Bringing Tankless Water Heaters to North America
We all know the frustration of standing in the shower, shivering with cold because the rest of the family ran through all the hot water. Noritz America offers a solution to this common dilemma. The company’s tankless water heaters heat water on demand, so that you always have hot water when you want it. When there is no demand for hot water, the system simply turns off, saving money and resources – a win for consumers and for the environment.
Noritz introduced the first modern, electronically controlled tankless water heaters to Japan in 1981, and Noritz America brought the innovative solution to the United States and Canada in 2002. An offshoot of the Japanese company, the California based business utilizes leading technology that has long been popular in East Asia and Europe.
Noritz’s tankless solution has a range of benefits, but the most obvious is that it produces a continuous supply of hot water. “There really are a lot of people in the U.S. who run out of hot water from a traditional 40 or 50 gallon tank,” says Noritz America’s Marketing and Customer Care Manager, Jason Fleming. Traditional tank units – the solution that North Americans have traditionally utilized – pre-heat a limited amount of water and store it in a large tank. No matter how big the tank, there is still a finite amount of water that it can hold. So, once that tank is drained of water, there can be no hot water until the system refills and reheats the water supply.
As the name suggests, tankless heaters do not use a tank to store hot water. Instead, they heat water whenever a hot water faucet is turned, delivering an endless supply of hot water within seconds. As soon as a water valve is switched on, cold water enters the system through flow sensors, triggering an internal computer. The computer calculates what temperature to set the burners in order to deliver water at the ideal temperature. Water circulates around the heat exchanger until it reaches the desired temperature and then exits the system. When the hot water faucet is turned off, the heater shuts down immediately.
Because the system shuts down when it is not in use, tankless heaters save a significant amount of energy. “When there is no demand for hot water, the product is not on at all,” Mr. Fleming points out. “Traditionally, with a tank, it is just continually heating, and heating, and heating that vessel to maintain that temperature. In the tankless, it is able to quickly heat water when demanded and then give it to you as long as you need it – but then when you don’t, it’s not on.” This energy efficiency is good for the pocketbook as well as the environment; new users can expect to slash their water-heating bill by as much as 40 percent.
Tankless heaters do cost more upfront, but reduced energy bills, combined with a longer product life, create significant savings over the long run. While traditional water heaters last only 10 to 12 years, tankless heaters can keep going for 20 years – twice as long as a tank style unit. Furthermore, when a tankless heater fails, it simply stops working. A tank style unit, on the other hand, often bursts at the end of its life, spewing 50 gallons of water and causing a significant mess. Tanks also take up a significant amount of square footage. “There are tremendous space savings when you take that 9×4 foot tank off the floor,” Mr. Fleming points out. If fact, a tankless unit is so small that it can be placed on an exterior wall, taking up no square footage whatsoever. Another plus is that tankless units always supply fresh water, as opposed to water that has been stagnating in a tank, accumulating rust and scale.
Noritz is eager to bring all the benefits of tankless heaters to the American market. “As a whole, it really is a great solution for the U.S. But [America] is a little behind the other areas in the world that already utilize tankless technology.” Noritz is working to educate the industry to help increase the product’s use. “In general, it is the task of tankless manufacturers in the U.S. to work on converting old school plumbers to a newer technology,” Mr. Fleming explains. “And that is a bit of a challenge. It is a little bit of a different instillation typically. It takes a little bit more time. It takes a little bit more education on the product. But the benefits to the homeowner are fantastic. We have tons of interest with homeowners and business owners. It is just taking a little time to get everyone knowledgeable and up to speed on all those benefits.”
The team has focused on simplifying the installation process, so that a Japanese product can easily fit the American market. “We are the only manufacturer in the United States that has a product that can actually vent directly up through existing B vent systems, which is what everybody has. So instead of having to take that whole venting system down, you can just run a flexible vent up through that, connect it to the top of our heater, and you have a solution.” Installation costs continue to drop, making the switch to tankless more feasible. And, Noritz matches customers with licensed installers to help make the process as smooth as possible.
Noritz provides a full range of products for the North American market. “We have so many solutions,” Mr. Fleming remarks. “We can provide hot water for anyone and everyone in the U.S.” From small units designed for one-bathroom cottages, to massive units able to heat water for an entire hotel, Noritz supplies a full gamut of products. “The breadth of our product line is a huge advantage that we have.”
In addition to residential units, the company boasts a full commercial line that includes “the very largest tankless water heater in the world. We were the first one to come up with a 380,000 BTU monster of a hot water heater for a huge application.” The company’s commercial units are ideal for virtually any application, from restaurants and gyms to hotels and resorts. “We pride ourselves on having a really, really strong commercial solution.”
The innovative company continues to roll out new products. One of its newest solutions is the Combi Boiler. The product utilizes high-efficiency condensing technology to deliver hot water to plumbing as well as hydronic heating applications. “It can do domestic hot water and it can do the hydronic heating,” Mr. Fleming summarizes. “So if the home has baseboard or radiator systems, it can actually replace your water heating and heating system. Instead of having two different systems you can actually combine them into one and do both at the same time.” Particularly popular in the Northeast where hydronic heating is commonplace, the solution has huge potential. “We are really excited to be able to take on a market that has not had a lot of options. [There are not] a lot of products that can do that, so we are hoping to really come in there and take charge of the market.”
Whatever the solution, Noritz can guarantee quality. Manufacturing in-house ensures that the company maintains control over each product. “It is not something that we outsource,” Mr. Fleming explains. “And it really makes you a believer [in Noritz’s quality] when you go there and see just how dedicated they are to the product, how many times they test each product before it leaves the facility.” In addition, the company utilizes just-in-time manufacturing – known as lean manufacturing in North America – to eliminate inefficiencies. “We have the highest just-in-time manufacturing practices, which really makes us stand out. There are really only a few companies that really get those just-in-time manufacturing procedures.”
Noritz stands by its products long after they are purchased. “Once the customer purchases that product, we have the industry leading support staff that can help people, from the contractors installing it to the homeowners using the product. We really pride ourselves in the support that we offer when it comes to our product. I think that separates us a little bit from the competition.”
Noritz plans to continue leading the tankless water heater market throughout the United States and Canada. “[The North American market] definitely wants that quality product, and we have been able to gain market share and gain new customers and continue to grow year over year,” Mr. Fleming reports. “We are excited about our future as we begin to see more and more opportunities in new construction and commercial applications that tankless should be a part of. The future is really bright for tankless in general, and especially for Noritz.”