Survey reveals buying habits and trends for delivering hot water.

How many tank water heaters do contractors install a year? What influences their purchasing decisions? And what's going on with tankless water heaters?

Those were just a few of the questions on our minds when we sent an extensive survey with 27 questions to 1,500 PM subscribers last July. We received a substantial 26 percent response rate.

Here are a few highlights from the survey:

Tank Water Heaters

Not surprisingly, 93 percent of our respondents said they installed, replaced, and/or serviced tank water heaters, including indirect water heaters. Sixty-eight percent diversify this business in both residential and commercial sales.

The majority, almost 70 percent, said the amount of tank water heater work has remained the same over the past two years. On the other hand, 21 percent said the business had grown in this same amount of time.

Only 26 percent purchase their tank water heaters from only one wholesaler. The majority, 77 percent, shop at more than one wholesaler. Ten percent said they buy tank water heaters at Home Depot or another retail home center.

The survey also indicates contractors purchased more than one brand of tank water heaters - 49 percent indicated they bought more than one brand, and 51 percent said they, in fact, stick to one manufacturer.

Forty-one percent of our respondents always set the thermostat to 120 degrees F after installation. About the same number, 39 percent, said “most of the time.” That left just 10 percent that did not.

Instantaneous/Tankless Water Heaters

Almost 70 percent of our respondents installed, replaced and/or serviced instantaneous/tankless water heaters. A slight majority, 54 percent, did this work in both residential and commercial markets. Forty-three percent focused only on residential work.

The amount of instantaneous/tankless water heater business seems evenly split between the “increased” and “remained the same” camps, 49 percent seeing an up tick and 48 percent seeing no change.

The future looked slightly better. Almost 70 percent of our respondents expected the amount of their instantaneous/tankless wa-ter heater business to increase over the next five years. Most of this work, 60 percent, is expected to be in the residential mar-ket.

Our survey indicated even more shopping around than for tank water heaters, with 68 percent buying their equipment from more than one wholesaler. Meanwhile, 36 percent stick with one wholesaler.

As for the brand purchased, our survey indicated a like-minded approach to instantaneous/tankless water heaters as with tank water heaters. Fifty-two percent only buy one brand and 48 percent buy more than one brand.

“Customer request” was the main reason cited for replacing a tank water heater with an instantaneous/tankless water heater.

Recirculation Systems

While not a “water heater” per se, one of the newer ways to deliver hot water is with a hot water recirculation pump system. More than 80 percent of our respondents said they do install such products, with the majority of this percentage installing pumps in both new construction and retrofit. Twenty-two percent indicated they only do installations in new construction; 17 percent said they only do them in retrofit jobs.

For new construction, manufacturers strongly suggest capitalizing on the opportunity to install a dedicated line for the systems. Ninety percent of our respondents do just that.

The full report of PM's 2006 Water Heater Survey is available for sale. For details or to purchase a copy, contact Amanda Schmidke at, or call 248/786-1624.