Geothermal in the Dakotas
Installations in farm shops and homes boost contractor’s sales
For CDJ Electric, Plumbing & Heating in Britton, S.D., farm shops are one of the most popular applications for geothermal heating-and-cooling systems.
“Farmers can’t get the tax credits for geothermal projects, but they can get some federal grant money,” CDJ co-owner Jason Teveldal explains.
Energy efficiency has become a central focus of the contracting company, which does business in northeast South Dakota and southeast North Dakota. The company started in 2000 by doing traditional plumbing, heating and electrical work, and CDJ eventually expanded into the geothermal market.
“We had been doing heating for quite awhile and decided we wanted to get into geothermal because of the efficiency benefits it could bring to customers,” Teveldal says.
From the ground up
The energy savings offered by geothermal systems can be impressive. CDJ customers usually save 50% or more on their utility bills, Teveldal notes. The contractor in late 2009 did a geothermal project that involved an 8,000-sq.-ft. farm shop with 20-ft.-high side walls.
“In January 2010, their heating bill was $140,” he says.
At about the same time, CDJ did another geothermal project for a customer whose farm shop is about 9,000 sq. ft.
“He ended up having to spend only $1,000 for the year to heat and cool his shop,” Teveldal says. “His neighbor, whose farm shop I did not do, installed an electric boiler. He was spending up to $900 a month just for heat, and he doesn’t have the air-conditioning option in the summer.”
More recently, CDJ installed a geothermal project for a 16,600-sq.-ft. farm shop with a 720-sq.-ft. office on the side. The system powers radiant floors and air conditioning in both the shop and the office.
The system’s equipment includes two 12-ton water-to-water heat pumps manufactured by Northern Heat Pump. The farm shop’s radiant floor has a separate 15-ton hydronic fan coil for air conditioning. The ductwork has a 28-in.-round and 120-in.-long duct sock on it going from one end of the shop to the other. The office’s radiant floor is equipped with a separate 2-ton hydronic fan coil for air conditioning.
First Co. manufactured the air handler for the shop. The nonpressurized buffer tank comes from B&D Manufacturing, which also manufactured the loop field pump, a multizone variable-speed smart pump. The nonpressurized ground loop is equipped with a 3-hp Grundfos pump.
“There are controls on the heat pumps, so, depending on how many are running, the ground loop pump will adjust accordingly,” Teveldal explains.
CDJ installed ventilation equipment in the shop to provide safety for welding hoods and cleaning activities. The contractor purchased all the products for the project from Aberdeen, S.D.-based Dakota Supply Group.
Boon to business
CDJ receives two to three calls a day from people who want to know more about geothermal installations. Many calls are from people asking about residential applications. Over the last four years, the company has installed an average of 15 systems annually.
“We do several geothermal replacement jobs in existing homes,” Teveldal states. “In addition, we do geothermal systems on about 99% of all of the new houses we work on.”
Federal tax credits of 30% are available to residential customers for geothermal projects. These credits are set to expire Dec. 31, 2016. They are available for closed loop and open loop water-to-air systems, closed loop and open loop water-to-water systems and direct expansion systems.
CDJ does very little advertising to promote its expertise with geothermal systems. In fact, Teveldal says, it gets 90% of its geothermal project business from word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers.
“We have a large client base and when they find out we offer geothermal, they call us,” he adds.
Another appeal to customers is that CDJ provides a virtual turnkey project, making it convenient for its customers.
“Customers like the idea of only having to deal with one person,” Teveldal says. “They don’t have to worry about finding other contractors. When we do a project, we do almost everything. We have a sheet metal shop, and we do our own custom ductwork. We also do our own insulating, controls and wiring.”
The only part the company subcontracts is vertical loop drilling because the process can get very tricky. CDJ contracts with T.W. Construction in Bath, S.D., which has specialized in geothermal vertical drilling for five years. One of the challenges is that the driller never knows completely what he’s going to hit until he starts drilling.
“We can figure out ahead of time where the wires and pipes are,” T.W.’s owner Tony Wollman says. “However, it’s the rocks that you can’t plan for. There is no way to know what’s 200 ft. down.”
Along with residential projects, T.W. works on school projects, which involve digging a large number of holes, Wollman says. About 99% of the geothermal systems that CDJ installs are vertical.
“We don’t do many horizontals because of space. If a customer does want a horizontal system, though, we do it ourselves,” Teveldal explains. “We don’t contract with T.W. Construction.”
Geothermal has made a big impact on CDJ’s business.
“Our sales have skyrocketed,” says Teveldal, adding that between 2006 and 2010 overall business tripled. “Sometimes, we are too busy. I would like to add someone, but it’s tough to find someone who is qualified.”
Another reason for the amount of business the contractor gets is that not many competitors in the region do geothermal work. Learning the technology associated with geothermal projects wasn’t too difficult, Teveldal says.
“Part of it was self-taught,” he says. “It just seemed to come naturally to me.”
Another part came from the certification acquired through a class offered by the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association. Working with Oklahoma State University, IGSHPA has provided training on ground-source heat pump installation for about 15 years.
The three-day installation workshops are designed for developers, architects, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, installers, HVAC contractors and trenching/drilling contractors. Topics covered include: design and material options, system layout, pipe-joining techniques, trenching/drilling processes, air and debris purging, pressure drop calculations, pump and fluid selection and thermal conductivity.
For contractors considering getting into the geothermal business, Teveldal has some advice.
“Make sure you know what you’re doing before you get too far into it,” he suggests. “There are some other contractors around here who do geothermal, and there have been cases where I have had to go around and fix some of their work.”