Not all heating-cooling contractors work on plumbing-related jobs, but a good many do. They are aware of the hazards associated with having a water heater’s setting turned up too high, and those associated with the ignition of flammable vapors near the appliance.

Now, armed with a new safety program from the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), professional plumbing-heating-cooling contractors can spread the word about the potential hazards of excessively hot water and flammable-vapor ignition.

Many of these contractors are bringing their safety messages right into the home through regular inspections and maintenance programs. Safe Guards™ emphasis on periodic home inspections enables contractors to gain a reputation in their communities for professionalism above and beyond the call of duty.

Kenneth Cain (right) works with Tom Hinton to install a water heater with a heat pump air handler on a recent job. Cain's has made replacing the water heater a routine practice whenever changing out an hvac system.

Safety First

Cain’s Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Inc., Niceville, FL, takes a proactive approach to customer safety. The 46-year-old family business has made replacing the water heater a routine practice whenever changing out a heating or air conditioning system.

Interestingly, this policy is driven not by a desire for bigger sales and profits, says secretary-treasurer and business manager Debora M. Cain, but by a commitment to maximize “safety and efficiency” for its customers.

“Typically, the customer pays for the water heater, has it delivered or picks it up, and we then put it in for her,” says Cain, who also is the daughter-in-law of owner Carl Cain and the wife of vice president Kenneth Cain. “Since we don’t furnish the unit, it’s not a moneymaker.”

But the practice does ensure that the consumer enjoys a safe, efficient, and reliable source of hot water.

Unfortunately, the water heater is too often “ a forgotten appliance,” says Cain, which can result in premature equipment failure.

The problem stems from the chemical makeup of Florida’s water table, which often contributes to unusually heavy sediment buildup inside the water heater tank. This buildup, in turn, can hurt performance and inflate energy costs, while sharply reducing the longevity of a unit.

A better-grade water heater can significantly minimize these problems, of course. But Cain’s also recommends that a water heater is checked, drained, and cleaned every three to four years. The reality is that most homeowners fail to schedule this maintenance work, which is why, in Cain’s view, a long-neglected water heater is best replaced.

“By changing out a water heater, we can bring everything to code and make sure the homeowner has energy-efficient equipment,” Cain says. “Our employees make it a point to go over the whole system with the customer to make sure they properly care for it.”

Cain’s offers a maintenance contract that consists of two yearly visits to check the air conditioning, furnace, and water heater. What’s more, these inspections are done without charge the first year.

“We take care of our customers,” says Cain, “so we have many of the same accounts calling us over and over again. They also refer us to others in the community.”

Business Builder

Thus, home inspection packages not only keep customers safe, but they also foster additional maintenance and service contracts as well as the all-important qualified referral.

At Neffsville Plumbing & Heating Services, Lancaster, PA, vice president and co-owner Jonathan LePage says his home-inspection package comes free of charge as part of the company’s service agreement.

Neffsville field technicians check leaky faucets, examine the kitchen and bathtub drains for potential problems, and perform an 18-point water heater inspection, including the thermostat and heating elements. If repair or replacement service is necessary, contract customers have the work done at preferred rates — usually then and there.

“The water heater inspection is an integral part of the package,” LePage says. “We check the temperature setting with the customer and explain the risk factors when the water heater is set over 120°F. Many people are unaware how quickly scalds can occur when the heater thermostat is set above this temperature.”

If a consumer still insists on a heater setting above 120°, the Neffsville field tech will have the customer sign a waiver that confirms he has properly explained the system and the possible consequences of a higher setting. This waiver includes a statement to the effect that the temperature setting above 120° was requested by the consumer.

Neffsville service personnel also encourage their customers to install a mixing valve on combination space heating-domestic hot water systems if they don’t already have one. “The risks are much higher when you are taking 180° water straight out of the faucet tap,” LePage comments.

“That’s the kind of knowledge we bring to these consumers, and they appreciate it,” he concludes. “We’re well-known and well-respected in the community, and they know we care.”