How We Ended Up At The 2014 RVIA Industry Show
Early in 2014, we were asked by Butch Burson at RVs For Less if we would like to be part of a group of RVers testing a new product that would be introduced to the public and the RV industry at the end of the year.
When we heard that it was an "instant" hot water product to replace our conventional Atwood water heater, we were hesitant. We had researched the few products in that category enough to know that there were several issues.
Dealers and service techs told us that they had so many issues with one brand that they started refusing to put it in as an option. We heard from others about the lack of temperature regulation. There were reports of scalding and drastic changes in temperature when water flows changed or when the water flow was generally low.
Also, we had a perfectly good water heater that was working fine, and we rarely ran out of hot water with our 10-gallon tank due mostly to the fact that we often park without hook-ups. Long showers fill our gray tank too quickly, so we didn't often shower that long. "Endless" hot water wasn't a real big draw for us.
And finally, because we boondock a lot, we were concerned about how much water we would have to run before the water got hot enough to use. A standard Atwood or Suburban RV water heater has a six, ten, or twelve gallon tank which fills with water and then that water is heated when the heating mechanism (electric or propane) is turned on. So, when you are ready to use the hot water, you get hot water as soon as the cooler water that has been sitting in the pipes clears. The disadvantage is you are out of hot water when you've used up what's in the tank.
In our experience with residential tankless water heaters, we have had to run the water quite awhile before the water going through the water heater was heated enough to use. Our objections to this situation in an RV were twofold. First, if it takes running the water longer in the beginning to get the hot water, then that is not an advantage over the status quo. Second, if we have to run the water longer in the beginning, our gray tank will fill up faster when not on sewer hook-ups.
So, would we like unlimited hot water when we're on full hook-ups? Sure. But, for us, it was not that big of a deal, especially given the concerns mentioned above. We weren't exactly jumping all over this opportunity because we didn't really need instant, constant hot water and because we were fearful of screwing up a system that was working just fine as it was.
I needed more information. What company would we be working with? Truma? Never heard of them.
So, I did my usual homework and learned that Truma International is a German company (founded in 1949 by Philipp Kreiss) that supplies heating and air conditioning products to the European RV market. In fact, they own about 80% of the market share in Europe. Mr. Kreiss named the company after U.S. President Harry Truman whom he admired for his reconstruction efforts after the war.
Truma came to the U.S. in 2013 and introduced their LevelCheck product which helps those of us with propane cylinders determine how much propane we have.
After some research, I was convinced that Truma was a quality company, and we were a little excited about being part of something that might shake up the often stagnant innovation of the American RV industry. Still, we were concerned about our options if the product didn't work. No dealers could service it and it would be no fun being completely stranded without hot water.
Truma assured us that 1) they would fly a tech to wherever we were, and 2) they would reinstall our old water heater if we decided that's what we wanted.
Another issue for us is that the product - known as the AquaGo - is propane only and doesn't have an electric option like the traditional Atwood and Suburban water heaters. How much propane would it use? And would the fact that it is propane only be a hurdle too high for American RVers?
Finally, there was no internal switch to turn it on or off. You have to turn it on or off outside. You basically leave it on all the time, so it's not that big of a deal, but it was different and seemed inconvenient.
As you can see, we were certainly not "gung ho" about testing the AquaGo. But we agreed to be one of about 30 North American RVers that would give it a shot.
So, Truma removed our Atwood water heater and replaced it with an AquaGo Comfort model (the slightly better of the two aftermarket models they offer).
That was done in June 2014 while we were attending and working at the DRV Suites Rally in Sevierville, Tennessee.
I took several photos of the install, but can't put my hands on them now. I'll find them somewhere and post them later.
We signed a confidentiality agreement stating that we wouldn't talk about the product until the RVIA show this December, and we agreed to supply periodic feedback of our experience. At the end of the test period, they would replace our pre-production model with a new model or re-install our old water heater.
