What to ask before you buy geothermal - Shoppers Checklist
Last Post 26 Sep 2014 02:49 PM by greg mulder. 112 Replies.
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joe.amiUser is Offline
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26 Nov 2009 11:31 AM
It occured to me that it might be handy for a list of what to ask a contractor before hiring him/her for geo installation.
Just a few years ago geo consumers would educate themselves for months or years before buying. Now in the instant gratification age some folks are making the decision in less than a month. Often times these folks are heavily influenced by what I call "salesman's focus". By this I mean the salesman wants the customer to think "this" is important.
I once had a shopper ask what my desuperheater looked like?! Why would he ask? Likely a salesman had shown him a picture of the piping schematic and made it important.
Many manufacturers like to harp on efficency while most of us here agree they are all extremely close in operating cost. In fact most brands are similar enough that we encourage folks to focus on the contractor more than the brand.
I am hopeful that if we can create a comprehensive questionaire that we can persuede the mod to post it (sans my lengthy preamble). You guys can help me decide if we need seperate lists for heating/cooling dominated climates.
Guests arriving I'll leave it to you.


1) Contractors years in business, years in geo and references
2) Manual J load*, summer and winter design temps
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system (horiz, vert, multipipe,etc.)
8) 1 or 2 stage
9) Price, rebates and tax credits
10) Brand, Type (water source or DX)

*Someone who does not care to give you exact btu's (IOW a free load calculation) but measures the house and provides most of the other info. Should not be automatically disqualified, but should have this available to you at signing.

Anyone with a question about a specific item may PM me or any other pro.

Joe

Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
dkubarekUser is Offline
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26 Nov 2009 06:02 PM
Joe. That would be very helpful and keep a lot of the hacks from getting business. I've noticed a few less than knowledgeable people in my area. Good luck!
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26 Nov 2009 07:56 PM
what about the wiki format for each topic? Like one for types of systems, benefits of each, problems of each. one on installation methods, materials, etc.

I made a replica arcade for my nephews and consulted the Build Your Own Arcade Controls wiki they did for a step by step method of completing it. worked great. The Q and A format should just be for niche questions and a wiki would eliminate repeated asking of basic questions. Anyone?
joe.amiUser is Offline
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26 Nov 2009 09:00 PM
Company arrived for Thanksgiving before I could kick off the list....
Suggested starters....(My thoughts are for heating dominated climate list).......and loose order of importance in my mind
1) Contractors years in business
2) Contractors credentials
3) Contractor's references
4) Manual J load
5) Size (in tons)
6) Balance Point
7) % of load covered
8) Tax credit qualification (Energy Star)
9) Warranties

Further down the list.....
Proposed loop system
Price
Brand
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
engineerUser is Offline
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26 Nov 2009 10:40 PM
I mulled this a bit and reviewed Dewayne's existing sticky. My criteria are a bit more technical, so may be inappropriate to a primer for potential new geo customers. One concern pops out since so many of these are retrofits over an existing fossil system

Will my present ducts work with the proposed geo system? If not, what work is needed to correct deficiencies? If so, how are you sure?
Curt Kinder

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is - Winston Churchill

www.greenersolutionsair.com
joe.amiUser is Offline
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26 Nov 2009 11:34 PM
I mulled this a bit and reviewed Dewayne's existing sticky.

Due respect to Dewayne and his imformative start point, do we not seem to ask the same questions over and over when folks are askinf for help comparing bids.
I'm interested in a prioritization of questions, and brevity. In our instant gratification world a simple 10 or 20 point questionaire allows folks to organize their thoughts and priorities and move away from "fools gold" salesman focus (i.e. the worlds highest efficiency unit.....that runs for $10/year less than that one).

