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I follow a lot of plumbing and heating chat rooms and other social media platforms. Perhaps one of the most common questions both from homeowners seeking advice and contractors is what brand is best. Certainly, this is not a new or unique question. I suspect the question is the same for a car, or even a new mattress purchase. We in the know also know that the brand of heating equipment is not the end-all-be-all when it comes to buying a heating system. Spoiler alert: I don’t have an exact answer to “which is the best,” and nobody does other than the salesman or saleswoman of the product that you are shopping for.
There was an ancient concept of customer loyalty that you may have heard. It’s along the lines of “my dad and grandpa always drove Fords.” Meaning, they would never consider another brand. For some people, any brand, product type or name could be substituted in that sentence.
Another concept that seems to be losing favor is buying only from people you like or trust. Being able to shake a hand on a deal, or look the salesperson in the eye has traditionally provided a level of comfort and feeling of confidence. You might agree that companies like Amazon may be challenging that age-old myth. Amazon isn’t really a PERSON to many shoppers, just a bunch of keystrokes. But people are buying online.
Name recognition used to be a biggy. Volkswagen spent decades building a consumer friend brand and a reliable, believable product. Their recent diesel snafu burst that bubble for even the most diehards. But it is also how a person, company or manufacturer deals with an embarrassing episode like that. Admitting to and owning up to a mistake or fib buys back a lot of goodwill. I think you would be hard-pressed to find any brand that has not suffered some failures, miscalculations or controversy.
There may not be a perfect, predictable product in a complex industry like plumbing, hydronics and HVAC. The best design, engineering and implementation is still dependent on all the human “touches” along the process, i.e.: manufacturers, suppliers, shipping companies, contractors. The more complex the product and the chain of distribution, the higher the odds of a failure.
My tips for making sound equipment and system choices, for both homeowners and contractors:
Reputation matters: I would, and still do, work with folks and brands I know and trust. In the end, another person(s) will need to be involved to solve a product failure or warranty claim. Having a working relationship with that person and respect for their position goes a long way to resolving a problem. It helps to know that their support team is at the ready for back up. There are companies who truly live the values espoused in their lofty missions. I like working with them (and for them.)
Ask around: There are certain conditions that contribute to the longevity of wet components especially. Fluid quality varies from location to location. The water quality can have a direct relationship to the life of the container, boiler or HW tank for example. Local contractors and suppliers learn what suits their area best. With tanks, for example, you have a choice of glass-lined, stainless, cement-lined and now composites. One or more of those will be right for your market.
Local and available support: With more and more complex equipment in our offering having a factory trained, experienced support person within a driving distance can be a huge deal-maker. With hundreds of brands available, it becomes tough to be an expert on every brand and model; factory reps or factory start-up pros are good resources. Find them and keep them in your contacts.
Parts availability: Stuff breaks, often at the least opportune time. I know some wholesalers that have 24/7 counter hours, you might make your product selection based on what parts are locally available and easy to get to. If you are a good customer and reliable payer, suppliers will take your input on what they should stock for repair inventory.
Use your keyboard to your fullest ability: Daily, I see technical support shared generously online. Nobody knows it all, with the possible exception of my wife and mother-in-law. Having a network of experienced, willing fellow tradesmen at your beckon call is huge in today’s fast moving society. Online knowledge can keep you from making a bad choice, and help you when things go wrong.
The “WWW” is usually the first to spread the word when things go wrong. If there is a batch of bad product out there, the word spreads quickly. Beware of trolls of course that spread rumors and play into fears.
Question efficiency: High efficiency equipment? Yes or no? Is there still room for mid-efficiency boilers? I believe there are plenty of cases where standard atmospheric boilers are the right choice. Not every job benefits or sees a payback from more expensive high-efficiency products. Both experience and number crunching come into play here, a bit of luck never hurts.
Online calculators will help you compare operating costs based on efficiencies and fuel costs. Just because the label states high efficiency doesn’t make it in fact so. The installer and designer are also critical to the system. The best products in the hands of an inexperienced or uncaring installer often turn out badly. Choose this person with the same scrutiny as that you use for the selection of products. Often the best results come from a combination of products and installer. Ask for references.
Making big investments in equipment and systems can be stressful. You may be Sleepless in Seattle, or Overwhelmed in Oconomowoc. Hopefully my suggestions have been helpful. While I’m not a know-it-all, my wife and mother-in-law are, hence my street address. Maybe some has rubbed off on me.