Geothermal Jobs Have a Lot of Upside
We threw out our oil burner 10 years ago and installed our 5-ton geothermal HVAC. We decided to do it when oil deliveries approached $500 each. We also did it, in part, because we could pay for the system by the time we retired. Paying for oil deliveries on a fixed income sounded like something best avoided. And reducing emissions also fit our way of life.
We learned about geothermal through water well organizations, at trade shows and in journals like National Driller. We started the process while speaking with a local well drilling contractor, Negley’s, at a home show.
Our project was relatively easy. We have 25 acres and lots of space in our yard for a rig. Negley’s drilled two 375-foot-deep holes. We had no worries about cuttings control. After they were done drilling and the cuttings dried out a little bit, I used them to fill potholes in my dirt driveway. If you guys could package that, I think there is a market there for dirt driveway patch materials.
I love my geothermal HVAC and use every opportunity to talk about it. Years ago, my wife bought hay from a friend, whose husband drove the truck out to deliver it. He was a homebuilder, so I asked him, “When building new homes, why don’t you guys put in geothermal HVAC systems?” His answer was that he wanted his customer to spend money on the work he — not someone else — did. I guess he was afraid of losing that drilling and loop money, and he preferred that customers spent it instead on another bathroom. This is why we need to work to spread the word, because homebuyers aren’t always offered this option by homebuilders. At least, that was the case then.
Geothermal is getting attention even in areas where you wouldn’t typically expect. In Fulton County, Pa., the historic courthouse went geothermal. It was a 56-hole, 400-foot-deep project in a relatively small lot bounded by a cemetery and municipal parking areas. Controlling cuttings was important. Negley’s had the contract.
How difficult was this task? After the drilling started, I hopped over the mountain to see how it was going. There were three other local drillers at the gate watching. They had wanted to quote it, but had reservations on handling the cuttings. They were there to see how it was done. A containment area was built and the cuttings were moved around on skid loaders. The job was successfully done, and our neighboring county’s historical courthouse now has modern geothermal HVAC.
I was proud of my local M&T Bank when it built a new branch in Chambersburg, Pa. It was designed for energy savings with special windows and skylights. It has all kinds of automated ventilation and heat-recovery systems. It even collects rainwater and saves 30 percent on its water bill. And it has geothermal HVAC. A driller came and drilled holes for a vertical loop system.
I have been on a couple of school projects where there were 300 holes, 500-feet-deep. These can take a fleet of rigs and the financial strength to do a project like this, knowing the payment can take some time.
When it comes to geothermal, customers could be owners of private homes up to large commercial buildings, or managers of medium and large government projects. Some jobs are handled by the “one rig” contractor, and some require four to six rigs. There’s something for everybody.
This industry is driven by the desire to save money and/or the desire to help our environment. Sometimes these efforts get caught up in today’s divisive politics. We all grimace when we read about legislators making rules and regulations. Are they going to protect our aquifers, or protect someone’s wallet? Are they going to help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or do they have some other interests? Water well driller organizations must push for our lawmakers to provide the safety net for our aquifers, and to help promote the benefits of geothermal HVAC.
Regardless, geothermal helps all of us in this industry. Even if you do not get involved in geothermal work, you might get water jobs because your competition is tied up on a geothermal project. Geothermal has helped level the ups and downs of demand. It has saved many contractors from closing the doors when housing was down. Geothermal has also enabled business expansion. In some cases, it enabled the “and son” or “and daughter” to be added to the company name. Perhaps geothermal paves the way for contractors to also buy a smaller rig that can open up other business areas, such as geotechnical.
We talk a lot about geothermal’s home heating benefits but, for us, geothermal also gave us central air conditioning. It’s really inexpensive AC — to the point where my glasses fog up when I come in from summer yard work, and I don’t feel extravagant one bit. And that’s not counting aiding my hot water heater.
With my geothermal project, I made my wife happy, my wallet happy and the families of the drilling company happy. I borrowed the money, so I even made my bank happy. And, if geothermal work generates a drill rod order, it will make me even happier still.