In the summer of 1977, Don McDermott sought a replacement for the air conditioning system in his 1,400-square-foot Miami home. Having worked at a consulting engineering firm where he was able to research the latest in mechanical system technologies, including those related to the concept of heat recovery, McDermott was open to an out-of-the-box HVAC solution.

“At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot out there about geothermal systems, other than the fact they were very energy efficient,” McDermott said. “To me, the system appealed to common sense, especially with what was going on in the U.S. in regard to the energy crisis. Then, much like today, we couldn’t afford to generate more and more heat only to be dumped into the atmosphere.

“It is imperative we start looking at heat and cold as valuable resources. We have to find ways to efficiently transfer existing heat and cold energy,” McDermott continued. “Heat pumps can efficiently cool while also using hot water byproducts from, for example, coin laundry and restaurant applications as a ‘free bonus’ in a geothermal system.”

McDermott liked the information he found on geothermal technology, particularly the opportunity to integrate it with an existing pool in his backyard. Ultimately, he selected a 2.5-ton (33,000 Btu) Friedrich ClimateMaster V33-12 geothermal heat pump unit as part of an open-loop system that circulates water between the unit and the pool.

This heat exchange-based model would supply filtered, heated water to the outdoor pool via heat extracted from indoors while also cooling indoor temperatures to a comfortable level. When the pool temperatures get too warm, well water, which is about 73°F year-round, is used as a coolant, and the excess hot water is purged via a lawn sprinkler system.

Thirty-seven years and one addition to the house later and McDermott is proud to claim that his geothermal system — including the original ClimateMaster heat pump unit from Friedrich (eventually assumed into LSB Industries subsidiary ClimateMaster Inc.) — is still working perfectly.

“After 37 years of use, withstanding several hurricanes, a 400-square-foot addition that increased the size of the house by nearly 40 percent, and minimal professional service without replacing any coils or compressors, I don’t think I could be happier with the excellent decision I made in 1977 to go with a ClimateMaster geothermal heat pump system,” said McDermott.

Realistic Returns

Ever a steward of environmental responsibility and energy conservation, he viewed geothermal technology as more practical than pioneering back in the 1970s.

“As people just passing through this paradise called earth, I think we’ve been poor to downright negligent as caretakers of our environment,” McDermott said. “I’ve always been excited about how much better and more economical we can be through the recovery/transfer of heat and/or cold to meet our growing energy demands while lessening the damage to our environment.”

The geothermal system, functioning on par with the performance it delivered nearly four decades earlier, provides a host of benefits to McDermott. These include, according to him, an exceptional level of comfort from the heat pump unit’s quiet operation and its ability to deliver consistent, temperate indoor cooling, even in the hottest Miami summer months.

McDermott also said maintenance and repairs to the ClimateMaster heat pump unit have been virtually nonexistent.

“With the heat pump unit being installed inside versus outside, where air conditioning units are typically found, it has been spared over the years from exposure to the harsh weather conditions that are common to this area,” McDermott said. “The salty sea air, combined with the hurricanes and other inclement weather that has come through here, has equated to the replacement of my neighbors’ air conditioning units two or three times over, at this point. Meanwhile, my original ClimateMaster heat pump is still going strong.”

According to McDermott, the geothermal system has only been serviced about a dozen times over the past 37 years, all of which have been related to routine maintenance. This included the ClimateMaster unit’s heat exchanger coils being cleaned one time to date as well as McDermott himself cleaning and resealing the drain pan.

Providing notable efficiency and a free, renewable source of energy, the system, according to McDermott’s estimates, has paid for itself numerous times over.

“Right now, my average monthly electric bill is no more than $155, and it’s obviously been much less than that over the years,” said McDermott. “I have free heat for the pool and air conditioning that works so well I’ve even been asked to turn it down. Additionally, I’ve saved on the cost of having to replace any HVAC equipment, which is virtually unheard of when you’re talking about nearly a 40-year lifespan.”

McDermott also said he is proud to know his ClimateMaster unit was made in the U.S., which to him, ensures better quality. He also expressed pride in the company maintaining its U.S. operations and manufacturing to the present time.

“Let’s face it, the world is not what it was 40 years ago, and a lot of manufacturing has gone overseas,” said McDermott. “It’s great to know a well-engineered, high-quality product — especially one that can have so many benefits in today’s energy and resource conservation arena — is still made here in the U.S.”

When asked about his role as a trailblazer in embracing geothermal technology so many years ago, McDermott is humble, yet sensible.

“It was never about keeping up with the Joneses, or even about getting the Joneses to keep up with me,” McDermott said. “In fact, some people even told me I’d be lucky if my HVAC system lasted 10 years. There weren’t any tax incentives for renewable energy system installations back then, even in the height of the oil crisis.

“This was a choice I made because it was the best thing to do, and the right thing to do. I saw a lot of potential for heat recovery and transfer with a geothermal system,” McDermott said. “At the end of the day, it’s actually a very simple concept.”

Whether he takes credit for his foresight or not, McDermott is enthusiastic about the potential of geothermal HVAC systems in both residential and commercial uses.

“Now is the time for mainstream America to embrace the use of geothermal HVAC systems, especially with so much potential for the energy conservation necessary to sustain the planet. It makes sense for new or existing homes from an energy saving and general comfort standpoint, particularly with the incentives that are available from federal, state, and even local utility entities,” he said.

“As for commercial applications, there are boundless opportunities, especially with heat recovery and transfer in relation to hot water production,” McDermott said. “Education, health care, hospitality, and multifamily buildings are all ideal candidates for geothermal and integrated heat transfer.”

McDermott would happily recommend a geothermal HVAC system to any of his neighbors. “Think globally, act locally,” he said. “I’d tell them, without hesitation, they’d save a tremendous amount of money, and, with ClimateMaster system, they’d be getting a reliable, proven heat pump technology that could very well last them the rest of their lives,” said McDermott.

“Admittedly, it would also be great for me, too, especially, so I wouldn’t have to hear their outdoor compressors every time the air conditioner kicks on, especially at night when I’m in my cost-free, perfectly heated pool.”

Information courtesy of Raj Hiremath, director of marketing, ClimateMaster Inc.

Publication date: 2/9/2015

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