Geothermal systems are becoming very popular in the rural areas of central Illinois. Just ask Bob Goskusky, owner and president of Town & Country Services in Tonica, Ill. Word-of-mouth “advertising” from satisfied customers (as well as the traditional kind of advertising) helped grow the company’s business 20 percent last year. That’s not bad for a small, 91-year-old plumbing and HVAC contracting company with 15 employees (six in the field) located in a heavily rural area.
However, when the company installed its first geothermal system about 15 years ago, it didn’t see a lot of interest in most of its residential customers in the three-county area it serves. It’s an area ideal for geothermal installations (plenty of land to install the vertical loop portion of the system).
“About 50 miles south of here is a very active geothermal dealer,” Goskusky says. “It’s a common heat source there and the company has installed hundreds of systems. But it just hadn’t caught on in this area yet. I believe part of the reason is there weren’t many units out there for people to look at and become familiar with the technology.”
However, consumer perception regarding this eco-friendly technology has changed in his neck of the woods, and he believes the federal government’s 30 percent geothermal tax incentive is a big part of the reason. It came about the same time that propane, which is the primary heating source in most rural areas, he says, spiked at $3 per gallon.
When Town & Country Services was founded in 1919, the contracting business was a very small part of the company - and a geothermal system was like Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. The business focus was on the retail side - hardware and major appliances. That’s not unusual when you consider how far people may have had to travel to buy a new washing machine or a hammer and nails. Fourth-generation owner Goskusky helped change that when he joined the company 29 years ago.
And while running the family business was not part of his plan, Goskusky came home from college to help his father when he became ill. Once he made the decision to stay, he began to grow the contracting side of the business and reduce the retail portion.
Today, the company continues to be a family business. Bob’s wife, Vicki Goskusky, is on the company’s board of directors and oversees the retail operations. The fifth generation is represented by: the Goskuskys’ future son-in-law, Luke Weiden, who joined the company almost a year ago (he has a business background and, as vice president, helps Bob manage the company); Weiden’s fiancee, Liz, who recently started working for her father full-time as general manager (she and Weiden will marry in June); and the Goskuskys’ son, Joe, who works part-time at Town & Country when he’s not busy with his college classes.
Looking For Energy EfficiencyTown & Country recently completed four residential geothermal heat pump jobs that began in 2009 - two were new construction, two retrofit. The company used to install geo systems in new homes only, but as people in the area have become more aware of the technology and how it can save them money on fuel bills, it’s become a viable option for the replacement market.
Mitch Sellett, a Dimmick, Ill., homeowner undergoing an extensive renovation of his home, is one Town & Country Services customer who recently made the decision to install a geothermal heat pump system. After spending thousands of dollars on propane the previous winter to heat his 2,700-square-foot home, he wanted to replace his forced-air gas furnace and split-system air conditioner with an energy-efficient system during the renovation (which added 1,200 square feet to the home).
“I wanted to find a solution that would make my family less dependent on the price volatility of propane,” he says.
Aware of the great reputation Town & Country has in the area, Sellett contacted Goskusky and Weiden for a proposal.
It’s “critically important” to get systems sized correctly in order to accurately show customers what the energy savings will be, he adds. Town & Country uses ClimateMaster Geodesigner software to calculate energy savings for customers. The energy efficiency from geothermal heat pumps comes from the fact they do not use energy to heat or cool the air, only to move warmer or cooler air into and out of the home.
In the winter months, the circulating fluid in the loop system draws heat from the earth and carries it to the heat pump. In the summer months, the heat pump absorbs heat from the home’s air and transfers it to the fluid circulating through the loop. The heat is then absorbed by the earth.
According to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the life of a geothermal system is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and more than 50 years for the ground loop.
The energy savings demonstrated by Town & Country - as well as the money he would recoup from the federal tax credit, an Illinois tax credit and an electricity rate discount from local energy utility Corn Belt - sold Sellett on geothermal for his home.
To replace the old heating/air-conditioning system and accommodate the additional square footage of the home, two ClimateMaster geothermal heat pumps (provided by Connor Co. of Peru, Ill.) were installed - one 4-ton unit and one 3-ton unit. The 7-ton vertical piping loop, put in near the fence line and brought into the crawl space, was subcontracted to central Illinois-based Tri-State Trenching & Drilling.
The project’s been underway for about seven months; the geo system has been running since late summer. Other than coordinating the installation amid jobsite chaos, the job went smoothly, says field supervisor and lead geothermal installation tech Jacob Hook. The complexity of the job was overwhelming for Sellett, who is doing his own general contracting on the renovation. And no, this is not his regular job - Sellett is CEO of Architects & Engineers Insurance Co. of Naperville, Ill., which provides liability coverage for architectural and engineering firms nationwide.
Sellett, his wife and two kids have been staying at Grand Bear Lodge in nearby Utica, Ill., for about three months as the noise and mess were too much for them. They haven’t been able to really appreciate the geothermal system yet, he says, but they are anxiously awaiting the day they can move back in!
Goskusky is confident that Sellett will be pleased with the performance of the system. He’s received positive feedback from customers but he wants to go further. He wants to implement a tracking system for his replacement customers that will catalog customers’ previous fuel bills, compare those figures to current bills and calculate their actual energy savings.
“Geothermal is definitely an investment,” Goskusky says. “You’re going to spend thousands more than a standard forced-air gas system, but we have the technology to properly size the job and show our customers that the payback is there and within easy reach.”