Unorthodox buying habits and an interesting growth in tankless water heater installations were just a couple of findings from a water heater survey we conducted of our readers earlier this year.

In February, we surveyed 1,000 PM subscribers who identify themselves as performing plumbing work in residential and commercial/industrial markets. We received a healthy 25 percent response rate.

Here are just some of the highlights:

Brand Loyalty?

Well, yes and no. Fifty-seven percent of our respondents indicated that they normally use just one make of heater.

Around one-third bought their water heaters from one wholesaler; almost seven out of 10 respondents bought their water heaters from more than one wholesaler.

"Certainly you need distribution to market your products," a marketing executive told us. "But past a certain point, what you really need to do is 'brand' the contractor along with your water heater. That way it's the plumber who believes in your product and will sell and install no other makes. I do think it's the plumber that does make this decision for the homeowner."

Still, 47 percent indicated they would consider changing their existing brand of water heater - if the homeowner asked for a specific brand.

"I think that consumer's browsing on the Internet for information might be the No. 1 reason to explain this," a water heater manufacturer told us.

Not surprisingly, all the manufacturers we talked with commented on the amount of purchases made through various retail outlets.

More than 15 percent admitted buying water heaters from home centers, hardware stores or other retail operations. (Since multiple responses were allowed, no doubt these home center purchases were made by the same people who relied on traditional distribution for much of their water heater purchases.)

Most manufacturers figured the percentage of retail purchases might actually be higher.

"I bet the real number is twice as many," one manufacturer told us, regarding the retail store purchases. "Maybe a better question would have been, 'Why do you buy a water heater from a home center?'"

At the same time, in response to another question, 55 percent of our respondents don't want to sell a brand that the homeowner can buy at retail.

Not Just Tanks

Eighty percent of our respondents said they've installed various tankless water heater equipment, with much of these types of installation first occurring more than five years ago.

"The length of time did surprise me," a sales executive with a tank-type water heater manufacturer told us, "I've started with this company in 1997, and I never heard much about instantaneous water heaters until a year and a half ago."

Meanwhile, a tankless manufacturer added: "It's true that the market for tankless equipment has exploded in last couple of years, but we've been making this equipment for 20 years."

What New Rule?

Finally, it's a 50-50 split on whether respondents are aware of the new vapor ignition resistant standards that go into effect next month. (For more on what you need to know about this important issue, see "A New Design For Gas Water Heaters," January 2003.)

For a complete report including numbers of water heaters replaced, serviced and installed in new construction and other common contractor practices, log on to or contact Lisa Frost at 248/244-1290. The cost of the survey is $95.