Geothermal technology, or that related to the heat of the earth, has gained greater attention when it comes to creating comfort heating and cooling in residential and commercial applications. "It continues to grow," said Robert Fogarty, a performance contracting sales engineer for Honeywell. In both residential and commercial applications, the primary appeal is to those who have a long-term commitment to the structure for housing or as a business investment, he said.

Another key factor is a facility setting that provides for a suitable well field. In rural settings, Fogarty said, natural gas may not be readily available, all-electric heating-cooling may be too costly, and LP gas is not something the owner wants to consider.

Electric co-ops' rebate programs offered in various sections of the country have helped spur the growth of geothermal, he said. Improvements in equipment have also helped. "The technology has changed a lot in the last eight to 10 years. New scroll compressors, for example, are allowing for equipment with considerable noise reduction."

He noted that HVAC contractors have to work with well-driller companies for geothermal installations. The indoor work that the contractor would do "is similar to the installation of any two- or four-pipe HVAC system, although ensuring the proper water flow is critical."

The piping work in the ground needs to be done by a well-drilling company; there, Fogarty said, contractors may face the dynamics of the driller being a nonunion shop while the HVAC contractor is often union in commercial settings.

Properly installed well fields are unlikely to have any problems for many years, he said. The internal heat pump equipment needs to be regularly maintained, as is the case with any HVAC equipment.


Geothermal technology has shown strong promise in schools, where the long-term commitment to such buildings, as well as a desire of demonstrating energy conservation, are prompting this approach.

A recent application involved an $11 million energy-savings and modernization project with Highland Community Unit School District No. 5 in Highland, Ill. The resulting facility upgrades will allow the district to modernize its aging buildings, increase student and faculty comfort and safety, and meet the state Health and Life Safety School Codes. The installation of two geothermal systems is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and help the district become more eco-friendly.

Under the contract, Honeywell will put in energy-efficient lighting and ceilings, as well as new window systems throughout the district. It also will upgrade the district's HVAC systems, providing air conditioning to all of the Highland schools. At two of the seven facilities, the company will install geothermal systems.

Honeywell described geothermal systems as extremely efficient means of providing heating and cooling. They take advantage of the stable temperature below the earth's surface (around 55°F) to provide heat in the winter months and a heat sink to cool the facility in the summer.

In addition, Honeywell will upgrade the existing automation and controls infrastructure by installing its Enterprise Buildings Integratorâ„¢ (EBI), an integrated building management platform. Honeywell EBI provides the district with a single source for monitoring, controlling, and integrating HVAC and energy management systems in the buildings, as well as the instantaneous electric energy usage. For example, operators can set back temperatures when buildings are not in use, or quickly identify maintenance issues from a single workstation.

A closed-circuit television (CCTV) system using the Digital Video Managerâ„¢ also is part of the integrated upgrade. Combined, these improvements will bring the district in line with the latest health and life-safety standards for the state of Illinois, school officials said.

Honeywell said it expects to complete the work by November 2006. "Many school districts are facing tighter budgets, higher energy costs and aging infrastructures," said Joe Puishys, president of Honeywell Building Solutions. "Honeywell is committed to helping districts like Highland find ways to make necessary improvements, despite budget constraints, to create a more comfortable, secure learning environment."

Another development involved a $4.8 million energy-savings and modernization project with the Twin Falls School District in Twin Falls, Idaho, which took place this past year and also included building controls, HVAC, and lighting improvements. The upgrades were expected to generate $3.5 million in energy savings - money that will be used to fund a majority of the work. Honeywell said it guarantees the savings as a result of a 15-year performance contract that is part of the project.

Under the contract, the company will install energy-efficient lighting across the district's 11 buildings, upgrade HVAC and mechanical systems, and replace leaking roofs on four buildings. In addition, Honeywell will upgrade the existing automation and controls infrastructure by installing the EBI platform.

Facility managers can use EBI to remotely control and monitor HVAC and energy management systems across the district's facilities. This single-source approach will help reduce the district's operation and maintenance costs while improving student and faculty comfort, officials said.

The district initiated the energy-savings project with assistance from the Idaho Energy Division, to modernize aging facilities and build on its commitment to energy conservation by reducing consumption throughout the district. To that end, Honeywell also upgraded a geothermal system at one of the district's schools, replacing heat pumps, a cooling tower, and water treatment equipment.

Publication date: 02/06/2006