Many homeowners do not realize that the energy to heat and cool their home lies right beneath their feet. The weather outside might swing wildly from one season to the next, but the temperature of the earth just a few feet below ground stays far more consistent. Geothermal heat pumps tap into this renewable source of energy to provide comfort for homes, and HVAC contractors can tap into this market for increased sales.
The Sustainable Advantages of Geothermal Tech
First, geothermal technology is sustainable and good for the environment. A geothermal heat pump harvests stored solar energy that has been trapped in the ground, using only a small amount of electricity to transfer that heat indoors. Modern ground-source heat pumps have a coefficient of performance (COP) of five, which means that for every one unit of electricity they consume, they move five times that into the target building. More than that, a geothermal unit avoids needing to combust fossil fuels on site.
According to Tim Wright, Enertech’s chief strategy officer, when a homeowner installs a geothermal system, the environmental impact is equivalent to removing one car off the road for the entire year or planting 750 trees (one acre).
“With geothermal heating and cooling, a home can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 75%, which is substantial as we look for ways to minimize our carbon footprint,” he said.
Ryan Dougherty is the CEO of the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO). He advised that HVAC contractors should be aware of the consumer and policy trends that are already helping spur greater awareness of heat pump technologies. Some of these trends include consumers’ desire to do their part in protecting the environment as well as consumers’ desire for long-term savings on their energy bills. Contractors who are already skilled in refrigeration and HVAC service and support will have a strong foundation to build on for working with geothermal heat pumps.
One organization, the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA), offers training and certification. IGSHPA is also seen as a leader in industry standards and codes for geothermal technology. Most well-trained geothermal HVAC contractors are certified by both IGSHPA and NATE. This certification can also be important for maintaining compliance to local codes, permitting, and licensing requirements. After training and certification, contractors can partner with a geothermal heat pump manufacturer, which can give them access to a larger distributor and dealer network.
“I recommend a roadmap that begins with the training necessary to understand the system selection and installation process,” said Joe Parsons, senior product manager at ClimateMaster Inc. “Review the product offering and support systems in place by the various manufacturers and become expert in the features and benefits of your selected brand.” He added that most manufacturers offer factory training for installation and service, so contractors should take advantage of it.
The first step to selling geothermal is to offer the technology. This can set a contractor apart by offering a wider variety of options to customers to meet their heating and cooling needs. Enertech’s Wright recommended asking a homeowner what they need and want out of their HVAC system. Many do not realize geothermal is an option, and when offered the system with an explanation of the benefits, a number will select a ground-source heat pump as the system that meets both their wants and their needs.
CLEAN AND EFFICIENT: While explaining geothermal tech, contractors can focus on the ability for the system to pay for itself through annual energy costs savings. Plus, the technology operates quietly with little maintenance, and works off of sustainable energy. (Courtesy of Geothermal Exchange Organization)
“It is important for a contractor to not get bogged down in too technical of a discussion when it comes to geothermal heat pumps,” said Dougherty. “If you are trying to explain delta-Ts, Manual Js, thermal conductivity, the refrigeration cycle, etc., you are shooting yourself in the foot.”
Instead, contractors can focus on the ability for the system to pay for itself by saving a significant amount of money in annual energy costs, operating quietly with little maintenance, and working off of sustainable energy.
In the realm of marketing, Parsons said that contractors must identify their potential customers and focus advertising and social media efforts on that market segment. They should also take advantage of any economic incentives and be sure their company is on the accredited installer list of the local utility. Providing a consumer financing option with every quote and presenting a clear financial analysis will help to support the homeowner’s investment in a geothermal system.
“Understand the product and the value proposition it represents,” said Parsons. “Know your products you compete against and articulate the benefits of geothermal over each.”
Installing and Maintaining Geothermal
When installed correctly, geothermal heat pumps require very little upkeep to continue proper operation, and they are easy to install and maintain with the right training and education.
“Typically, we see that the filter will need changed two to four times per year, depending on air quality, and the condensate line cleared during annual maintenance checks,” said Tim Wright. “A simple service and maintenance plan is a win-win for both the contractor and homeowner.”
Proper installation is critical when it comes to geothermal, as it needs to be properly sized to work as efficiently as possible. Many modern geothermal systems now have integrated diagnostics and monitoring, which allow a homeowner to use an app to see detailed information about how the system is operating.
Some modern GHP systems have integrated diagnostic and monitoring functionality so a homeowner can use a connected app and see lots of detailed information about how their system is running. Joe Parsons said that contractors should be sure to take advantage of the systems communications capabilities through the Internet. If the system does need service, the diagnostics can give the technician an idea of what may be wrong, helping to ensure the right tools and replacement parts are brought for the repair on the first trip. In addition to this, contractors should consider offering service contracts. Visiting the system semi-annually helps to ensure the heat pump is working as well as possible, and it gives the contractor the chance to interface with the customer and provide a sales lead.
“Don’t overlook the obvious,” said Parsons. “Successful installation and maintenance efforts begin with training. Understand the geothermal concept and the product-specific features for each system you offer.”