Plumbers and Tankless Water Heaters

Posted by Joseph McGurkin on 1/1/2009


Friday night our water heater was leaking, again. So, I returned to my tankless water heater research which I had started the last time we had a water heater issue. You have all your regular pros/cons, heater price, how much will I save, will I notice a difference, if so, good or bad. You can get $300 tax savings on some tankless systems. Ones with no continuous pilot may have a full 30% of the unit and installation (up to $1,500). I read web pages and brochures, talked to people at Home Depot. I even watched some installation and training videos on YouTube!


Saturday rolls around and the water heater completely dies. I’m going to pull the trigger and get a tankless water heater. Going green, baby! Whip out the yellow pages, start thumbing through, that thin newspaper sound, get to the Plumbers section. I pick a couple to call and call a couple which friends have recommended. After calling a few, I come to find an extremely frightening fact. Plumbers are charging about double the normal hourly rate to install a tankless system! Wow!

No joke, this is only for the labor, the unit and parts are not included in this discussion… er… rant. For a normal tank system, labor prices are running around $300, about three hours of work, $100 an hour, right? Tankless water heaters have about a $2,000 installation for only six to eight hours of labor. Now I’m no accounting major, my dad is. However, I didn’t need him or my fingers to realize they’re charging an extra $150 an hour. Huh? I understand, the tankless install is more work, more hours, I get that. So, how about I give you $1,000 for the eight hours of labor you’re giving me? Yeah, I’d have gotten a nicer response if I asked for a first born.

This happened with half a dozen plumbers. About my sixth plumber was honest enough to say, and I quote, it’s the “going rate” and it’s higher because tankless is the “latest and greatest technology.” Wow (number 2), $1,200 heater, $400 parts, $2,000 install, $3,600? I’m missing something. I’d like a tankless heater, yet the plumbers are pushing it out of range. My anger is now preventing me from making a decision. Great, what’s the opposite of green? It looks like my new color.


Now it’s Sunday, I have to act fast. Can’t use the dishwasher, so, dishes are piling up in the sink. No, I don’t know how to wash them by hand! We’re running to the neighbors for showers because, get this, our shower faucet knob has some anti-scalding feature. Without hot water, no cold water comes out either! Who invented that?!? Anyway, my wife talked to an old plumber friend, nothing like shooting the breeze for thirty minutes when we really only wanted two minutes’ worth of information. He confirmed what the last six plumbers had said.


Monday. Labor Day. Took the day off to drink heavily. First time in a long time I overcooked burgers. Must have been the extra heat escaping every pore of my body in anger. Waiting for plumbers to call back.


Tuesday I’m talking to a neighbor, Eric, who brought up a very interesting point. The government is giving people up to $1,500 for installing a tankless system, yet most of it is ending up in the plumbers’ pockets. Tell me that’s not what’s happening! Not one single plumber could offer a clear reason. Just tell me it takes sixteen to twenty hours, or, two people all day, anything. Is this not collusion? At the very least, it’s price gouging! Good thing we’re not barbequing tonight. If you’re not as conservative as me, skip to the next paragraph. Yeah there’s some hard-earned tax dollars at work.

Thank God my wife on a whim picked a couple new names out of the phone book. She hung up with one, pointed to his listing and said “This guy’s doing our install.” Puzzled was the only look I could give her. She said the plumber quoted $2,000. At this point, $2,000 for the job seemed a little shady. I asked, “$2,000 for the labor and parts or $2,000 for just the labor?” She got a blank look and replied “Oh… I’m not sure.” The plumber called back and I talked with him a bit and yes, he had just completed a job with one of the tankless heaters I liked for $2,000, parts and labor. Wow (number 3), could this be true? He’s coming tomorrow for an estimate. Great, the estimate will probably be $1600, non-refundable.


Wednesday, 10 AM, ding-dong. I open the door and I think some soccer kid is selling hoagies. This guy is a little over half my age and a little under half my height. Turns out, he’s the owner of the company. I talked with him, Matt, for about fifteen minutes and showed him the basement. He did not have a full day in the next week to dedicate to the install, yet he thought he could get it done in two shorter visits, today and probably tomorrow. He hates to see people in these situations. Wow (number 4)! He said he’d call back in about an hour with a parts list, final numbers, times, etc. As I’m showing him out, I can’t help but think he has to get back to school before recess is over. Matt called back, within an hour, good pricing, I trust him, was impressed with his knowledge, git ‘er done!

Matt showed up around 2 PM, maybe something to do with child labor laws, I don’t know. He brought an electrician to move the outlet used by the old water heater to the wall where the tankless was to be installed. Matt mentioned on his next visit, he’d have his grandfather, who I’m calculating will be younger than me, to help with some of the needed carpentry. A couple neighbors popped by during the installation. Bob mentioned that Matt, to be as good as he is, must have sweated his first pipe before he could walk. Matt stayed until the hot water was back. After he left, I was looking around the basement. Even though he was coming back, you’d never know he was there. I mean… other than the fact that the water heater was gone and there’s a new box hanging on the wall.

“If customers have a bad experience, they tell ten people, if they have a good experience, they tell one.” – [no idea]

In an effort to break the preceding rule, below is Matt’s contact info. If you have him over to do some work, offer him a Coke. I’m pretty sure you could be arrested for giving him a beer.

M. G. Property Management
Matthew J. Miller
(610) 710-6714

P.S. I think he's actually 23