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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geomeUser is Offline
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16 Jul 2010 08:52 AM
I see both sides to this reliability issue.

Installation proficiency aside for the moment, there are probably reliability differences between manufacturers. Even if the majority of the internal components are the same, the assembly process, quality control, and remaining components will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer leading to difference in reliability. If anyone has data as to which brands are more reliable, or data showing that these differences are, or are not, significant, please share it with us.

With unit reliability information, homeowners may decide to choose a very reliable brand first, and then try to find a good installer of that brand second. In the absence of this reliability information, homeowners may decide to find good installers first, and then choose a brand second.
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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16 Jul 2010 11:20 AM
Posted By geome on 16 Jul 2010 08:52 AM
If anyone has data as to which brands are more reliable ...
Hard to imagine how it would be possible to create that data in such a way
that intrinsic "brand reliability" could be separated from installation quality.
In collecting the data, who would decide whether a failure should be blamed
on the manufacturer or the installer? ...or the homeowner?

...is Ford "more reliable" than Chevy?

Looby
One measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.
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16 Jul 2010 11:58 AM
I agree. It would need to be an independent certification under controlled conditions. I can't imagine anyone ever doing this. Even a customer survey on geothermal reliability (similar to the Consumer Reports car reliability ratings) may include installation problems, or lack of maintenance by the homeowner, etc.

P.S. I generally buy foreign cars, but I wouldn't refuse a Z06 if someone dropped one in my lap. :-)
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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18 Jul 2010 09:59 AM
"Hard to imagine how it would be possible to create that data in such a way
that intrinsic "brand reliability" could be separated from installation quality. "

Thank You.

Guys I'm not suggesting there aren't subtle distinctions between brands, I'm just saying their impact pales in comparison to dealer contribution. In more than 20+ years of HVAC work I have no opinion on which is "the best heat pump". I know which is best for me (as a dealer) but that has little to do with assertions of best heat pump.
A good contractor with a bad heat pump, and customer will still be satisfied (good contractor will do what it takes to make it so, even if it takes unit replacement).
Bad install-design-contractor with "the best heat pump". Customer will never be satisfied, though they might come here and complain that manufacturer won't fix it for them.

j
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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18 Jul 2010 12:12 PM
Posted By joe.ami on 18 Jul 2010 09:59 AM

Bad install-design-contractor with "the best heat pump". Customer will never be satisfied, though they might come here and complain that manufacturer won't fix it for them.

j


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29 Jul 2010 11:55 AM
Posted By geome on 16 Jul 2010 08:52 AM
I see both sides to this reliability issue.

Installation proficiency aside for the moment, there are probably reliability differences between manufacturers. Even if the majority of the internal components are the same, the assembly process, quality control, and remaining components will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer leading to difference in reliability. If anyone has data as to which brands are more reliable, or data showing that these differences are, or are not, significant, please share it with us.

With unit reliability information, homeowners may decide to choose a very reliable brand first, and then try to find a good installer of that brand second. In the absence of this reliability information, homeowners may decide to find good installers first, and then choose a brand second.

I'm just a curious potential consumer, so I don't know much (yet) about manufacturers in this field.  However, I have done exactly this sort of analysis on marine diesel engines; units which can cost millions of dollars each and for which unit failure can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost per day. 

Given that they are both factory manufactured, high-tech, mechanical units, I think it might be a good parallel, even though the engines are a different scale (and thus was able to justify the cost of the analysis).

After substantial analysis, the conclusion was that between the top three manufacturers, the difference was irrelevant and success or failure depends far more on the shipyard (installer) and ship's engineers (maintenance/service).  It was hard evidence that installation faults inevitably and logically surpass factories, with good QA programs and substantial product experience, in terms of reliability issues.  Also, big manufacturing brands will have design issues ironed out before product release.  There just isn't enough difference between manufacturers for reliability to be a serious selection criteria, even on a more massive and complex equipment scale.

Thus, after this analysis, my assessment criteria for a propulsion plant on a ship, provided it involves one of the recognized engine manufacturers, uses virtually the same philosophy as joe.ami's questionnaire:  Installation/service far above brand, provided the brands compared are established and respectable.  Furthermore, it supports his theory that the best choice amongst the recognized brands is the one that your installer is familiar with (though in the marine diesel case it's much more skewed towards what the maintenance/service are familiar with).

In short, great questionnaire joe.ami.  Thanks.  And I hope my comparison helps to alleviate some of the concerns about the relevance of manufacturer reliability.

