Questions for a geothermal installer

It is important that you carefully screen each prospective geothermal installer. Below are some important questions to ask.

To see information on how find an installer, go to item # 6 on the geothermal energy page.

1.  Is installing geothermal systems one of your company’s core businesses? 
Make sure that the installer you choose is a specialist in geothermal installations.  Ask them:  how many geothermal systems they have installed in the past 10 years; to see samples of before and after utility bills from some of their geothermal customers if they have access to them; for testimonials from customers who have had a system for at least 5 years; and to see before and after images of a yard where they have installed a system. It’s important to speak to references, particularly people who have had similar installations done to the one that is being proposed for you.

2.  Are the dealers and loop installers qualified?
Find out if the installer is International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA)-accredited, and how many systems they have installed.  If you are having a vertical bore drilled, ask if the driller has a Certified Vertical Closed Loop Driller (CVCLD) designation from the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).  While it’s not required to have either of these trainings to get a permit or install a geothermal system, these trainings help to validate the knowledge of your installer.  There are no licensing requirements in Connecticut or New York to install a horizontal loop, however if you are going to be drilling a bore for a vertical loop, the company may need a driller’s license, a duct-work license, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) license and a CSL (construction supervisor license).   In New York drillers must be registered with the New York State Department of Commerce (NYSDC).  For more information on New York Water Well Licenses go to New York Water Well License Information. It is appropriate to ask to see copies of all certifications and licenses that the contractor has that are relevant to geothermal installation.

3.  What insurance coverage do you have?
It is standard for an installer to have an insurance certificate with general liability of one million dollars or more and workers compensation.  Ask if you can be covered as an “Additional Insured” on their policy and also ask to see copies of the policies.

4.  Do you conduct a site inspection before quoting and installation?
It is highly recommended that a site inspection be done prior to accepting a bid or paying any deposits because each geothermal system has to be customized to your specific lot and building.

5.  What type of geothermal system is best for me?
There are several decisions that need to be made to determine what type of geothermal system is best for you.  You first must decide if the system will provide heat only, hot water only, heat and air conditioning or heat, air conditioning and hot water.  Then it needs to be determined what type of loop system will work on your property. If you are close to a water source that maintains a temperature of at least 45 degrees, you can consider an open loop.  If you have at least ¼ to ¾ of an acre you can consider a horizontal loop.  If you don’t have enough land you will need a vertical loop. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of system.  For example, closed loop systems tend to be more costly to install than open loop systems but have a lower lifetime cost because they require less maintenance and horizontal loops are generally less expensive to install than vertical loops.

6.  What size system will I need?
The size of a geothermal system varies greatly depending on how large a home you have, what type of heating loops you are installing, how well your home is insulated and other factors, so it’s important to have an assessment done of your heating and cooling needs.   Ask your contractor if they will be performing a “Manual J” calculation, a standard protocol to determine the heating and cooling needs of your home.

Two types of calculations need to be done to determine the size of your heat pump and the size of the field or bore where your loops are to be buried. Heat pumps are generally sized in tons.  An average home might be 3 tons while a larger one might be 6 tons.  Tons are calculated by multiplying the BTUs needed to heat one square foot per hour (average is between 16 to 23) times the number of square feet in your home and then dividing that total by 12,000, which is the number of BTUs per hour per one ton of capacity.  For example:  If your home is 1900 square feet and you use an average BTU calculation of 20, your total number of BTUs is 38,000.  When 38,000 is divided by 12,000 the result is that you need a 3-ton unit.

The number of tons determines the number of feet of pipes or coils that you need in your loop.    In northern climates the standard rule is that you need between 150 to 200 feet of vertical pipe per ton. 

7.  Do I need a supplemental heat source?
Some systems can be sized to meet your heating and cooling requirements and some require a supplemental heat source.  Systems in the north where there is such a large variation between heating and cooling sometimes need a supplemental heat source.  Geothermal heat pump systems can be added to existing furnaces and operate as a dual-fuel system.  The geothermal unit becomes the main heating source and the existing furnace acts as a supplement in extremely cold weather when additional heat is needed.  Sometimes an electrical heat source is added for the coldest days of the year.