So with your contribution and my own addendums we have;
1) Contractors years in business, credentials and references
2) Manual J load
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system
8) Price, rebates and tax credits
9) 1 or 2 stage
10) Brand

I've wrestled with whether or not brand is relevant and included it due to the 1 or 2 labels we can't endorse, but it is intentionally last. Efficiency and COP are intentionally absent as well, but I threw in stage to sort out major price distinctions.

j


Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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27 Nov 2009 07:49 AM
I think Joe has a great idea.

I would change the years in business to years doing geo.  Or maybe ask both. There are two long time HVAC contractors in our area who just started doing geo and they are making rookie mistakes.  But years in business means solidarity.

  Some one who has been in business for 20 years and doing geo for 1/2 a year, is probably a better bet than some one who has been in business 1 year and doing geo for 1.

My post that is pinned has a lot of info, maybe too much.  I wonder how many take the time to read it all.  I am thinking not very many.


I would like to see this list when finished,  put in a new post and then pinned to the top and then closed so that it is a easy, simple read.



And then maybe  another  list posted that went like this:

If you are posting for the first time  and have a problem,  please answer as many of these questions as you can.  Also please  post in short paragraphs, not one long sentence.

Where do you live?
Was a manual J done?
Was a manual D done?
How many bids did you get?
Why did you go with the installer?
What type of loop do you have?   open? closed? slinky? vertical? two pipe? four pipe?


etc....

Let's add to this list, refine it, and see if it will help.





Dewayne Dean
www.PalaceGeothermal.com
Why settle for 90% when you can have 400%
We heat and cool with dirt!
visit- http://welserver.com/WEL0114/- to see my system
joe.amiUser is Offline
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27 Nov 2009 08:06 AM
Dewayne,
Good point. I also have kicked around the idea of a questionaire for folks who have repair problems.....and I too wonder about how and why they picked a certain contractor (good or bad) to help others avoid similar mistakes or enjoy similar success.
Perhaps most importantly, I'm impatient and disinterested in answering the "what does a DSH look like" question when I'm trying to help with malfunction or selection of a new system. :)-
Our list now;
1) Contractors years in business, years in geo and references
2) Manual J load
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system
8) Price, rebates and tax credits
9) 1 or 2 stage
10) Brand
j
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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27 Nov 2009 08:43 AM
Looks good. I agree that EER / COP are essentially brand independent among equipment of the same basic types. I would like to either hint a little more strongly that their are a couple marginal brands or continue what I think we've been doing - suggest a bit of search-here-by-that-brand to assess whether it would be a good fit for the project. "Withholding endorsement" is a nice way to put that.

I really like the idea of two new stickies, one for folks with bids in hand, the other for folks with problems, whether real or perceived. Then we'd have a trio nicely aligned with typical geo project chronology: Interest, Bids, System in place.

Then we'd need to agree to (gently) circle the wagons and politely ask new posters to work through the sticky outline appropriate to their issue.
Curt Kinder

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is - Winston Churchill

www.greenersolutionsair.com
joe.amiUser is Offline
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30 Nov 2009 12:52 PM
With some input elsewhere, the current list is:

1) Contractors years in business, years in geo and references
2) Manual J load*, summer and winter design temps
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system (horiz, vert, multipipe,etc.)
8) 1 or 2 stage
9) Price, rebates and tax credits
10) Brand, Type (water source or DX)

*Someone who does not care to give you exact btu's (IOW a free load calculation) but measures the house and provides most of the other info. Should not be automatically disqualified, but should have this available to you at signing.
j
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
engineerUser is Offline
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01 Dec 2009 12:28 AM
I'm good with that.
Curt Kinder

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is - Winston Churchill

www.greenersolutionsair.com
TechGromitUser is Offline
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01 Dec 2009 09:48 AM

11) what colors do they come in?

Hey if you gonna pay 30k for it, it might as well make a fashion statement.

