What’s A Warranty Worth?

In the case of Bosch and Takagi, the answer is, pathetically, “Not much.” These companies, both with historically-stellar reputations for quality and service, have allowed the quality of their products and the value of their word to– pardon the pun– tank.

As a green-certified design + build firm, we have championed the installation of on-demand, aka “tankless” water heaters, since 2006. Unlike traditional water heaters, where a volume of water is continuously heated thermodynamically in a tank, tankless water heaters heat water only when the system is triggered such as when a faucet is turned on, a toilet A selection of antique water heaters is flushed or a washing machine is started. Bosch was the first brand of on-demand water heaters we installed.

A selection of antique water heaters

After experiencing problems with a number of the heaters, including one installed in our home– malfunctions such as repetitive days of ice-cold showers at 6:00 am after the unit worked properly the night before; error codes not listed in the service manual for which we were told, “It’s impossible, it just couldn’t happen,” and (this would be humorous if it wasn’t so painful) when, on a customer site visit, a Bosch field engineer denied hearing the banging noise emanating from a unit until he called the home office and a customer service agent told him she could hear it over the phone, Bosch did nothing. They did not repair or replace their malfunctioning products and never called to follow-up. The truth is they have no warranty.

Ultimately, we decided that the units had to be replaced. After reviewing the available options, we made the decision to install on-demand water heaters made by Takagi. Our research indicated that they made quality products and what appeared to be responsive support and a great warranty. At our expense, we removed the Bosch water heaters, paid for their disposal, and installed the replacement Takagi units purchased at the homeowners’ expense. These units seemed to solve the problem and we continued to install them in new projects.

Over the holidays, one of our customers, an engineer with Failure Analysis, called to let us know that his water-heater was behaving erratically. The heat exchanger on his year-old Takagi had started to leak and then failed. He and his family were without hot water for 1_ weeks. Takagi said that the reason the unit failed was not a manufacturing defect, but calcium build-up and that a scale prevention device (water softener) should have been installed to prevent this. Because we did not install one, the warranty was void. However, the installation instructions do not call for one. In the manual, in very small print on a separate page, you find in areas of hard water (not the case in Mountain View) a scale prevention device must be installed.

We called Takagi; spoke to them at length, asked them to test the water hardness (they did not) asked them to stand by their product if their directions were wrong and were told that corporate would not authorize the replacement. Close to 50 emails later, our client was able to convince Takagi that they should honor their warranty and replace the unit. The Takagi replacement process is slow, time consuming, and, get this, you have to pay for the replacement unit until Takagi confirms that the problem was due to a manufacturing defect.

A selection of antique water heaters

We now recommend that a scale prevention device be installed, regardless of water hardness, to prevent calcium build up and assure that manufacturers will honor their own warranty. While no one enjoys maintenance chores, the Housepure Secure water heater scale prevention device is compact and easy-to maintain- the cartridges need to be replaced once a year or when the gauge indicates. We will continue to research the performance of the various brands of on-demand water heaters in the literature and the real-time experiences of other contractors and report our findings in an upcoming issue.

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