The region's geothermal industry wants to run your heating and cooling costs
right into the ground
The London Free Press: Monday, September 3, 2007 - GEOFF DALE
..."This is a green technology that works in line with all other technologies, like
wind and solar," says Louis Bailey, president and chief executive of London
geothermal equipment maker Geoflex Systems...
Cashing in on substantial government grants, homeowners and businesspeople
across the region are getting green for going green with environmentally
friendly geothermal heating systems.
"Those people getting rid of their old furnaces and air conditioners in favour
of new geothermal systems have to first get a home energy audit done," says Chad
Hayter, co-owner of Alvinston-based Hayter Plumbing and Heating Ltd.
"Typically, if you have a 2,000-square foot home in a rural area, conversion to
this alternative system costs between $20,000 to $24,000," he says.
"Yet, in spite of this fairly high capital investment, these are our happiest
customers. Because, as well as switching to a more comfortable green system,
they are also securing incentives from more than one level of government."
Currently, the province is offering as much as $3,500 toward installing
geothermal systems. And the Ontario Power Authority offers $350 to $800 and a
three per cent retail sales tax cut on the total cost of geothermal and other
alternative energy systems.
And Ottawa's ecoENERGY Retrofit program offers grants of as much as $5,000 --
including $3,500 for geothermal systems -- for energy improvements to
single-family homes and low-rise multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs).
What Hayter and other geothermal proponents want to see is a greater government
push to educate consumers about geothermal systems, their cost, benefits and
These systems exploit the Earth's ability to store heat. Geothermal uses soil
underground as a heat exchanger to warm or cool residential or commercial
The ground below the frost line remains at about 10 C year-round. Common
closed-loop geothermal systems link a water-source heat pump linked to a long
loop of buried, liquid-filled plastic pipes to pick up heat for winter warming,
and put it back for summer cooling.
Geothermal systems have been growing in popularity as the prices of traditional
heat sources, such as oil and natural gas, have risen. They rely on electricity,
which can come from renewable sources, and relatively low-tech components:
plastic piping, a pump and a water-source heat pump.
"This is a green technology that works in line with all other technologies, like
wind and solar," says Louis Bailey, president and chief executive of London
geothermal equipment maker Geoflex Systems.
"Geothermal is not a competitor."
Bailey has been lobbying Ottawa on planet change issues since he got into
geothermal in 1989, after looking for a technology offering both longevity and
His company now designs, develops and distributes geothermal and other energy
He says his geothermal system buyers are satisfied because the systems work,
save money and don't damage the environment.
Why, for example, use an air conditioner to extract heat from your house and a
separate heater to warm your pool, he asks.
"That's two systems," he says. "It makes sense to take the air conditioner heat
out of the house to heat the pool directly.
"What you're doing with the new system is eliminating the capital cost of the
pool heater, while doubling the efficiency of the air conditioner by using what
was basically wasted heat."
And that means lower costs, he says. "Those switching to geothermal . . . (from)
natural gas are seeing savings of 50 per cent, spending 70 per cent less for hot
water and enjoying 45 to 50 per cent reductions in air conditioner costs," he
"And you just can't get any greener -- a closed-loop system is environmentally
inert," he adds.
But the industry is moving very quickly, consumers are becoming more
sophisticated, and the need for education is growing, Bailey says.
"These days, because we have more enlightened consumers, we need to ensure more
information gets out there so better decisions can be made on purchases and
correct installation," he says.
Geoflex is responding with a soon-to-be launched Internet portal designed to
empower and educate the public and help self-police the fast-growing industry.
"The biggest issues are getting the right quote and the right people to do the
job," he says. "This industry is moving so quickly, the infrastructure is not
yet in place, so we have to . . . get the necessary information, all the basics
to the consumer."
Certainly, the need to get the geothermal message out isn't lost on installers
like Gerry Ferns.
A veteran of 24 years in the home heating and cooling business, Ferns started
Ingersoll's Just Geothermal Systems in 2001, primarily in response to the rise
in fossil fuel prices.
"I just got hooked on the technology," he says. "I was amazed by the idea of
putting pipes in the ground beside your home and business and taking in enough
heat to heat the structure.
"I was equally amazed that so few people in Canada knew much about this system,"
The bulk of his work is residential, mostly new construction, with the rest --
about 20 per cent -- "retrofit jobs," or replacing existing systems with
"We get the best feedback from those who have changed systems, because they
notice the improvements, both in savings and comfort levels," he says.
"But now, as well as cost savings, we are finding more and more people who are
interested in adopting the most environmentally friendly systems," he says.
"There is an emerging green community in London and an even bigger one in
Toronto. We're just about ready to split into another company, likely based in
Greg Vanhevel, president of Geo-Teck Heating and Cooling Ltd., doesn't mince
words about the benefits of switching to geothermal heating.
"When you're saving 30 per cent or more in heating costs, using a system that is
four times more efficient than other systems like propane and has a reasonably
quick return on investment (four to six years, versus five to eight for natural
gas), you'd be crazy not to go this way," he says.
But he, too, hammers home the need to enlighten the public about the systems.
"Some still think this is some kind of magic," he says.
"The government also has to watch how fast the industry grows. We don't want
just anyone jumping on board, those without proper qualifications doing the
"This is expensive equipment, with a lot of groundwork required," often
involving a week's worth of excavation, pipe field placement and hookups. "If
installation is not done correctly, efficiency will suffer . . . Precision --
from the right amount of loop to the proper equipment -- is key to the job being
And the need to move quickly is growing, says Hayter, the Alvinston-based
installer, describing the shift his firm is seeing from traditional systems to
geothermal as "huge."
"By May 31 of this year, we sold more geothermal systems than all of last year,"
"In the last five years, there has been an incredible jump in business. It
wasn't that long ago when for every 10 people we saw, about two chose
geothermal. One week in July, I saw six people and five of them went geothermal.
"I tell people if they are going to be in their homes for five years or more,
they should seriously look at a high-end geothermal system," he says.
"Even if you don't have the capital up front, borrow the money. Their yearly
outlay would be less than their current heating and hot water bills. It's tough
not to promote this system, especially when you need both a furnace and an air
And with governments backing the move to geothermal, Hayter sees no slowdown
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