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PATH Case Study

Builder Grounds Business on Geothermal Heat Pumps


Continued from Page 1

In his bid to build the model home, David Ritchie included plans for an energy efficiency package, including geothermal heat pumps.

"On a 2,000-square-foot house, it can cost about $4,000 more to install a 3-ton GHP system around here, but it depends on what you're comparing it with," says Lloyd Klassen, owner of Lloyd's Heat and Air and Ritchie's long-time HVAC subcontractor. "If you're comparing to a bottom-of-the-line gas furnace and air conditioner, it might be a little bit more than that. If you're comparing it to a quality high-efficiency furnace and air conditioner, there's not a whole lot of difference in cost. The real difference, in that case, is the drilling. That runs about $1,200 a ton of GHP capacity."

"On that size home, we'll put 2½-tons of capacity in, which is less tonnage than air-to-air systems because the efficiency of GHPs is not adversely affected by varying outdoor temperatures," says Klassen. "The geothermal system relies on 62-degree well water

compared to the air unit, which has to handle 100-degree temperatures in the summer in Oklahoma. That means about a 20-percent increase in capacity over air units."


"The biggest challenge for me was just overcoming my initial skepticism. To take a risk on a zero-profit bid takes a lot of confidence and trust in the product, and that's not always something I felt about GHPs," says Ritchie.

"It was OG&E that really got me started on GHPs in 1999. Before that, I was like every other builder around: if you'd asked me if I built energy-efficient homes, I would've said yes. And I thought I did, but in fact, I didn't really know what energy efficiency was."


GHPs use the constant temperature of the ground or water below the earth's surface to efficiently heat and cool a home.

A GHP system consists of indoor heat pump equipment, a ground loop, and a flow center to connect the indoor and outdoor equipment. The ground loop, which is invisible after installation, allows the exchange of heat between the earth and the heat pump.

Horizontal ground loops are typically the most economical and are used in new construction with adequate space. Vertical installations (or more compact horizontal installations) have less impact on the landscape and are therefore more often used in existing buildings.

"I had read about the OG&E program, and asked for some information about it. Some people from OG&E came to my office and pitched me on geothermal. I really became irritated and I almost kicked them out of the office, but then they talked me into looking at some geothermal homes around Oklahoma City. After talking to those builders and to distributors, I started to get a little more interested. Then I took a class about geothermal for HVAC technicians, where I learned that geothermal offered tremendous energy efficiencies."

"When David switched to geothermal, the quality of his homes was then recognized as being above and beyond what else was in the marketplace," says Mike Newcombe, an OG&E program development coordinator. "With the things that he's done, he's now considered the premier builder for energy efficiency in the Enid area."

"For somebody who doesn't know a lot--which is where I started--I advise that you find yourself a good contractor that you can work with and that you trust completely," Ritchie says. "Make sure the guy has some experience. My HVAC contractor has pulled me out of the fire more times than you can shake a stick at. When you first start putting GHPs in, you need somebody who's good and who's going to take care of you. Eventually, you get to a point where you are comfortable with geo, but it takes time."

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Content updated on 9/5/2006

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