Beware of false economy

As the tough economic times continue, it might be tempting for specifiers to opt for relatively unknown, cheaper brands to keep costs down and to make a higher margin. Here Jon Cockburn, Head of Marketing at Heatrae Sadia, explains that where large and small unvented water heating is concerned, this is false economy.

Unvented water heating products provide powerful hot water without the loss of performance if more than one tap is used simultaneously, and are very beneficial where there are a number of sinks, basins, baths and showers in use, for example in large offices, factories, hotels, hospitals, leisure centres, prisons, care homes, universities, restaurants and clubs.  

Property owners and managers in the commercial market and public sector have come to appreciate the benefits of powerful hand washing and showering and fast filling baths. And of course, we all now accept that there should be adequate hand washing facilities where hygiene is a priority – for example anywhere that food is sold and prepared and in healthcare applications. Recent outbreaks of hospital superbugs, and the suggestion that frequent, thorough hand washing could prevent them from spreading, have highlighted how important the provision of effective hot water really is. 

In addition, we believe that people’s attitudes to hot water delivery within commercial premises have changed. For example, many years ago it would have been commonplace to find that a restaurant washroom had just a cold tap for hand washing, but now people generally have higher expectations.  In hotels and leisure centres guests and customers will also expect a powerful, invigorating shower rather than a slow trickle – and it can help to ensure that people return.   

Capitalise on demand

Being keen to capitalise on growing demand, we have seen a large number of manufacturers entering the unvented market in recent years.  Specifiers will therefore find that there are many unvented products on offer, at varying price points. Some will be low in cost when compared to market leading brands – but we’d urge specifiers to be wary. 

We understand that when calculating the price of a water heating system for a commercial scheme, a specifier might consider using a low-priced product to keep costs down and make a better margin, especially bearing the current economic conditions in mind.   

But, although on face value all unvented cylinders might look the same, closer inspection will reveal they are not identical.  However attractive low-cost products might seem, in the long run they may prove to be false economy; as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

So we would always advise specifiers to be cautious when making a decision between cylinders, and to try to consider other things than just cost. 

For example, it’s really important to think about the material the cylinder is made from. It is crucial that unvented cylinders are extremely strong, durable and corrosion resistant, because they store water under pressure. In the UK, cylinders are generally made from stainless steel, copper or glass lined mild steel but, without a doubt, high grade Duplex stainless steel is the preferred material, following a pioneering lead set by Heatrae Sadia nearly two decades ago. 

Duplex stainless steel has outstanding and unique corrosion resistant properties, and being lightweight yet very strong gives a strength-to-weight ratio advantage. For longer life our Megaflo eco unvented cylinders undergo comprehensive, state-of-the-art post weld treatments. Not all manufacturers carry out this important process, but we maintain that it is vital to ensure that cylinders remain strong, and we have invested millions of pounds in our post weld facilities. 

Using Duplex stainless steel in the manufacture of unvented cylinders significantly reduces maintenance requirements and costs, and eliminates the need for a protective coating and sacrificial anode. Cylinders manufactured from mild steel require a coating or glass lining to make them corrosion resistant. They also require an anode, as do some cylinders made from lower-grade stainless steel. The anode will need to be inspected for signs of erosion each year and replaced if deemed necessary.

Mild steel or low-grade stainless steel cylinders might initially seem more attractive because they cost less than those manufactured from high-grade stainless steel. However, specifiers should consider that these less expensive products will require on-going service, regular maintenance and possible replacement after a relatively short life. Mild steel glass lined cylinders are also around 50% heavier than an equivalent stainless steel unit, and are therefore more difficult to manoeuvre and install.

Consider performance

Being so convinced about the benefits of Duplex stainless steel, the inner cylinder of our small unvented product Multipoint SS is also manufactured from this high-grade material. The product is ideal for commercial applications with multiple sinks and basins in use, and where low maintenance is a requirement such as public washrooms.

Product performance also requires careful consideration. When choosing an unvented product, hot water flow rates, recovery rates, the amount of stored hot water available and standing heat losses should all be properly researched and assessed – whether via manufacturers’ literature or recommendations.

Innovation is also important. Leading manufacturers will invest heavily in R&D, and will have taken the needs of installers, specifiers and end users on board in the design of their products, for example by making them energy efficient, forward-thinking and flexible. 

Heatrae Sadia has continually invested in Megaflo eco, and it continues to be manufactured in the UK. We have concentrated on the reduction of heat loss, and also offer a Systemfit pre-plumbed and pre-wired version for ease of installation, as well as solar thermal models. 

The Multipoint SS also offers innovative features. For example, a 3kW titanium immersion heater adds to the long life credentials of the water heater and a layer of high-performance polyurethane foam between the inner and outer vessel offers maximum insulation to minimise heat loss. 

We have also ensured the product is very flexible; with a slim-line profile the Multipoint SS can be unobtrusively wall mounted or concealed within ceiling voids. There is also a choice of vertical or horizontal models to widen design and installation capabilities.

Product guarantee

Guarantees are also worth careful consideration.  Customers will expect products to have a long and reliable life – but it’s unlikely that manufacturers of low-cost unvented hot water products will offer lengthy or comprehensive guarantees. As a guide, Megaflo eco’s internal cylinder comes with a lifetime guarantee, and Multipoint SS has a 15-year cylinder guarantee. However, even if the guarantee is lengthy we’d urge installers and specifiers to carefully check the terms and conditions. For example – does the guarantee cover on site parts and labour? Can it be transferred to new owners if the premises are sold? 

While cost will always play an important part in the specification process, it’s important to remember that choosing a high-quality, ‘fit and forget’ unvented product, which offers innovative features and a lengthy and comprehensive guarantee with on-site service support makes sound economic sense. After all, choosing a UK manufactured, well-known brand with a strong reputation will result in a high level of customer satisfaction and will reduce costly and time-consuming call backs.

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