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29 Jul 2010 02:04 PM
Welcome Riel. For big propulsion equipment, there is a lot more that goes into it. Nothing like residential geo would be. A hundred customers left out in the cold and some finger pointing and most would never hear the story let alone the truth. Have a passenger ship stuck in the ocean someplace and millions will know within hours.
Tougher for a purchasing agent to buy that brand.
I consider geo to be a niche market as far as residential units. Lots of small players. And since installers are independent, how well does the companies train and then back them up? I've worked in the service business for a long time. I have gone out to work on stuff that my company made and never seen before.
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29 Jul 2010 06:23 PM
Posted By Volleyball on 29 Jul 2010 02:04 PM
Welcome Riel. For big propulsion equipment, there is a lot more that goes into it. Nothing like residential geo would be. A hundred customers left out in the cold and some finger pointing and most would never hear the story let alone the truth. Have a passenger ship stuck in the ocean someplace and millions will know within hours.
Tougher for a purchasing agent to buy that brand.
I consider geo to be a niche market as far as residential units. Lots of small players. And since installers are independent, how well does the companies train and then back them up? I've worked in the service business for a long time. I have gone out to work on stuff that my company made and never seen before.

Thanks Volleyball.  While I agree that the parallel doesn't hold 100% and the stakes may be higher in marine propulsion equipment, in reading a handful of posts here, I've already gained the impression that there are three or four solid brands in the ground source heat pump sector who have good QA and thus few manufacturing related defects.  I think the parallel is solid enough to conclude that concrete evidence that installation and maintenance errors are far more common and relevant to the consumer than manufacturing defects in mechanical devices does exist.

Ironically, I just heard a story a few minutes ago about a ferry gone in for refit, where the maitainers forgot to put the crankcase oil back in.  Ten minutes after going out on sea trials and they were out of commission for three months waiting for parts for their blown out engine.  That one hasn't made the news, but it has certainly inconvenienced a lot of people.  I've got a lot of similar stories about installation and maintenance errors, but I've never heard of a manufacturing defect of that magnitude from any of the big manufacturers.

I think a good conclusion would be that you should pay close attention to point #10 on the list of questions, but only in so far as the answer is one of the reputable and recognized brands.  If it is, don't worry.  And as such, its relative priority is well placed on the list.
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29 Jul 2010 07:37 PM
Posted By Riel on 29 Jul 2010 06:23 PM
Ironically, I just heard a story a few minutes ago about a ferry gone in for refit, where the maitainers forgot to put the crankcase oil back in.  Ten minutes after going out on sea trials and they were out of commission for three months waiting for parts for their blown out engine.  That one hasn't made the news, but it has certainly inconvenienced a lot of people.  I've got a lot of similar stories about installation and maintenance errors, but I've never heard of a manufacturing defect of that magnitude from any of the big manufacturers.
It's not often I pull out a college textbook, but I did only to illustrate that manufacturing defects can be of a significant magnitude from a big manufacturer:

Per the accounting textbook, this excerpt is from a Quaker State Oil Refining Corp. annual report.  The textbook is from 1986.

"Note 5: Contingencies. During the period from November 13 to December 23, a change in an additive component purchased from one of its suppliers caused certain oil refined and shipped to fail to meet the Company's low-temperature performance requirements. The Company has recalled this product and has arranged for reimbursement to its customers and the ultimate consumers of all costs associated with the product. Estimated cost of the recall program, net of estimated third party reimbursement, in the amount of $3,500,000 has been charged to current operations."

Purely coincidence that both stories involve oil. 

P.S.  Of course, I suppose Toyota recalls would have been a much shorter and more recent example. 
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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29 Jul 2010 08:21 PM
Posted By geome on 29 Jul 2010 07:37 PM
It's not often I pull out a college textbook, but I did only to illustrate that manufacturing defects can be of a significant magnitude from a big manufacturer:

Per the accounting textbook, this excerpt is from a Quaker State Oil Refining Corp. annual report.  The textbook is from 1986.

"Note 5: Contingencies. During the period from November 13 to December 23, a change in an additive component purchased from one of its suppliers caused certain oil refined and shipped to fail to meet the Company's low-temperature performance requirements. The Company has recalled this product and has arranged for reimbursement to its customers and the ultimate consumers of all costs associated with the product. Estimated cost of the recall program, net of estimated third party reimbursement, in the amount of $3,500,000 has been charged to current operations."

Purely coincidence that both stories involve oil. 

P.S.  Of course, I suppose Toyota recalls would have been a much shorter and more recent example. 

