This shows an example of geothermal drilling. Photo by Holly Noel for ClimateMaster

If your company serves an old metropolis or a rural area where homeowners are tied into using an expensive source of fossil fuel for heating, I would like to suggest an untapped new business field for you to consider.

I know that in many areas the only viable options for heating are fuel oil and bottled gas, which have seen explosive (no pun intended) price increases over the past 30 years. The only other options are electric strip heat (equally expensive) and air-to-air heat pumps, which cost a lot less to operate but often require installation of a new electrical service and wiring to handle the required emergency and backup heating. In some areas this just isn’t possible!

What’s my suggestion? Ground-source heat pumps! They are just water-source heat pumps that use the ground or wells to provide heat in the heating mode, and to dissipate heat in the cooling mode. However, their operating costs are much lower than any other practical heating source that I can think of; their cooling operation costs can be half that of standard-efficiency air conditioners; and they require no electric strip heat! Also, since such heat pumps work under less extreme pressures and conditions, they are often more reliable.

What about the cost of installing a ground loop? This has always been the problem that has held back the growth of this wonderful product. Regular HVAC contractors usually aren’t set up or qualified to do such work, and people who drill wells don’t usually install HVAC systems.

Finding an easy location for ground-source energy is not that difficult in rural areas. However, what do you do in cities where houses are very close together and don’t have much of a yard? Simple - “punched” wells don’t take that much space, and often (depending on the geology), they don’t cost much to install. Drill vertically in tight spaces.

What about codes? After vertical wells are drilled, closed-loop pipe is installed, and then the holes are back-filled, so there is usually no code problem.

Who will install such systems? If your local HVAC contractors aren’t interested in changing their markets, well drillers may be interested, because ground-loop HVAC systems come as a complete package. The only HVAC expertise required to install them is a knowledge of how to connect the ductwork. In fact, with a little knowledge of plumbing, the rest can be handled by an electrician, because some of these systems even come with internal water pumps.

The market for these products exists, but in many cases no one is currently serving it. Why not contact a ground-source heat pump manufacturer and see what they have to offer you? Most have been in the business for many years, and they would likely be willing to provide you with all the expertise needed to get started. Then all you would need is a little advertising to let potential customers know that they have a better heating/cooling option.

This article was originally titled "The other heating source" in the January 2011 print edition of Supply House Times.