Mastering geothermal installation, maintenance, and sales requires a bevy of skills that take time and effort for a contractor or technician to develop. Novice or expert, there are resources available for contractors looking to master geothermal as it continues to gain market share in the HVAC industry. Here is a checklist of items to help contractors and technicians increase their geothermal mastery.
Understanding geothermal requires more than a lap around the loop, some drilling skills, and a knowledge of hydronic systems. The latest systems are incorporating communicating controls, variable-speed, and inverter-driven capabilities. There are details about the systems and operation as well as technology improvements that keep the geothermal learning curve a moving target.
To help overcome this, Joe Parsons, residential product manager, ClimateMaster Inc., suggested that contractors avail themselves of all the manufacturing training available so that they fully understand the product. The Trilogy® Q-Mode QE Series geothermal heat pump is one of the systems for which ClimateMaster is offering extensive training. The unit utilizes variable speed to provide a wide range of heating and cooling capacities with the ability to match loads to as low as 30 percent of maximum. In addition, patent-pending Q-Mode® technology saves an additional 80 percent on hot water production by producing year-round domestic hot water on demand at over 500 percent efficiency. The iGate® diagnostics on the thermostat/PC service tool/dealer portal report 99 fault codes with possible causes, as well as 47 status conditions (temperature, flow, superheat/subcool, and loop pressure at time of fault).
“I’ve spent a lot of years in the contracting industry as well as on the manufacturing side of this business, and to fully understand your product, you have to own your product,” he said. “If at all possible, you have to have the experience, and it will help you know and understand how the system operates.”
Tim Wright, vice president of sales, Enertech Global, reminded contractors to temper the technology talk when approaching end users. He suggested approaching them with understandable talking points.
“Talking too technically or laboring over proper equipment selection can make geothermal seem daunting to end users,” he said. “The process needs to be simplified, so we partnered with a contractor of ours to offer a sales software, EnerSketch Pro. This tool allows contractors to determine load calculations for quick, accurate product selection and compare conventional systems to geothermal so end users can see exactly what the differences are for themselves in a way that’s easy to digest.”
According to Wright, the software will also generate a proposal for the end user and includes a connected feature that allows for uploading the order to a vendor of choice. No matter what tool is chosen to make the conversation simpler, he encouraged contractors to clearly explain the benefits of the technology, as opposed to inundating them with what might feel like a firehose of technology talk.
Training might seem like a no-brainer answer, but there is more to the installation of geothermal systems than meets the eye. The loop is one piece, but the inside system is a highly technical piece of equipment that requires skill and expertise to install correctly and effectively.
Jeff Hammond, vice president of technical service, Enertech Global, encouraged contractors to interview subcontractors, such as ground loop installers, to make sure that all parties understand the details as well as the calculations for a trouble-free system.
“Choosing a distributor or manufacturer who has great technical support is very important, especially if geothermal is new to the contractor,” he said. “Some distributors and manufacturers offer design assistance, which can help a contractor who many not have installed many geothermal systems yet.”
One major factor in maintenance effectiveness for geothermal systems is addressing water quality.
“It is extremely important to either test the onsite water before using it in the system or to bring in water that has known chemical properties,” said Hammond. “Then, choosing an effective inhibitor — Enertech recommends Fernox F1 — that can be monitored regularly will significantly lower future maintenance and component failures.”
When maintained properly, geothermal heat pumps can run reliably and efficiently for decades. Enertech routinely works with dealers on replacement of 30- to 40-year-old systems, Hammond said.
Vice president of sales Enertech Global
Technology, installation, and maintenance don’t mean much if the contractor isn’t able to sell a customer on geothermal systems. Keeping it simple and relatable was addressed earlier in this article, but there are multiple other factors that will help contractors sell geothermal systems.
Parsons warned contractors that selling systems is not just about marketing — it’s about being able to tell a story to the customer.
“You have to be able to sit there and have a conversation or show a video that tells a geothermal story that resonates with the end user,” he said. “It’s not just the efficiency; it’s a leap of faith. The system is more efficient, but it is also more expensive.”
He further explained that failing to sit down and walk someone through the process of ownership can negatively impact sales.
Wright advised contractors that even if they carry both conventional and geothermal options, it’s still beneficial to offer geothermal on every job.
“We recommend this for a few reasons,” he said. “One, geothermal typically offers a higher profit margin for installers, so the more geothermal sold, the better it is for your business’ bottom line. Two, geothermal checks all the boxes for end users: cost-savings, efficiency, incentives, minimal maintenance, long lifetime, clean air, etc.”
Wright also explained that failing to sell a geothermal system on a call shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Simply offering this product can get end users thinking about more efficiency and savings, which could ultimately help them choose a high-efficiency heat pump or furnace.
“Position your business as one that gives customers the best choices rather than the cheapest price, which might not be best option for the customer,” he said. “Also, identify a payment plan that works for customers. The initial cost makes geothermal seem prohibitive, but there are lending institutions out there that can help end users get geothermal for no money down, and they don’t require a fee from the contractor.”
New system sales are important, but geothermal technology has been around for a long time, and there are replacement sales opportunities building in the pipeline, according to Parsons.
“The geothermal industry has been very active for 25-30 years now, and that means there are a lot of geothermal systems out there that need replacement,” he said. “Not a lot of contractors are cognizant of that fact or could see the potential, but it’s out there, and there is drop-in replacement money to be made.”
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