Bringing water- and energy-efficient water heating solutions to market has been the cornerstone of Stiebel Eltron for nearly 100 years. “Comfort through efficient technology” is one of its core values. From digital electrical tankless water heaters to heat pump and solar thermal models, the manufacturer has water heaters for almost every application.
The Wholesaler talked with Stiebel Eltron’s Head of Marketing Julius Goodman about the manufacturer’s history, tankless technology, new products and the future of tankless water heating.
The Wholesaler: Since 1924, Stiebel Eltron has set its sights on being a leader in developing advanced water heating technology, with a philosophy to “make it right, then keep making it better.” Please talk about the “why” and “how” behind the statement.
Julius Goodman: From its very beginning, Stiebel Eltron was founded to produce an advanced water heater. In 1924, Dr. Theodor Stiebel founded the company to manufacture his revolutionary immersion water heater. From that beginning, Dr. Stiebel, and later his two sons, Frank Stiebel and Dr. Ulrich Stiebel, continued to develop new water heating technologies, and to improve on what they had invented.
New technology is always only as good as it can be conceived of and made at the time. At the outset it is wonderful — a marvel — but as the new technology is used, it is almost always possible to think of ways to improve it. Imagine what we would be driving today if Henry Ford had stopped innovating after the Model T.
Some companies might just rest on their accomplishments of the moment, but other companies, such as Stiebel Eltron, are never satisfied that something cannot be improved upon. What started with Dr. Stiebel from the onset — the guarantee of good, careful, competent engineering and innovation — has continued for almost a century.
There continues to be a focus on the innovation of new products but also a refinement of existing products, including tankless water heating technology, and these days also building ventilation and heat pump technology. New products from Stiebel Eltron have always been patiently developed to ensure reliable products at the cutting edge of technology.
Stiebel Eltron’s research and development department is one of the company’s largest. That the company is still family-owned, just second generation, and has always engineered and manufactured products as though its friends and neighbors were its customers also can’t help but be an important factor in becoming a technology trailblazer and a trusted supplier of reliable products.
TW: How many products are in your lineup, and where are they manufactured?
JG: Let’s talk categories first, as there are a lot of products, but before that we should make it clear that Stiebel Eltron products use electric energy. For a long time, Stiebel Eltron has focused entirely on electricity as the fuel of choice. The increasing drive throughout the world to generate electricity though natural, renewable sources has only encouraged us and strengthened our resolve to continue on this path.
Broadly, Stiebel Eltron manufactures four main categories of products: room heating products, primarily wall-mounted electric heaters; hand dryers; heat pumps, for domestic hot water and for room climate; and electric water heaters, including tankless and tank models. Each of these categories is very broad, and includes products like solar thermal, radiant floor subsystems and ventilation.
And now to products. In the United States, Stiebel Eltron has about two dozen product lines; almost every line has multiple models. Stiebel Eltron globally, though, has about 10 times more than that in heat pump products alone.
Stiebel Eltron manufacturing is as global as our sales. We manufacture products in our own plants in Germany, the European Union, Thailand, China and in the United States.
TW: The company has a passion for engineering and manufacturing excellence, and technological innovation. Please tell me about the newest innovation from Stiebel Eltron.
JG: We are excited to be expanding into the United States a range of tankless water heaters that use our Direct Coil heating technology. Our U.S. Mini water heaters have featured Direct Coil technology since they were introduced. Our Direct Coil heating system is an exceptionally low-failure technology. The Mini, for instance, has a failure rate of less than one-half of 1 percent, unprecedented in the industry.
However, the technology offers considerably more advantages that just reliability. One especially important one is a greater resistance to liming. The heating element is self-cleaning, vibrating on start-up and shaking off calcium particles that have settled on it. While this will not prevent liming in every situation, especially with very hard water, it will mitigate the problem to a large extent.
The additional benefits of the Direct Coil technology include a fast heat-up time, a low 0.26 gpm activation rate and low latent heat retention. Of course, the important benefits people expect from Stiebel Eltron are still there: safety high limit with manual reset and complete dry-fire prevention.
