I spotted a story in the newspaper last year that made me smile with a memory that was bittersweet. One of the main buildings at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, or wh...
Close to Perfect?
I always enjoy looking at photos of their own work that Wallies post on The Wall at HeatingHelp.com. It’s not easy to do because The Wall is home to some of the sharpest contractors in the business and they can be pretty blunt while still being helpful when it comes to answering the question, “Here’s a job I just finished. What do you think?”
The contractors who post their photos usually think their work is good enough to show off, but the others (most of them being contractors themselves) will point out ways in which the work is great, almost perfect, and then they will pick nits to make it better. And that is how we all learn. We learn by asking and then by sharing.
And that got me thinking about the manufacturers who provide the equipment these contractors are installing. You know, the folks who come a-calling on you to coax you into stocking their equipment because the contractors are clamoring for it all.
This is the question I asked the contractors: Can you name a manufacturer that you think is close to perfect in all that they do? And if so, what makes them that way? What might they do better?
I then mentioned that if a Wallie works for a manufacturer there’s no need to blow their own horn here. It's always better if your contractor customer is doing that.
Larry Weingarten, who literally wrote the book when it comes to heating water had this to say:
“Dan, It would take a book to explain in detail, but as I play with water heaters, I can talk about what I like to see and what I don't.
“First, there is no one manufacturer that has the right tank for all situations. Rheem has made tanks that I've liked a lot, but they all still need some help. My goal is to do what's best in the long term for the client. Part of that is to have a very long-lived heater that can be maintained easily. My understanding is that about 85% of the tanks sold are as replacements, so the manufacturers may not be all in about getting fifty years from a tank as I try to do.
“Rheem usually provides enough ports on top of the tank to add a second anode, which I like, but the resistor anode they supply often doesn't work in clean, not-too-conductive water, so I have to change it out.
“With their recent heat-pump tank, getting to the anode is particularly difficult, which I really don't like seeing with an expensive heater.
“A.O. Smith is okay, but they often ship tanks with aluminum anodes, which I always replace with magnesium, as I worry about the potential health risk. They also make it hard to add a second anode, but sometimes moving the Temperature & Pressure relief valve to the side of the tank frees up a port on top, where I can place a second anode rod.
“I only have a little experience with Bradford White, which generally seems to be more contractor friendly.”
On burners, we heard from a contractor who spent his career working in Alaska (cold enough for you?) Here’s what he had to say about burners:
“I would have to go with a Riello oil burner if I am looking to install a burner that I feel I won't have to go back to. Going back is often not that easy here. I have replaced very few parts on one of their burners that was defective. The most common problem being their motor. For some reason, the sealed bearing on the pump side sometimes disintegrates, which seems odd for sealed bearings.
“Other than that, everything they make is almost bulletproof.”
Writing from Pennsylvania, a contractor said, “I think Energy Kinetics is pretty close to perfect. They’re quick to answer questions, and quick to help. And they do care. They want to immediately solve any problems or issues that come up. I like the fact that they won't let anybody just buy one of their boilers. They also have a Facebook page and many of the contractors talk about the ways customer service and their reps go above and beyond to help them when a contractor needs help. I don't think there's much more they could do. I also like Taco, and for many of the same reasons.”
I have to agree with this man. HeatingHelp.com is 26 years old. It began when Amazon only sold used books. In all these years, I have daily monitored what happens on The Wall, which is one of the oldest bulletin boards in our industry. What has always struck me as being very smart is when the owner of a manufacturing company shows up on The Wall to answer questions. Roger Marran, who owns Energy Kinetics, and Johnny White, who owns Taco, have appeared many times (in Roger’s case, often at night and on the weekends) to address any problem. And if the owner happens to be busy, their people will appear and straighten things out. That speaks loudly to any contractor who is having a problem. He got the top guy to respond. Gosh. To me, that sort of caring gets a company as close to perfect as possible.
Others mention Caleffi. One contractor said, “Everything I have used from Caleffi has solved problems I didn't even know I had.”
A contractor in Seattle said, “I've had great experience with Viessmann. They all have been consistent with superior products, good service, and expert advice and training. West coast service from Viessmann, however, is not the same as it is in New England, but if you're willing to make numerous calls, they can solve your problems. The distribution and availability of products has also changed since the pandemic began. It calls for adapting to supply-chain shortages and changing markets.”
To which another contractor, taking a different tack about Viessmann, said, “I mostly do commercial work. I have waited three months for a metric blower motor and blower wheel to be shipped over from Italy. Another time, it was metric flex oil lines that took forever to get. And then we had to wait months for a Suntec oil pump for a Weishaupt burner that had to be shipped over from France. I have no doubt that the Viessmann equipment is top-shelf, can run really well, is quality-made and seems to stay in tune for long periods of time, but when a part fails and the equipment goes down in the winter and there is no work-around to get it going, that’s not so perfect.”
So that’s what your contractor customers are saying. Clearly, a lot more than building the product has to go into being almost perfect, and almost perfect will never be perfect, but it’s good to know there are some manufacturers who come very close to it.
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I’ve known him for most of my career. He’s a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, NY. He’s absolutely delightful and he talks faster than I can think.
Ray Wohlfarth is a dear friend of many years and his advice about commercial boilers often appears in this magazine. He’s the best big-boiler guy I’ve ever met and he als...