Rising Energy Prices Fuel A New Line

A decade ago, when petroleum was cheap, kerosene-powered heaters were a pretty good deal. These days, says Kaz Hirai, vice president of Monitor Products in Robbinsville, a growing fuel crisis has undermined the kerosene heater market, where Monitor has made its mark since 1984. More expensive fuel, rising housing costs, and an increasing push toward greener, more sustainable design — not to mention growing demand from contractors looking to appease efficiency-savvy clients — have compelled the company to redirect its energies toward more efficient household heating systems.

Tankless water heaters are an emerging trend in home design, and one Monitor is keen to tap into, Hirai says. As the kerosene market shrinks (except in Alaska, where the company is still selling as many as ever), Monitor is paying more attention to what Hirai calls “on-demand” hot water, a system that takes less space and less time to heat water than traditional gas-powered tanks.

Monitor, which recently moved from 1 Deer Park Drive to 7 Marlen Drive, added a line of tankless water heaters in 2006, expanded it a year later, and plans to keep expanding, Hirai says. He estimates that tankless heater sales increased by 30 percent in 2007 and are already up by 30 percent this year. He says that Monitor’s tankless heater market is roughly $300,000 a year now, and expected to grow rapidly.

Tankless water heaters are more efficient than standard water heaters because they do not store water. When hot water is turned on, pipes heated by propane or electricity inside the tankless heater warm up the supply of cold water that is fed through it. This increases efficiency by eliminating standby heat loss — the byproduct of water cooling down in the tank — and the need to reheat a large amount of water the next time the spigot is turned on.

Monitor offers two versions of its tankless heaters, an indoor and an outdoor model. Both do the same job, the only differences are where the heaters are installed — that and $45. The indoor model costs $930, while the outdoor model costs $885, although those are the suggested retail prices. Monitor does not sell its products direct to the public, but through distributors that add a mark up.

The outdoor model is usually used where there is no room for a unit inside the house. That is often a concern, as space tends to be a major concern for architects and home builders.

William Charleroy, who runs his own architecture firm on Titus Mill Road in Pennington, says that the heaters, which are roughly the size of a wastepaper basket, often are the best alternative, if for no other reason than space. “It cuts down a lot on the piping,” Charleroy says, “but you have to conceal it and be able to get access to it.”

Charleroy once redesigned an office building near the shore that had no space to put a conventional water heater. The bathrooms, however, could each fit a small tankless heater that could be concealed under the sink. Only one heater is usually necessary in a home, unless there are multiple bathrooms or showers spread throughout the house. Overall, says Charleroy, tankless heaters really do work as well as manufacturers claim, taking “very few seconds” to get the water warmed up.

Traditional water heaters are considered to be about 60 percent efficient, while Monitor rates its tankless heaters as better than 80 percent efficient.

Selling this relatively new product is a major reason why Hirai plans to stay with Monitor for a while. Born in Japan, Hirai received his master’s in engineering from Kyoto University and moved to the United States in 1994 while working for Sony. He joined Monitor’s sales and marketing department because he simply likes the products. “Everybody needs some heat and hot water,” he says.

Monitor’s push to be more environmentally active with its products also has taken it to France, where gas-powered condensing heaters are a major element in design. Monitor introduced a line of oil-fired condensing heaters in 2001, but is now turning its eye toward gas-fired heaters for the same reasons it is expanding its tankless water heater line, Hirai says. Condensing heaters work by reclaiming much of the heat that evaporates up the flue in a traditional home heating system, thereby saving the energy needed to start and continue operations.

Saving energy in any and all ways possible is sure to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds this winter. But cutting edge products also have their place, and so Monitor has also just began distributing a line of shower seat toilets, added to its line-up to help make up some of the shrinking kerosene heating market. The toilets, which also function as bidets, feature contoured, heated sets, and a wall mounted control panel that activates a warm spray that “cleans and soothes.” Users are assured that they will exit the bathroom feeling “fresh and clean.”

Sexier than kerosene heat, the new product, combined with the energy-saving tankless water heaters, is designed to keep Monitor going through a recession and an energy crisis.

—Scott Morgan

Monitor Products Inc., 7A & 7E Marlen Drive, Robbinsville 08619; 609-584-0505; fax, 609-584-7629. Fumio Miyamoto, president. Home page: www.monitorproducts.com.

William L. Charleroy AIA, 114 Titus Mill Road, Suite A-103, Pennington 08534; 609-737-3091; fax, 609-737-3091.

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