water coming into the tank to the bottom. One of the ways that water heaters fail is due to sediment build up at the bottom of the tank. As a low cost manufacturer, you just put in a straight tube. Who on earth is going to care (or believe) that this hidden thing matters, right? If you are a high quality manufacturer, like Rheem you put your research and development to work to create a patented dip tube (swirls the water coming in) to help prevent sediment build up, which in turn helps extend the life of the heater (remember that you and Rheem can offer the best warranty for any water heater.

 

  • Drain valve. Want to take an extra step to help your customers get the most life out of their water heaters? Give them a reliable way to drain a few gallons out of the water heater periodically (once a year is probably sufficient) to provide another way to prevent sediment build up. Your and Rheem’s best water heaters have a brass, ball valve style drain valve. This is the most long lasting material and design on the market. Oh, that’s right you’re focused on cheap. Just put in a plastic, washer based drain valve, thank you. It is unlikely to close tightly once opened (read service call to repair, or let sediment build up by not using it) but your customers are focused on purchase price and won’t understand the difference.
  • Lowest annual cost. In a nutshell even with the added cost of paying more for the water heater, the added years of trouble free service means that you’ll enjoy the lowest annual cost of ownership by buying the highest quality water heater. The most interesting thing about people who are focused on cheap, really don’t get it. And never will. This is all propaganda/B.S. to them. What I find somewhat humorous is after this type of consumer has a premature failure of a cheap plumbing device like a water heater or faucet, is their surprise and dismay.