That does shoot some reasonably effective holes in my argument.  However, you have to admit that those types of incidents, while highly publicized are also relatively rare compared to installation and maintenance failure rates.  Of course, one can't come up with statistics for installation problems in cars since there is no parrallel, but I'm sure the catastrophic failure rates due to poor or neglected maintenance are astronomically higher than the Toyota recall or slightly degraded oil performance problems.

Another big factor in the geothermal sector that doesn't track well with any of our examples is that some of the system design is left to the installer.  If Toyota started selling cars say without any braking system and relied on third parties with variable/and or questionable qualifications to install their own designed braking systems when they sold the cars, would you be worrying more about the quality of the engine or the quality of the brakes?
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29 Jul 2010 08:36 PM
Overall, I agree with you. Odds favor reputable manufacturers that stand behind their product, and experienced installers with great references.
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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16 Aug 2010 11:49 PM
It's been about 2 years since I started thinking about going geothermal. Last fall I started following the excellent dialogue that goes on at this forum. Many very thoughtful contributors. I live in SE Ohio. Our split level house was built in 1956 and has pretty decent insulation, but uses oil for heat. I’m pretty sure going geothermal is the right thing to do, but was stuck on what manufactuer and contractor to use.

Two contractors provided me a quote for a 4 ton closed loop vertical bore unit. One was a WF Envision the other a Bryant which I am fairly certain is a Climate Master. Pricing was within 8% of each other with the WF being the higher. The WF contractor says they do about 120 units a year, the Bryant I believe said he did 60 last year. The WF contractor only does geothermal while the Bryant does both conventional HVAC and GTHP. The WF contractor appears to have been doing GTHP installations for 20 years versus the 10 years for the Bryant contractor.

I am inclined to go the WF route due to the fact that they are di.rect representation (not selling equipment rebadged) and due to the fact that they are GTHP only. Both manufacturers have similar construction, using the same Copeland compressors. The WF has a 10 year electronics warranty, but the Bryant only 5 years. Am I off base to be leaning towards the WF? Am I missing something?

Also, after reading many of the posts here, I see there are many potential pitfalls. I really like the fact that there was a check list for us newbies to consider before getting started. Is there a similar check list for once the project has been initiated?

Thanks for your help.
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17 Aug 2010 01:39 AM
Posted By Gopher-Buckeye on 16 Aug 2010 11:49 PM


I am inclined to go the WF route due to the fact that they are di.rect representation (not selling equipment rebadged) and due to the fact that they are GTHP only. Both manufacturers have similar construction, using the same Copeland compressors. The WF has a 10 year electronics warranty, but the Bryant only 5 years. Am I off base to be leaning towards the WF? Am I missing something?


Thanks for your help.
Not pushing one or the other, but the Bryant units manufactured after July 1, 2010 now have 10 years on all components, before this date it was 10 years on the compressor and  refrigeration circuit and 5 on everything else.

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17 Aug 2010 08:29 AM
Gopher-Buckeye, if you have the time, you may want to consider getting more quotes, even from installers that sell the same equipment since pricing varies.

Don't underestimate the possibility that both installers MAY be able to come down in price if asked. I would do the following ONLY when you are ready to sign an agreement.

NICELY tell the installer that you want to go with that you want him to do the installation, and ask him if he has any flexibility in price? Tell him that his price is about 10% higher than you were hoping to spend, and that you can commit immediately if pricing can be worked out. The worst he should say is that he simply can't do any better. Best case, he may be able to give you another 5-10% off. It just depends on how much latitude he has built into his initial price to you. You don't really need to use other quotes as leverage. If asked, you can tell him that you have other quotes that are in the price range you expected.

Good luck.
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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17 Aug 2010 09:14 AM
Buckeye,
Sounds like both installers are very experienced. Based on your comments, I don't see either as a clear runaway from the other.
I happen to sell conventional and geo systems. Some folk's situations are not a good fit for geo and if I've invested the research to determine that, I'd still like a shot at the job.

I can see asking your installer if they are flexible on the price.....we have some fudge factor (MC or Visa for instance cost us hundreds to accept, on a project this big, so if you are paying cash...).
If someone however asked for 10% off, my common reply would be "sure; what would you like me to leave out?". Further if I sense you are lying to me ("the other guys are in the price range I want") I'm going to suggest that you might be happier with the other guys. We have a sense of what "the other guys" charge.
You have to trust the installer you employ, but the installer has to trust you as well. There is much a customer can do to waste a lot of contractor time and money. I might work for someone that I suspect has lied to me, but they will pay more than customers I trust.
Good Luck,
Joe
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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17 Aug 2010 11:42 AM
More to the point, I would ask the installer for his bottom line price. Maybe there will be a price adjustment, maybe not - and I would respect that. I would not respect a suggestion that I would be happier with someone else. I would say goodbye at that point. If an installer says to me "what do you want to leave out" I'd say "Nothing, I want your bottom line price for what has been quoted."

