You Know the Drill: Drilling Goes Geothermal
Dan Rau, PE, has been involved in the geothermal industry since late 1999, when he first began his adventure into the field.
Rau started working for an engineering firm, where he specialized in the design of highly efficient geothermal heating and cooling systems. After he and his wife, Kari, moved to Colorado, he shadowed another geothermal driller in hopes of learning even more about the ins and outs of geothermal processes. He then utilized his engineering background — and his latest knowledge — to improve and build more efficient, safe and streamlined equipment, so installations would require less equipment and manpower.
With all of those skills and experiences combined, Rau’s company, Colorado Geothermal Drilling, has been designing and installing vertical bore loop fields for geothermal heat pump systems since 2005.
“Some of the systems we’ve installed have consisted of residential homes ranging from 1,500- to 40,000-square-feet utilizing geothermal heat pump systems,” Rau says. “Larger systems we’ve designed and installed have ranged from 10,000- to 300,000-square-foot commercial facilities, requiring 20 to 300 tons of heating and cooling.”
Today, Colorado Geothermal Drilling provides specialized design/installation packages based on the desires of HVAC/mechanical contractors, contractors/builders, and/or residential customers. They’ve completed over 500 geothermal projects and have supplied their customers with energy efficient and environmentally friendly geothermal heat pump systems — with a savings of 30- to 70-percent on heating and cooling costs.
“We specialize in filling in the gaps and doing the work that the normal mechanical contractor does not provide,” Rau says.
Q. What do you do, and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. I do everything from sales, design, bidding, project coordination, pipe fusing and moving equipment, to meeting with homeowners and contractors. The diversity of my workload from day to day makes it easier to go to work each day. We focus on quality installations from design to installation, and providing homeowners/business owners with quality systems that operate as advertised. This keeps us going and leads to more projects and referrals.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. For me, a typical day is heading out to the shop at 4 a.m. and making sure the guys have everything they need to head out and drill. Sometimes, I have to meet with contractors and homeowners or do some designing, or speak with HVAC contractors and coordinate jobs. We also focus on our processes and streamlining them to make them more efficient and less labor intensive. Fourteen years later, we are still working on refining our process and building custom equipment in-house to make our processes better.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. No matter what business you’re running, the quality of the product you’re selling and installing has to be the best. We pride ourselves in working with the homeowner or builder to give them the most efficient system to meet their needs. We are constantly evaluating our processes, trying to make our installations as safe, streamlined and efficient as possible. Our employees are key to this quality, as everyone is part of the project, and we all have to be on the same page to make sure we are all providing the client with the same quality installation as we would do for our own houses.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. Starting from scratch presented many challenges. We built the company right before the recession, and that brought many worries as some of our biggest competitors began to go out of business. We’ve generally had a motto of, “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” Sticking to this has helped us power through and see our business grow each year. Finding other successful business owners and learning how they’ve mastered their craft is invaluable. We started this company so that I could get out of the office and do some of the actual work, but as a business grows, it does demand more office work — but it is currently at a good mix.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Our drill is a custom one-off unit, specialized for tight spaces, and we are able to do many jobs in the Colorado Front Range that may have not been able to go geothermal. Also, our employees. At this point in the business, 14 years after we started, we couldn’t do what we do without great employees. They are the best at what they do. We get lots of compliments on how fast, safe, efficient and hardworking our crew is.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Like I mentioned earlier, it would have to be, “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” You learn the most from your mistakes. When we started our company, the economy was starting its downward slide. It didn’t affect us as much as it would others because we started at zero and were slowly growing every year. We also learned that early on it’s important to reinvest in your company. We worked hard to not over leverage ourselves and spent a lot of time making sure we were being as streamlined and efficient as possible.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. With current federal tax credits in place and nice utility rebate offerings, geothermal is primed to do well. The most difficult part is educating people on what it can do. Most don’t know anything about it since you can’t see it. Our business has been growing steadily and with renewed interest in climate change, reducing carbon emissions, energy efficiency and saving money, geothermal is a great answer to tackling these huge present-day issues.