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01 Dec 2009 02:02 PM
This is great, but for some of the questions I have no idea what answer should make me feel good about going forward and what answer should alert me to potential issues. So in addition to the questions can we get a list of desireable answers; warning bell answers; or good,better, best answers?
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01 Dec 2009 03:01 PM
Posted By joe.ami on 11/30/2009 12:52 PM
With some input elsewhere, the current list is:

1) Contractors years in business, years in geo and references
2) Manual J load*, summer and winter design temps
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system (horiz, vert, multipipe,etc.)
8) 1 or 2 stage
9) Price, rebates and tax credits
10) Brand, Type (water source or DX)

1. Since Geothermal is a relatively new field, anything better than 3 years + I would think, they might have more years involved with general HVAC, but in general, your not going to find a lot of people with 10 year + experience specific to the Geo field.  (Warning sign #1, this is my first install, but YOU get a discount!)

2. Manual J load is performed by computer software, if your just getting estimates, don't expect them to share how they arrived to those numbers, but if you get them to do the work, get a computer print out of how the load was determined.  It's not completely unreasonable to have to pay $200 to get a Manual J performed, but you should have all the paperwork where those numbers came from when he's completed.  Once you have a Manual J, it's a lot easier to shop around armed with those numbers (providing of course they are good figures)

3. Size proposed This is based on the Manual J, not rule of thumb. This is why a Manual J is so important, you better off spending a couple of hundred for a Manual J than have someone use rule of thumb and oversize the system and charge you ten of thousands of dollars more than you have to for a system. 

4. Generally the duct work will have to be replaced, Geothermal systems require larger duct work, but if you converting from a Heat pump, they should be more than sufficient already. 

5. Look for 3 or more year warranties on the equipment and at least 1 year from the installer. It's not uncommon for installers to try and sell you a service contract to extend there warranty passed the first year. 

6. Refrigerant. I think this is more of a personal perferance at this point.  It's unlikely you'll have the system long enough to not have R-22 refrigerant available, and if so chances are they will come up with a compatible replacement in the mean time. R-410a requires heavier piping/ materials, so it's generally more expensive and I'm not convinced it's as efficient as R-22.  In another year it will not make a difference, R-410a for everyone.
 
7. Proposed loop system. This usually depends on local conditions. If the well water is compatible, Open loops are the best choice. Horizontal loops are cheaper to install than vertical loops, but require sufficient property size. Vertical loops are the most expensive, but very little property is required. You also have to remember, if you want to install a in ground swimming pool later, you have to plan you horizonal install around that future consideration. 

8. 1 or 2 stage. 2 stage is better, but will add $ to the cost of the basic geothermal system unit. 

9. Price, rebates, tax credits.  Make sure anything you install is energy star complaint, this is required for any state rebates or federal tax credits. 

10. Brand. In my opinion anything Florida heat pump, Climatemaster or Waterfurance is fine. There is also several brands that re-label the above manufactures, in general they should be fine as well.  Just make sure it's not a no-name brand that you can't trace back to one of these well known manufactures. 

Type. DX is suppose to be better. I don't have personal experience, but in makes sense, since there no heat transfer process between water and freon inside the geothermal unit, freon runs thou the entire system. Not avaiable in open loop configurations unless you hit a freon gas pocket while you drilling for your vertical loops.

11. Color - I recommend something stainless steel, something that matches your refig, dishwasher and stove. 
 

     


 
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01 Dec 2009 07:25 PM
You addressed who, what, how, how much, and where is implicit. When is left out. Perhaps it does not matter.

Regards,

Masoud
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01 Dec 2009 10:51 PM
TG, relatively new field? 1890's in Boise using hot springs, 1949ish in MI for open loop, a modern heat pump is closer to it's 50 year old predecessor than a modern furnace to it's forefather. I can not agree with other points on your list (including automatically replacing duct work and manual J coming from software only) and encourage shoppers to disregard.

Greg J,
bring the answers here. among the purposes of this list is to direct your questions to the contractor so that you can answer ours to help with the "what do ya think" questions.

