Home-improvement radio host Tom Kraeutler told Plumbing Manufacturers Institute members at their fall meeting that “Consumers are not comfortable with low-flow anything; You have to work on perception.”

Home-improvement radio host Tom Kraeutler presented his 2008 Money Pit Voice of the Consumer Report to members of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute Oct. 7 during their fall meeting in Arlington, Va. As it turns out, consumers have many questions about low-flow plumbing products, green building, water heaters and even PEX tubing.

“Consumers are not comfortable with low-flow anything,” he told PMI members. “You have to work on perception.

“We still get questions about toilets that don’t work and showers that don’t deliver power. You should do what you can to remind people that these products work.”

The Voice of the Consumer is The Money Pit’s annual report to its subscribers and sponsors. It summarizes and categorizes thousands of questions the program received by phone and e-mail. While not scientific in nature, the report is “a good way to see what your customers are saying behind your back,” Kraeutler said.

More than half the questions received address flooring, plumbing and HVAC. Most people ask questions about plumbing in the first and third quarters of the year. Kraeutler asked PMI members if their sales reflect that timing.

More women use e-mail than men do to ask their questions. Kraeutler also wondered if PMI members designed their Web sites to appeal to female consumers.

On their Web sites and in other marketing efforts, plumbing companies and other manufacturers need to be cautious about their messages related to green building. Promoting products as sustainable when they’re not truly green results in “green washing.”

“All the green washing is confusing our audience,” he said. “Our audience wants to go green, but they want a trusted source for reliable information.

“Green needs to relate to the pocketbook issue for our audience. Help them understand the trade-offs: ‘If I pay more now, will it pay off later?’”

Water heaters, particularly tankless models, are raising many questions. Consumers want to know if tankless water heaters are worth the extra money for installation, he said.

“A huge percentage of our audience is asking about tankless water heaters,” Kraeutler said.

Surprisingly, The Money Pit gets a number of questions related to PEX tubing.

“People still confuse PEX with polybutylene pipe,” he said. “You have to differentiate the products.”

Perhaps the most positive news in the report shows that people continue to put money in bath-and-kitchen projects. The No. 1 question about bathrooms and kitchens from consumers is how to do a project.

“The highest return on your investment is still the kitchen and bath,” Kraeutler said. “A lot of people view home improvement as a fashion statement. They want to keep things new and fresh.”

The 2008 Voice of the Consumer Report contains statistics compiled through Oct. 31, 2007. The 2009 report, with statistics compiled through Oct. 31, 2008, can be requested throughwww.moneypit.com.