No lie implied. I did say "about 10%", and suggested getting more quotes. Senses vary. Personally I don't think anyone could have predicted our range of quotes to be from $25,000 to $39,000 (for the same equipment) with several quotes being around $30,000. We have seen lots of other quotes here and elsewhere (recently) that vary by much more than 10% as well. Based on what I read in these forums, 10% does not seem all that unusual.

It's fine for installers and homeowners to walk away. Despite posturing on pricing issues on my part and others, successful negotiations on the homeowner side may ultimately depend on the number of competent installers in your area and the quotes received, and successful negotiations on the installer side may depend on how much work they have, want or need.
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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17 Aug 2010 10:32 PM
" You don't really need to use other quotes as leverage. If asked, you can tell him that you have other quotes that are in the price range you expected."
Apologies. Since Buckeye mentioned only 2 suitors this comment about "other quotes" struck me as disingenuous.
If it was not your intent to suggest deceit, my bad.
"We have seen lots of other quotes here and elsewhere (recently) that vary by much more than 10% as well. Based on what I read in these forums, 10% does not seem all that unusual"
My only observation on this point is folks should not mistake a 10% higher price as 10% more margin. Some companies (generally larger ones) have much higher cost of doing business. IOWs most expensive guy could make less than the cheapest (per job).
Frankly I would suggest folks flee from someone who drops 10% off a 5 figure estimate without batting an eye. They are either desperate or have a whole lot of excess in their bid. Either one should make them suspect.
j
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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18 Aug 2010 01:30 AM
My inclination is to price it fairly from the get go and not haggle. If the other guy wants it more and I fail to communicate what makes our service a better value, then it is time to move on.

Unless some factor that reduces cost or risk comes to my attention in the course of discussion about the proposed work and its price, I am not inclined to drop my price simply upon request. Doing so communicates a couple undesirable messages chief among which is that my price was configured to rip off the customer absent a request for a discount.

Word gets around - if one customer gets a discount merely by asking for it, the customers who failed to ask for and get a discount will become resentful. There goes my best source of future business - referrals by happy prior customers.
Curt Kinder

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

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18 Aug 2010 08:21 AM
I see what you mean. I should have said - "You don't really need to use other quotes That You Have as leverage." This is what I was thinking. :-) I have found that sharing quotes for anything that is not 100% Identical can be an arguing point. For instance, minor details written on one quote and not on another even though you have a verbal that it will be done. Or one installer may not speak kindly of another installer, etc.

I wouldn't suggest that anyone say, "sure, here's a discount since you asked for one." As was pointed out, sometimes there are ways of getting there, some as simple as not paying by credit card. If you know you're close on price and don't budge when you can, it may be that both parties lose out. Obviously, it's up to the installer to make the ultimate decision.
Homeowner with WF Envision NDV038 (packaged) & NDZ026 (split), one 3000' 4 pipe closed horizontal ground loop, Prestige thermostats, desuperheaters, 85 gal. Marathon.
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18 Aug 2010 11:08 AM
Geome,
I think we're on the same page here, but I would caution folks that contractors have a bit of fudge factor in every job.
It is our experience that an allowance for contingincies lets us avoid returning to customers to ask for extra money when something out of contract arises.
One nice couple recently benefitted from the job going very smoothly. Since he did his own electrical may things were provided for him out of our shop as we were able to "over deliver" based on the ease of his job.
It is true that folks ask me "is that the best you can do" and I'm not offended. Unlike gas stations I am contractually not allowed to offer cash discounts vs charge cards, but they may " stumble" on the idea themselves. I also explain the "contingency allowance" and ask if they would prefer the tightest possible "estimate" (that may or may not rise), or a turn-key price.
Most prefer a firm price.
My relationship with my customers is such that if I make the "sure, what would you like me to leave out" comment it is conversational not adversarial. It is simply a half jesting way to explain that the discount asked for makes the job unattractive for me to do to our mutual satisfaction.
Joe
Joe Hardin www.amicontracting.com We Dig Comfort! www.doityourselfgeothermal.com Dig Your Own Comfort!
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