This last has always been a hallmark of Stiebel Eltron electric tankless and now, in addition to our reliable flow sensor technology, we added a patented system to detect air bubbles in the heating chamber to prevent any chance of element burn out.
TW: When COVID-19 made its impact around the world, our industry responded. Tell us how Stiebel Eltron answered the call and how its products were used.
JG: It has been an interesting and complex year. We are proud to have been able to serve the health needs of communities with our products. Because of the need for many new hand-washing stations, we are happy that our reliable tankless water heaters did not disappoint.
Point-of-use sales have done extremely well this past year. In particular, sales of the Mini skyrocketed during the pandemic. The Mini is designed to deliver warm water to a single point-of-use hand-washing sink; it is only available in a size range up to 6 kW. We expect the small physical size of the Mini, its reliability and especially that the smaller models are 120-volt, made the Mini convenient for many locations, and drove this growth.
One other very strong driver of our growth was our supply chain. Our production and delivery of goods never stopped. Our exceptional team ensured there were few manufacturing interruptions and product delivery issues, and sales have continued to grow, despite almost all workers worldwide, except for hands-on manufacturing, working remotely.
We are proud of what they accomplished. Even in the face of the unique challenges of a global pandemic, we have been lucky overall. Many others have experienced considerable loss — both personal and professional — and our hearts go out to them.
TW: Please describe the benefits of using a tankless water heater.
JG: Tankless water heaters do not store hot water but make it on demand as it is needed. This alone provides some of the major benefits of tankless water heaters. Since it is heating the water to meet the demand, as long as there is demand, a tankless water heater never runs out of hot water. Need to shower a whole football team? No problem — everybody gets a hot shower. Need to wash an elephant? No problem. Need to take a shower after two teenagers? No problem — enjoy a hot shower.
Since tankless water heaters are not storing hot water, they have no standby losses. This results in savings on the order of 20 percent over a standard electric tank. Our electric tankless water heaters also do not need venting. Combined with their compact size this means they can be installed nearly anywhere.
Installed close to the points where hot water is needed, one of our tankless water heaters has a much shorter pipe run than the long pipe run from the typical tank water heater location. This results in both a shorter wait for hot water and a savings in water and money.
TW: What do you consider to be the clear and consistent difference between Stiebel Eltron and its competitors?
JG: To start with, superior engineering and manufacturing. This, in turn, leads to many other differences. Products that are designed well have both unique and desirable features and also work well. Products that are manufactured well gain a reputation for reliability and can have a long service life with warranties that match.
We also must point out our top-notch, U.S.-based technical and customer service support team. They are unsurpassed in answering questions and sharing their expertise, whether it’s for sizing questions or taking care of an issue.
Lastly, we should mention our commitment to be environmentally responsible. This focus begins with our core belief that electricity, preferably harnessed from renewables, is the energy of the future. The future belongs to environmentally friendly and efficient building technology such as what we provide.
But this commitment goes beyond designing, engineering, and manufacturing efficient products. Our plants use renewable energy when possible. To name just two, our Energy Campus training center in Germany produces enough renewable electricity to power itself, plus charge employee vehicles; and our facilities in Hatfield, Mass., have rooftop solar thermal and electric arrays that satisfy much of their heating and energy demand needs.
And finally, our products are engineered and manufactured so they can be recycled responsibly when they reach the end of their long, long life.
TW: What innovations in tankless technology do you see on the horizon, and what excites you about this possibility?
JG: As we said at the beginning, our goal is to keep innovating new products and to keep making products we currently offer even better than they are now. We will continue doing this.
As people realize the benefits of endless hot water, especially including the energy savings, the market will continue to grow, particularly for electric tankless, as renewable technologies for the generation of electric energy supplant the use of fossil fuels.
We are excited to see a new administration that has committed to a clean, renewable energy future and moving away from fossil fuels. We need energy to live, yet we are only now beginning to realize that we are on the brink of a precipice.
As a family business, we endeavor to ensure that tomorrow’s world is better than yesterday’s. That is why we advocate for an environmentally responsible life with environmentally responsible products that safeguard the future — yours and ours.