Daniel Sutton has noticed a significant change in the water-heating technology used in his northern Arizona market. Even just two or three years ago, he was installing about 95 percent tank-type water heaters. Today, that’s completely flipped.
“It’s probably 95 percent tankless versus tank-type,” says Sutton, owner of Williams, Arizona–based Sutton Plumbing.
Sutton attributes the rapid rise of tankless in part to greater awareness about the technology and in part to a more forward-thinking mindset among builders and homeowners. As the local economy improves, they’re willing to spend a bit more money for a high-quality, energy-efficient product upfront, knowing they’ll see the savings in the long run.
In addition to awareness, however, Sutton’s clients are also more confident in tankless technology. “They have come a long way,” Sutton says. “Heat exchangers have changed.” Many brands now offer stainless steel heat exchangers that better withstand the condensing process for better durability.
While Sutton’s most common projects are new-construction homes, he’s also seeing tankless water heaters grow in popularity as a retrofit choice — even for homeowners with electric water heating. That was the case on one recent project where the customer wanted to replace their old electric tank and already had a propane gas line plumbed into the house.
“They had an electric water heater that sits there and cooks all the time, uses electricity,” Sutton says. “And it’s a second home. So they wanted to basically have something that just sat there and used no energy until you get the hot water. And then the convenience of not having to wait for the water to heat up.”
Sutton has a tankless water heater in his own home and loves it. “You find people with a bunch of kids, especially teenagers, you never have to worry about running out of hot water,” he says.
Partnering with propane providers
While his expertise in tankless water heating has allowed Sutton to grow his business amid the technology’s burgeoning popularity, he’s also enhanced his profitability by working closely with his propane provider. Sutton found that working hand in hand with local provider Superior Propane creates a more seamless and affordable experience for his customers.
Sutton typically recommends that his customers set up an account with the local propane company. Sutton can then install the home’s propane system himself, from yard line to secondary regulator to appliance, so the installation goes more smoothly and the customer doesn’t get double-charged.
In fact, Sutton pipes nearly all his homes for propane, even if they won’t use it right away. “I try to tell everybody, ‘Hey, it’s not that much more to pipe your house now with the provisions to put gas in if you ever want,’” he says.
Known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, the town of Williams is piped for natural gas, but the surrounding area is more remote, making propane a more viable option. “A lot of people don’t like electric, so even if we don’t do tankless, we generally always run propane for their cookstoves, their furnaces,” Sutton says. At an elevation of 6,800 feet, the area sees low winter temperatures, making propane furnaces a more comfortable and efficient heat source than electric alternatives.
Superior Propane does its part for contractors like Sutton by offering professional training opportunities and highlighting any incentives that are available, either for the construction professional or the homeowner. For instance, Arizona customers are eligible for rebates of $100–$350 for the safe installation of propane water heaters, furnaces, direct-vent heaters, clothes dryers, stoves, and ovens, and other states have similar rebates available.
“The last time I added it up, it was around $16,000 in rebates back to our customers,” says Ericia Ocampo, general manager of Superior Propane. “Plus, we know all those appliances were installed safely.”
In turn, Sutton typically recommends his new construction or tankless water heater customers check with both their tax professional and their propane provider to learn about tax rebates and incentives. It’s just one more way working with propane helps him demonstrate his professional expertise to his clients.