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Box Store vs. Professional Grade Water Heaters: The Major Differences

Box Store vs. Professional Grade Water Heaters: The Major Differences

When your water heater suddenly breaks, do you know where you’d go to get the best replacement? 

When people compare water heaters they tend to default to price, type (gas or electric, tank or tankless) and brand. 

But there’s another critical factor to consider in the decision-making process: where or who you buy your water heater from.  

Even water heaters with the same brand’s sticker on the front differ in quality, longevity, and warranty depending on where they are sold. For example, water heaters sold at a big box store are significantly different from those sold through a plumbing supply distributor. 

Now, since we do sell professional-grade water heaters, we know we’re biased. But we’re unapologetic about that because we’re biased for a reason—several reasons, in fact. And we’d like to share why. 

So before you make your next water heater selection, consider these factors when choosing where to purchase your next water heater.

Features & Quality

The water heaters available on the shelf at your nearest big-box retailer such as Home Depot, Lowe’s or Menards are a consumer-grade quality, not professional grade. 

What does that mean for you?

The consumer-grade water heaters sold at box stores are generally built to lower specifications, with fewer features. Plus, you’re limited to the narrow scope of brands in their inventory. 

On the flip side, the water heaters sold through licensed plumbing experts like Water Heaters Now are professional, contractor grade. 

When you purchase a professional grade tank water heater, you’re actually getting a different type of tank itself—one that’s made with 5–10 pounds more steel. 

Why does that matter? Because the only thing that prevents those 40 or 50 gallons of water from leaking out into your house is the quality and thickness of the steel tank. 

That thicker tank means more energy efficiency and a longer-lasting machine. 

And when it comes to your bottom line, the lining of your tank matters too, because it protects the tank from the corrosive effects of hot water. Box store or consumer models typically don’t have nearly as strong of a lining, but the professional-grade water heaters we carry are equipped with an exclusive enamel Vitraglas® lining that extends the life of your tank by providing superior protection. 

Here is a comparison in the features of a professional-grade vs. box store model:

Warranty Terms & Coverage

The warranty is a critical part of a water heater purchase and you’ll want to pay close attention to the warranty terms.

While a water heater sold at a big box retailer may advertise a 6-year warranty, it says on the box it is a 1-year in-home warranty. This means the manufacturer only covers breakage within 1 year—so where do you get help if your water heater breaks after 1 year?

Our team gets calls all the time from homeowners who purchased box store models who reach us after they can’t get help from the box store, manufacturer, or the installer. They didn’t know the models found in box stores are more problematic and prone to defects within the first 6 years. 

And they were surprised to learn that the “6-year warranty” is not actually through the store they purchased it from.

Here’s what the average box store customer experiences before they come to us:

  1. Their water heater needs service—suddenly stops working or leaks. 
  2. The homeowner then calls the retail store they purchased it from. 
  3. The store says “we don’t handle that” and tells them to contact the manufacturer.
  4. After waiting on hold, the manufacturer tells them to find a local plumber who works on these models to address it. 

This person has an immediate need to get service, but because the person who sold them the water heater isn’t the one who services it, it can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to try to process a box store warranty.

Now, if that were your water heater that stopped working, do you want to wait that long for a repair?  

And then there’s parts. Most of the box store brands use consumer or “performance” grade parts—and the box store doesn’t carry them. So you’ll end up talking with the manufacturer to get the part ordered.

What about purchasing an extended warranty? 

Whenever you purchase a new water heater, you usually have the option to purchase an extended warranty beyond the 6-year mark. But because the professional-grade water heaters we install are of such high quality, there’s little value in purchasing an extended warranty. In the last two months, we’ve had only 1 person purchase out of nearly 200. The expectation is that the professional-grade models last longer than 10 years. 

But for a box store model? Well, that’s another story. Those tanks are only made to last 6 years, and likely may not last 10 years, so you should consider buying an extended warranty if you purchase a water heater from a box store retailer.

Quality of Installation & Service 

At a box store retailer, the employee who sells you the water heater is typically not educated on the nuances of water heaters to be able to answer your questions and help you select the right model for you. They simply point you to the box. 

By contrast, our experts at Water Heaters Now have world-class education on water heaters—that’s what we focus on every day. We spend up to 30 minutes with customers to do a needs assessment and help you navigate your decisions so that you get the most efficient and best solution that matches your needs. 

Buying from a box store: Be prepared for hidden installation costs you don’t know about. 

At a box store, the employee who sells you the model is not connected to the company that ships it to you or the vendor who installs it. That means there is no single touchpoint to provide continuity of service or communication with you—which changes your experience dramatically. 

It also means the purchase price and installation costs can drastically change at any point along the way. The vendor hired to install it for you runs a different company with their own agenda.

When customers purchase a professional-grade water heater at Water Heaters Now, there are no surprises. Plus, our experts are trained to look for any safety issues when they install your water heater in your home.  

Here are several key installation and service differences between professional-grade and box store models:

With Water Heaters Now, we are your one-stop-shop for water heaters and service. When you get a professional-grade water heater from us, we promise you professional-grade service. And in the rare event you need a repair, you make one call—to us. And we take care of it within hours. 

That’s because water heaters are all we do. And we’re standing by to answer any questions you may have about our professional-grade water heaters.

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