Multifamily housing continues to be a key segment of the marketplace for manufacturers of PHCP products.

“Multifamily housing increases and opportunities are rapidly growing in the prospering states and regions in North America,” says Brian Fenske, specialty channel sales manager for tankless water heater manufacturer Navien. “Attributed to the recent economy prospering, the building and the need for cost-efficient semi-temporary housing mirrors areas that are adding jobs. With housing costs up and inventory low in some areas, multifamily housing is assisting in meeting the needs of young professionals and relocating families.”

World and Main Senior Vice President Wholesale Channels Michele Hudec sees much of the same, particularly when it comes to the millennial population. “At Jones Stephens, we are following the trend data for millennial housing and keeping our finger on the pulse of the millennial ‘rent vs. buy’ triggers,” she says. “We are seeing multifamily housing increases in those markets where college graduates are moving because of job opportunities. They are seeking an urban lifestyle so almost every key market is extremely active with the Southeast states dominating new multifamily construction.”

A. O. Smith Residential National Accounts Manager Chris Smothers notes while U.S. Census Bureau data shows multifamily starts are down year-to-date in 2017, National Association of Home Builders data for permits pulled shows top markets performing well through July year-to-date, particularly New York City (up 38%) and Chicago and Miami (both up 29%).


As smooth as possible

In the multifamily housing space, manufacturers continue to be keenly aware of making sure the needs of both the builder/contractor and the end user are being met.

Jones Stephens has made the commitment to add multi-housing staff to its sales and service teams. “Jones Stephens has invested significantly to serve our customers in the multifamily space,” Hudec says. “These teams are focused specifically on the needs of contractors and distributors serving this market. We have almost 20,000 products, including toilet seats, low-flow, lead-free faucets and all the necessary products to install each fitting and fixture in the building along with a strong service commitment to help our distributors serve this key vertical market.”

Along those same lines, Smothers notes A. O. Smith’s residential new construction sales team actively is engaged in building relationships with multifamily builders. “We are pushing our advantages with the service of the sell and ensuring the project managers are up to date with products and potential regulation changes. We continue to evolve to the changing market and offer a range of products that meet these changing needs. Whether the developer wants traditional products, tankless or engineered systems, we are prepared to provide a range of solutions that meet their needs.”

Jones Stephens also has taken things to the next level in terms of customer service with the addition of its Contractor Kitting Program where if an order is received by 4 p.m., it ships complete within 48 hours right to the contractor on the jobsite.

‘This program provides completely customized kits for contractors that are ordered and shipped through Jones Stephens’ customers. It’s quick, convenient and complete,” Hudec says. “The contractor doesn’t need to search for SKU numbers. We handle all that logistic work. The contractor makes one call and issues one purchase order. All the parts are condensed into one part number and all items are double-checked before they arrive at the jobsite. No more missing parts at the jobsite because all products are poly-bagged into one complete kit.”


Need the space

A. O. Smith’s Smothers explains electric lowboys still dominate the multifamily market. “Using this product allows developers to place the air handler above the water heater, which saves valuable space the tenant can use in other ways,” he says. “Gas tankless has made a push into this space, but faces the downside of having to run additional venting and most multifamily properties do not have gas throughout.”

Navien’s Fenske notes air-conditioning has become a requirement in new builds. “Coupled with the need to keep HVAC costs low and the desire to achieve high-efficiency, tankless/air-handler combinations have become the go-to systems. With individual utilities having become the norm combined with limited space afforded for HVAC systems, combi systems with tankless water heaters are the perfect application.”

Fenske adds Navien made the early observation that an interest and shift had occurred to use water heaters as a dual appliance, but to depart from the standard efficiency water heaters.

“Navien invested resources into application and full understanding throughout support and training to assure our high-efficiency tankless water heaters could be properly applied to air-handling equipment,” he says. “Besides sharing information about higher head requirements for pumps, concerns of excessive velocity though tankless units, we designed and offer control integration for our NPE-A series tankless for combi integration.”

Fenske adds the company’s HEAir accessory applied to its NPE-A series tankless allows thermostat integration, dual temperatures, outdoor reset, domestic priority, fan interlock and pump purge.

In terms of favoring high-efficiency products for installation, Smothers says that varies from developer to developer.

“Some are changing to high efficiency to meet codes and receive rebates, but it is such a price-driven market that the transition to high efficiency appears to be slower than single-family,” he explains. “In certain markets, primarily in California, we are seeing a pickup of centralized systems. Some developers are looking to banks of tankless systems to get away from having to vent each unit individually. With standard products, the size of the unit can be imperative to the design so we utilize our robust product line to ensure they have flexibility on size.”


More trends

Moen Manager, Segment Marketing for Multifamily Christina Pace references Houzz’s 2017 kitchen and 2016 bathroom studies that show contemporary styles are the most popular right now in the kitchen and bath areas. Pace adds that property owners and designers also are increasingly drawn to darker finishes in those spaces. Moen’s pre-rinse spring kitchen pulldown faucet with pulldown wand, easy-to-maneuver hose, aerated stream and powerful rinse, as well as its Align suite of kitchen faucets, lav faucets, tub/showering and accessories in the darker Matte Black finish are popular in multifamily settings, Pace notes.

Like those on the water-heating side, Pace states properties are constantly on the lookout for products that address low-flow and maintenance issues.

“Properties are looking for products to help reduce utility costs and alleviate maintenance issues, while still providing the style and design residents demand,” she says.

Pace points out another way for properties to gain efficiencies is through the use of garbage disposers. Moen’s disposers feature a VORTEX permanent magnet motor that helps alleviate jams, while SoundSHIELD technology helps deaden disposer sound levels.

“While they may seem standard in certain markets, garbage disposers are another way for properties to reduce the amount of food waste headed for the landfill,” she says.

Whether through product efficiencies, space efficiencies or ways to help contractors reduce installation times, PHCP manufacturers continue to be proactive in the multifamily housing market.


This article was originally titled “Meeting the need” in the November 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.