Here is what the exterior of our rig looked like before the AquaGo .....
With the white cover, it sort of stuck out like a sore thumb, and we weren't sure what we might say to inquiring minds. But we knew the cover was paintable, and the new paint job a couple of months later would fix that problem.
Immediately, we noticed that the cover made access to the water heater easier. Also, there is no anode rod or plastic drain plug. And the water heater just looks solid and well-engineered.
The AquaGo Comfort does have a small tank known as the "temperature stabilizer" where water is heated to help make hot water "more instant". And it has a simple flip-down lever that makes it easy to drain the small tank. The lever also serves as a funnel or "ramp" to drain the water out away from the side of the RV.
It also has two "on" modes.
In the "Comfort" (or regular "on") mode, the water in the temperature stabilizer tank is maintained at 103 degrees. The propane burner fires whenever the sensor determines the water in the tank falls below that temperature and whenever hot water is in use.
In the "Eco" mode, the water in the small tank is maintained at 42 degrees. This keeps the propane burner from kicking on as often so there is less propane use. However, it takes just a bit longer, about 30 seconds, for the water that is running to get to its standard 120-degree temperature when a hot water faucet is turned on.
Over the months that we used the AquaGo, we learned that it didn't use all that much propane. However, we tended to keep it in the "Eco" mode mostly because Linda has superhuman hearing and she didn't like hearing the propane burner coming on to keep the water in the little tank heated to 103 degrees. The extra 30 seconds of wait time in the shower for the water to be hot wasn't a big deal and didn't cause us issues as far as filling our gray tank too quickly.
Now, during the times we were on full hook-ups, we quickly became spoiled by the constant hot water. Our showers got longer and longer. Endless hot water turned out to be pretty nice. :)
And we were impressed that once we got the water temperature to our desired temperature with the proper mix of hot and cold, the temperature didn't change. Even when the flow rate would change due to flushing the toilet or washing dishes, the temperature in the shower didn't change.
Over time, we became really attached to the AquaGo even though it was a product we didn't really "need".
On occasion, while we were in Indiana, techs came out and did some diagnostics and testing. They hooked up laptops to the control board and were able to view any error messages. We asked lots of questions, and it appeared that maintenance and service will be very easy.
In September, we held our Fall Rally in Goshen, Indiana and we were invited to a face-to-face meeting with the Truma team at their North American office in Elkhart. We met with the Truma USA President & CEO, the Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and the Vice President of Business Development as well as the Technical Managing Director for Truma International.
Beyond the product itself, the most impressive thing to us about Truma has been their genuine interest in our thoughts, opinions, and suggestions. The RV industry does not have the best reputation for listening to the consumer, so it has been very refreshing to work with a company that really cares about what we have to say.
When they asked if we would be willing to come to Louisville and be available in their booth at the RVIA show to talk to industry folks about our personal experiences, we agreed .... as along they covered our travel and lodging expenses. They even agreed to cover a few extra days so that we could visit with family a little before and after the show. Of course, none of us knew at the time what we had in store.
Our Involvement At The RVIA Show
You know that I changed my ticket and flew into Louisville a week early due to my Mom's health issues. Linda flew in a couple days early as we had originally planned. The RVIA show has been held in Louisville for the last few decades on the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday after Thanksgiving.
It's where RV manufacturers and suppliers come together to show off their new products for dealers and industry people. However, the show has been in decline over recent years due to competing interests and events better timed for the audience to which it is aimed.
Still, everyone who is anyone in the RV world comes to this midweek extravaganza. Surprising to some, we've never been to the show. Of course, we are far more interested in the consumer side than the industry side, and we try to avoid being this far north in the winter.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Truma was wonderfully understanding about our circumstances, but we still felt the need to do our part. Linda attended the orientation the day before the show started, and we attended dinner with the team that night. Then, we were both there on opening day.
