Climate Profile: Mike Varela, Mighty Mike Plumbing deliver efficient water heating to the Truckee area

Climate Profile: Mike Varela, Mighty Mike Plumbing deliver efficient water heating to the Truckee area

If you want to reduce your energy bills while improving your home’s climate footprint, you might already be thinking of converting your conventional water heater to a more efficient heat pump water heater. But whom can you trust to inform you about your options and follow through to install it?

Mike Varela of Mighty Mike Plumbing in Truckee has been there and done that, and he’s looking forward to helping more customers make the climate-friendly (and budget-friendly) transition to heat pump water heaters.

Heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) are a relatively new technology so not many plumbers – let alone homeowners – know about them, but they are a proven alternative that can save significant amounts of energy and money when compared to conventional water heaters.

While most of us don’t think much about our water heater until it breaks, we should. says, “water heating accounts for about 18% of your home’s energy use and is typically the second largest energy expense in any home.” That means the impact of a smart water heater choice can be huge. According to, “HPWHs can save a household of four approximately $550 per year on electric bills compared to a standard electric water heater and more than $5,610 over the HPWH’s lifetime.” When compared to gas water heaters, the cost savings are similar and the climate impact could be even larger.

So how did Mike Varela get into installing heat pump water heaters in Truckee? By following his passion and doing the right thing for his family and his customers.

When Mike started Mighty Mike Plumbing in 2005, he was raising a family in his hometown of Burbank, CA. He always had a passion for understanding how things work and solving difficult problems, from mechanical to electrical to plumbing. He also had a strong sense of integrity to deliver “an honest day’s work” to his customers. So, it was a natural fit to grow his passion into a sustainable plumbing business that has survived almost 20 years through changing economic cycles, family circumstances and a pandemic.

Fast forward to today and Mighty Mike is still going strong, but now based in Truckee, and still avidly learning about new technologies so he can provide the best solutions to his customers.

After spending summers in Truckee for several years, Mike moved the family and the business to the area full time in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Mike explained, Truckee was a better environment for his family, especially the kids. Like so many of us who started elsewhere and found a new home in the Lake Tahoe area, he’s been extremely happy that they made the

move. While his oldest kids have moved on to college, his two youngest are growing up as Truckee natives.

Mike didn’t set out to change the world with efficient water heaters. His first priority is always doing right by his customers – giving them the best information and options so they can choose what’s right for them. When he met a new customer who was interested in heat pump water heaters, he dove in to learn about the technology and followed through to install one of the first HPWHs in the area. In the process, Mike learned that, while the HPWH may cost more up front, it can deliver substantial savings over its lifetime. For many of his customers, that sounds like a great investment.

Mike is also ready to work with his customers to help them take advantage of incentives that reduce the initial cost of a HPWH. For starters, the federal government offers a 30% federal tax credit on heat pump water heaters, up to $2000. Customers of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District can save an additional $750-$1000 through the PUD’s residential home upgrade rebate program. With those types of incentives, it’s a no-brainer for many customers to save money while reducing their climate impact.

For Mike Varela, it’s exciting to be on the leading edge of this trend toward more cost-effective and climate-friendly water heating, but it’s also a natural outgrowth of what he’s been doing his whole life: learning about new technology and providing customers with the outstanding customer service and choices to meet their needs.

Jay Gill is a volunteer with the North Tahoe chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a resident of Truckee.