Geothermal Growth Offers New Options For Underground Contractors

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | November 2009 Vol. 64 No. 11
Astec has developed a special vertical drill designed specifically for the geothermal market.

"Currently," Sibert continued, "residential is up while commercial is down, and industrial remains constant. We also are seeing an increase in the retrofit business. Geothermal moved forward during 2008 when the energy costs were high. Now, tax incentives have a major influence on the industry. As energy costs increase over time, so will the demand of geothermal."

Beyond plumbers
From the mid-1980s through the '90s, demand for ground source heat pump systems did not justify specialist contractors, and progressive plumbing/heating/cooling business owners probably were first to recognize the potential of geothermal technology.

However, few were equipped to install loops; vertical drills are expensive and compact trenchers often owned by plumbers cannot dig to sufficient depths for horizontal loops. Depending on system requirements, backhoes could dig to needed depths, but digging hundreds of feet of trench with a backhoe can be slow work.

Loop work often was subcontracted to water well drillers or excavation contractors. Larger trenchers were available from equipment rental stores, but to use directional drilling meant subcontracting to a specialist.

No statistics are available about the types of loops installed, but most are horizontal or vertical as dictated by conditions and sometimes by the preference of the contractor.

Because many early systems were for residences without sufficient space for a horizontal loop, many were vertical loop systems.

Today, there are contractors who specialize in geothermal systems, and some heating and cooling contractors have established specialized divisions to sell and install ground source heat pump systems.

Comfortworks in Goldsby, OK, sells, installs and services geothermal systems. The company evolved from a heating and air conditioning company established in 1975 to a business today that offers turnkey geothermal system sales and service in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and other portions of the state.

"Most loops we do are vertical loops installed by our own crews with our drilling equipment," said President Chris Ellis. "We like vertical loops because we are equipped to do them. Second would be pond loops, and third horizontal loops. We trench those; we do not use directional drilling."

Ellis said demand for geothermal systems in his area is increasing.

Demand in the mountains
Rocky Mountain Geo Thermal Inc., Denver, CO, was established in 2003 to serve the growing demand for geothermal systems.

Buyer's Guide