There was quite a German contingent including owner Renate Schimmer-Wottrich (far right in the photo above), the daughter of Truma founder, Philipp Kreiss.
They had a working display with water at 56 degrees on one side running through the unit and visitors could turn on the shower on the other side and feel the hot water. Linda handed out soap-on-a-rope and hand towels along with an invitation to the Truma Christmas party being held on Wednesday. But our main duty was to talk to everyone about our experiences as field testers.
As it turned out, there were lots of skeptics regarding the "instant" or "tankless" water heaters. Dealers told us over and over about issues they had seen, so they were quite interested to hear what we had to say as actual users. It's a case where Truma has to overcome some "concept negativity".
The good news was that our presence really seemed to provide some benefit, and I welcomed the distraction.
Later in the day, John Draheim, President of Fleetwood, took a shower at the Truma booth for both publicity and to raise money for charity. The AquaGo is featured in the new Fleetwood Discovery motorhome and Truma donated $5,000 to Draheim's favorite charity. See RVBusiness article here.
Each night, Truma invited us to dinner and most nights we were able to go since they chose dowtown locations that were easy to get to after our evening hospital visits.
Each day, I worked in the booth, and then went to the hospital for a couple of hours. Then I'd go back to the booth, and then Linda & I would go to the hospital again and then to dinner with the group.
On Wednesday, Roger Schneider from the Goshen News stopped by the booth to interview us for an article he was doing. Here's the link: RV Bloggers Appeal To Customers, Retailers.
Roger did a nice job, and for once, we weren't misquoted a single time. :)
That afternoon, Truma transformed their booth into Christkindmarkt, a replica of a Bavarian Christmas Market.
Guests were offered Lebkuchen, a soft, baked German treat, and Gluhwein, a German mulled wine. We donned our Truma blue santa hats for the occasion.
There was a lot of press around the Truma booth during the show, ....
and one journalist said about the AquaGo, "This is the most interesting product I've seen this year".
We enjoyed fielding questions, talking about our experience, and learning more about Truma and their products.
The AquaGo is being produced in three models: Basic, Comfort, and Comfort Plus.
The Basic model does not have a circulation pump within the unit, so the water begins to heat only after a hot water faucet is turned on. It takes a little longer to get hot water at the faucet, and it does not have "freeze protection" for those really cold nights.
The Comfort model (the model we have) has a circulation pump and maintains the water inside the unit and the temperature stabilizer at a constant temperature so that the only delay in getting hot water at the faucet is the clearing of the unheated water in the pipes. It's just a matter of seconds.
Both the Basic and Comfort models are aftermarket products designed to replace standard Atwood and Suburban RV water heaters.
The Comfort Plus model is the model sold directly to RV manufacturers. The Comfort Plus is incorporated into the RV plumbing and circulates all the water in the hot water pipes through the water heater keeping even the water in the pipes hot so you get truly instant hot water at the faucet.
The MSRPs are as follows:
- Basic - $1,099
- Comfort - $1,199
- Comfort Plus - $1,249
The AquaGo for Instant, Constant, Endless hot water in your RV.
For those that are interested, check out the video of the Truma AquaGo production site on this web page. It looks more like a medical facility than an RV component production facility.
We are very impressed by Truma, both the company and the people, and we look forward to an ongoing relationship. Heck, we might even make a trip to Europe and do some RVing with their guidance.
And though we were lukewarm on getting the AquaGo installed, now you might have a fight on your hands if you tried to take it away. :)
After our last night with the Truma folks and saying goodbye to everyone, we made another trip to the hospital. Mom was having a good day, and she always liked being a part of our RV-Dreams adventure. So, she was quite willing to indulge us and put on a Truma santa hat.
She probably wouldn't like the photo, but I'll cherish it forever. :)
Thanks Truma for your kindness and understanding during a very difficult time. In just a few short days, not only did we kindle a business relationship, but we also developed some great friendships I'm sure will last a very long time.