8.  What brand of components do you use and do they qualify for the Energy Star Program?
It is highly recommended that your geothermal components be Energy Star qualified – the international standard for energy efficient consumer products that was created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE).  Energy Star components will not only meet the federal guidelines for efficiency but may qualify you for additional financial incentives. Click here for a list of the most efficient geothermal products that qualify for the Energy Star program.

9.  What are the efficiency ratings of your systems?
The efficiency of geothermal units is measured by calculating the difference between the amount of energy that is derived from or delivered to the ground and the amount of electrical energy that is used. Energy efficiency is measured two ways – for cooling it is calculated as an energy efficiency rating (EER), and for heating it is measured as a coefficient of performance (COP).  They are both calculated by dividing the electricity needed to cool or heat by the electrical input required to run the heat pump. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit.  Most geothermal heat pump systems have COPs in a range of 3 to 5, meaning that for every unit of electrical energy used to power the system, 3 to 5 units are supplied as heat.

10.  Will my existing ductwork work for a geothermal system?
If you currently have forced-air you will probably be able to use the same ductwork for your geothermal system.

11.  If my home has ceiling cable heat or baseboard heat, do air ducts need to be installed?
Not always. It may be desirable to install geothermal heat pump room units. For some small homes, a one-room unit would handle the heating and cooling needs. Ceiling cable or baseboard units could then be used for supplemental heat if desired.

12. Do I need to install insulation in my home?
As with all heating and cooling systems, the better your home is insulated, the more efficient your system will be.

13. Do I need to increase the size of my electric service?
Geothermal heat pumps do not use a lot of electricity and generally a 200-amp service will have enough capacity.

14.  How long will my geothermal system last?
The lifetime of a geothermal system is long because all of the components are either buried in the ground or located inside the home.  It is not unusual for underground pipe to carry a 50-year warranty.

15.  Will underground loops affect my lawn and property?
Digging trenches or bores will leave temporary bare spots, which can be restored. There are no long-term adverse effects to grass trees or shrubs.

16.  What kind of maintenance does the system require? 
Geothermal heat pumps do not require regular maintenance other than changing filters associated with a duct system, which can often be done by the homeowner.  Buried loops will often last for generations and commonly have a 50-year warranty.  The heat pump is housed indoors so it is protected from the weather.

17.  How much does a geothermal system cost to install?
The cost of installing a geothermal system varies widely depending on the size of the building; how well it is insulated; whether your system will provide heat or hot water only, or heat, air conditioning and hot water; the size of the geothermal pump needed; the type and style of loop; whether you need ductwork or can modify the ductwork you already have and more.

If you have a water source nearby and can use an open loop, it’s generally cheaper to install.  Closed horizontal loops are usually less expensive than vertical loops. In addition to the cost of the geothermal units you purchase, you can expect charges for electrical work, to install ductwork and water hook-up.  Make sure that your installer itemizes the costs to give you a good understanding of the estimate.

The cost of installing a geothermal heating, cooling and water heating system can be significantly greater than installing a conventional heating or cooling system, however, the savings in both operating costs and maintenance over time should make this investment worthwhile.

18.  How do I finance a geothermal system?
There are a combination of state rebates and incentives and special loan programs that can help you finance a geothermal system.  The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) has a listing by state of the rebates and incentives that are available. Through December 31, 2016, the federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase of renewable, energy-efficient equipment like geothermal heat pump systems.  For example, if you purchase a geothermal system for $20,000, you will get a $6,000 tax credit on your next tax return.  The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has recently launched the PowerSaver loan program that enables homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 to finance energy saving improvements to their current home. See FHA PowerSaver Loan Program Guidelines and click here for a list of PowerSaver lenders.

Many homeowners roll the cost of a geothermal system into their mortgage, which often results in only a small increase to their monthly payment.