Masoud,
I would add yours to the if I hire you list, vs the screening questions. I don't see turnaround as among the top ten compelling reasons to buy from someone. Of course my list again would be 1)contractor 2)everything else as I think the right contractor will have the right answers every where else. The problem that is most pertinent is when people ask you and I and other's here; who sounds like the best contractor for the job, but can't answer a couple qualifying questions.
J
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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02 Dec 2009 06:35 AM
Posted By joe.ami on 12/01/2009 10:51 PM
TG, relatively new field? 1890's in Boise using hot springs, 1949ish in MI for open loop, a modern heat pump is closer to it's 50 year old predecessor than a modern furnace to it's forefather. I can not agree with other points on your list (including automatically replacing duct work and manual J coming from software only) and encourage shoppers to disregard.


While your technically correct, you are also partly wrong.  While Geothermal system have been about since 1949, the growth has been painfully slow.  The Modern air conditioner was invented in 1902, by the 1960's most people had at least one unit, today, you be hard pressed to find a new house without central air. So in 60 years Air conditioning became a common appliance.  Apply those same 60 years to Geo, and you get no where near the market base. Any phone book has pages and pages of HVAC contractors, if your lucky, you'll find more than one specializing in Geo.  So yes, it's a new field in the sense that very few people specialize in it.   
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02 Dec 2009 07:40 AM
Posted By TechGromit on 12/02/2009 6:35 AM

[/quote]
While your technically correct, you are also partly wrong.  While Geothermal system have been about since 1949, the growth has been painfully slow.  The Modern air conditioner was invented in 1902, by the 1960's most people had at least one unit, today, you be hard pressed to find a new house without central air. So in 60 years Air conditioning became a common appliance.  Apply those same 60 years to Geo, and you get no where near the market base. Any phone book has pages and pages of HVAC contractors, if your lucky, you'll find more than one specializing in Geo.  So yes, it's a new field in the sense that very few people specialize in it.   


During the same period, for every geo there has been one less furnace sale. So if growth is your criteria for old , then furnaces are the "newest thing out there" as their market share is shrinking.
I can agree with you that less people specialize in it just not the time line. There are landmarks for geo companies. 1st are outfits that put in the earliest units though their children would be running the company by now. Next are the Carter administration guys with the first tax credits or along the same time line the original DX guys. Then guys who came in along the way for whatever reason (myself included). Finally guys that have just jumped on the bandwagon for recent tax credits (starting~ 2005). So with just 3 years, you are definately new to the business not experienced. However there is no magic, most of these guys would start by subbing to experienced loop contractors and as long as they are good mechanics with good track records all will be well.
The difference between an experienced mechanic working on geo and an experienced geo mechanic is ~ 1 hour in repair time.
Contractor integrity is most important.
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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02 Dec 2009 07:55 AM
Fundamentally, all geo adds to a conventional heat pump is the need for water flow at an acceptable temperature and rate and a properly functioning refrigerant-to-water heat exchanger.

In exchange for those 'three' items we get to give up three items: the outdoor condenser, its fan, and the defrost control board.

That's another way of agreeing that it isn't rocket science and contractor integrity trumps everything else.
Curt Kinder

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is - Winston Churchill

www.greenersolutionsair.com
joe.amiUser is Offline
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02 Dec 2009 10:38 PM
May i suggest that mod. pin this to the top?

1) Contractors years in business, years in geo and references
2) Manual J load*, summer and winter design temps
3) Size proposed (in tons)/percent of load covered/balance point
4) Is ductwork adequate to support system
5) Warranties
6) Refrigerant
7) Proposed loop system (horiz, vert, multipipe,etc.)
8) 1 or 2 stage
9) Price, rebates and tax credits
10) Brand, Type (water source or DX)

*Someone who does not care to give you exact btu's (IOW a free load calculation) but measures the house and provides most of the other info. Should not be automatically disqualified, but should have this available to you at signing.
j
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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