Geothermal Contractors, Do You Need a Specialized Geothermal Contractor?
Can the contractor who installed the furnace at your old home install the geothermal system at your new home? Do you need a specialized geothermal contractor? In general, HVAC contractors specialize in standard HVAC installation or geothermal heating and cooling systems, but not both.
Many geothermal contractors started out installing conventional air conditioners and heat pumps and then got interested in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling. Most then pursued specialized training and invested a large amount of money in the tools and equipment needed to install geothermal heat pump systems. Geo thermal system installations is not something a contractor dabbles in. It takes a total commitment to do it correctly.
In this Geothermal Guide article, we’ll give you tips on Finding a Geothermal Contractor for your Green Energy project at home.
Similar, But Different Technology
There are basic differences in the condensing unit between an air-based heat pump and a ground-based heat pump, a.k.a., a geothermal heat pump or GHP. Both types contain coils, a compressor and refrigerant, but they are configured differently and the parts are not interchangeable.
Secondly, the condensing unit is installed inside the house in most systems, though there are split systems with it placed outside as well.
Geothermal heat pumps may also have a hydronic function by which excess heat created in winter or drawn from the house in summer is transferred into a separate water pipe that is used to heat water for use in the home. Installing these systems takes specialized tools and training.
In short, it takes additional training and several different tools to be able to service and repair a GHP vs. a standard heat pump. Having traditional HVAC training is a good start but specialization is required.
The Geothermal Loop
What really sets apart geothermal heat pump systems is the water loop installed outside the home. Instead of extracting heat from the air and dispersing it into the air, GHPs use water in a pipe as the medium. The pipe, HDPE or high-density polyethylene, is submerged in the ground at a level where temperatures stay very consistent year-round, usually between 50F and 60F depending on the part of the country. The pipe is filled with water or a water/antifreeze mixture.
The loop can be a deep vertical loop, usually installed in well casings for stability, long horizontal loops, or coiled loops in the ground or submerged in a pond. The type of geothermal loop is determined by the size of the lot, the type of soil, the presence of bedrock, and other geological and environmental factors. Knowing what type of loop to install is relatively easy, though beyond the scope of most local HVAC contractors.
Knowing how long to make the loop is the real challenge of installing Geothermal thermal heating and cooling systems. Special training and very good experience are required to do it well. A loop that is too short won’t allow for the adequate collection or dispersal of heat. One that is too long will waste money on materials, labor and equipment prices.
Specialized Tools and Equipment for Geothermal
While a conventional heating and cooling contractor focuses on HVAC systems, the geothermal contractor must wear several hats. He needs to do heating and cooling basics of course. Installing condensing units, charging them with refrigerant and hooking them up to the duct work requires standard HVAC tools. However, geothermal contractors also need to be part excavator, part geologist, part well driller, with good knowledge of local environmental regulations.
These other hats take specialized skill but also an immense amount of equipment. Sometimes subcontractors are used, but often the geothermal contractor will have his own equipment in order to reduce installation costs and protect his reasonable profit.
In Summary, very few local HVAC contractors install geothermal cooling and heating systems. The overlap in the work is fairly small. If you speak with a contractor who says his company can do geothermal but they don’t specialize in it, you are much better off hiring a geothermal contractor who makes it his primary work.