Geothermal Rejuvenates Calif. Contractor

August 21, 2003
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This home in Bakersfield is in the process of having its split systems and gas furnace replaced with 3-ton and 3-1/2 ton geothermal systems from ECR Technologies.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — No one ever said that HVAC work is boring. Contractors have continual challenges in the field, from malfunctioning systems to problem customers. But as with any job, things can sometimes become routine.

That’s where Glenn Bland, owner of Bland Air Conditioning and Heating, Inc., found himself about two years ago. After working in the industry 21 years, he discovered that he was in the doldrums as far as work was concerned. So he shook things up and took an International Ground-Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) geothermal class.

“That has brought everything back to life as far as I’m concerned,” says Bland. Once he finished the training, he teamed up with ECR Technologies Inc., Lakeland, Fla., manufacturer of EarthLinked systems, and started building a network of geothermal contractors in California.

Bland is currently the exclusive California sales representative for ECR; ACH Supply is his primary distributor. In the last two years, Bland says they’ve certified 56 contractors in the state of California to become installers of direct-exchange geothermal systems.

With three installations done and 32 applications lined up and waiting for geothermal systems to be installed, Bland and his crew are newly invigorated and ready to go.

With direct exchange systems, it’s only necessary to drill holes that are 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter at a depth of 50 to 100 feet.

Direct Exchange Difference

Bland does not classify himself as a “tree hugger,” but environmental concerns were some of the reasons why he wanted to learn about geothermal systems. California has had numerous well-documented energy problems, and the direct-exchange geothermal systems are 30 to 70 percent more efficient than most air-source units, he says.

Higher efficiencies also mean fewer emissions from power plants; Bakersfield and the entire San Joaquin Valley consistently have some of the worst air quality in the United States, so lowering emissions is a major concern. “It’s my way of contributing something to the community,” says Bland.

He was drawn to direct-exchange systems over other types of geothermal systems for several reasons. The first is that Bland says direct-exchange systems are about 15 percent more efficient. That’s because “traditional” closed-loop systems use a four-step process consisting of earth to water to refrigerant to air in order to provide heating or cooling to a structure.

The direct-exchange system is a three-step process, which doesn’t include water. Instead, copper refrigerant tubing is buried in the earth, so the sequence of events is earth to refrigerant to air. The water medium is taken completely out of the loop (pardon the pun), which means no circulating pump is required.

The second reason Bland says he likes direct-exchange systems is that they are easier to install. “With another type of system, you have to drill 6-inch-diameter holes 300 feet deep. With direct exchange you only need a 2-1/2- to 3-inch hole at a depth of 50 to 100 feet. That’s because copper is a much better conductor.”

Bland has teamed up with Robert Prewett, a good friend who is an excavator. The two of them purchased drilling equipment specifically for geothermal installations. “Our drilling rig will fit through a 36-inch opening. Since the R-22 loops go directly into the earth, you only need about a 6-foot-diameter drill area, and that can easily be accomplished on the side of most residences.”

Loops such as these will be placed on the east side of the property, where the installing contractor has only 12 feet of room between the side of the house and the property line.

Existing Home Installation

That’s precisely where Bland is installing a geothermal system on his next project: a 3,800-square-foot, nine-year-old, one-story house, with a very small side yard. The house currently has two 12-SEER split systems, one a 3.5-ton unit and the other a 4-ton unit, as well as a gas furnace. Bland will be replacing the splits and the furnace with 3- and 3.5-ton geothermal systems from ECR.

“Because the ground temperature is constant all year long at 64 degrees, we’re not concerned with losing capacity when the ambient temperature is 100-plus degrees. That’s one of the benefits of a geothermal system: When you have high ambient conditions, you won’t lose capacity,” says Bland.

The older systems were working fine, but the homeowner decided to change them out because of the geothermal systems’ higher efficiencies. Bland estimates that the equipment will pay for itself in five to seven years, even though the initial cost for this installation is about $29,000. Beyond that payoff period, the homeowner will probably see about a 50 percent reduction in his electricity consumption from his air conditioning system, and his gas bill will be eliminated.

Due to high summer temperatures, Bland will need to wait to remove the old equipment until the new geothermal systems are ready to be turned on. First he plans to install the loops in the side yard. Then he will install vertical air handlers in the attic. The last thing he’ll do is remove the existing condensing units and set the new compressor units. Everything will be piped in. He estimates the job will be finished within 10 days.

“With these systems, we have the option of placing the compressor units inside or outside,” says Bland. “It doesn’t matter, because there’s no condenser fan motor or air coils. That means you don’t have to worry about whether you have good airflow, because the system works through conduction in the earth. The compressor unit is about two cubic feet for units ranging from 2 to 6 tons. That’s a lot smaller than traditional condensing units of similar capacity.”

The only challenge that Bland sees is putting in the loop field next to the house. On the east side of the property, he only has 12 feet between the side of the house to the property line — a tight fit. However, “If we were installing a water-source system, the drilling rig wouldn’t even fit in there. Our little rig should have no problem.”

Bland is excited about this turn of events in his life, and he says he owes it all to geothermal systems. As Joe Parsons, director of marketing, ECR Technologies, notes, “Glenn Bland is a great example of a business owner who sees the potential for GeoExchange both today and for the future. There is no shortage of customers for the contractor who positions his or her business to provide total turnkey services.”

Bland adds, “It’s a great challenge to mainstream this in the western United States, and I think we’re doing a good job so far. And my people are excited about it. I had one employee turn down a job with a major manufacturer to stay with my company because of the growth potential with geothermal.”

Publication date: 08/25/2003

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