A long-running ad campaign for Maytag featured an affable but underworked repairman who spent his days snoozing in an office chair because the appliances he sold rarely needed any attention. “I’m the loneliest guy in town,” he complained with a sigh.
The story line may ring a bell with John Miles, who heads Eco Systems, Sanden International’s heat-pump water heater operation in the U.S. Although the products he represents are among the most efficient residential water heaters on the market, Miles is still waiting for that breakthrough year when consumers and HVAC specialists finally wake up to the unique advantages that heat-pump water heaters offer.
They are head and shoulders above anything else that’s available, but command just a little over 1% of the market—of the more than 8 million residential water heaters sold in the U.S. last year, roughly 100,000 of them were heat-pump appliances, Miles said in a telephone call, and Sanden accounted for only a small percentage of that.
“It’s been a hard nut to crack,” Miles said.
Heat-pump water heaters are unfamiliar to many U.S. consumers despite widespread success in Japan and Europe. Like other types of air-source heat pumps, including appliances used for space heating, they extract residual heat from the air without burning any fuel directly. Sanden’s product is unique in the U.S.—it’s a split system with the storage tank inside the house and a separate compressor outside. But a growing number of manufacturers offer heat-pump technology in integrated units that combine the compressor and the storage tank.
Heat-pump water heaters are but one option among many for residential water heating. Water heaters with integral storage tanks powered by either gas or electricity are the industry’s old standbys. Manufacturers have increased the energy efficiency of…