Geothermal systems old-hat to local company
In the world of all things green, everybody’s an expert. Well, not everybody. As “green” has gotten more popular in the past few years, it has become increasingly hard to tell who really knows their stuff and who’s just jumping on a bandwagon. So, for cautious homeowners, the best bet could be going with a company that has been around for a while.
A&A Air Services Inc. is a 23-year-old HVAC company that specializes in geothermal heating and cooling. Founded in June 1987 by Greg Allen, the business is still family-owned and -operated.
Allen stills maintains his position as president of the company and is involved with the everyday aspects of leading the organization. His son, Chris, supports him as the company’s vice president, while his daughter, Mindy, is tasked with leading the service department. The company currently employs about 35 people, with an annual total sales volume of about $4.8 million.
Chris Allen explained that, while his father installed his first geothermal system in 1989, the real upswing in the business started around 2000.
“It’s interesting,” added Director of Sales and Marketing Patrick Gaul. “When it first started its upswing, the primary reason for people was to decrease utility bills, and now about half of are actually concerned about the environmental impact, which is nice.”
He explained that, today, with state and federal incentives, a geothermal heating and cooling system can end up with a net cost of less than a high-efficiency heat pump, although those incentives are constantly changing.
“[Geothermal systems] are 40 to 50 percent more efficient and last two to three times as long,” he explained. He said that, with incentives as they currently stand, it takes about six years for an average system to pay for itself.
Geothermal systems use the constant temperature of the earth to both heat and cool a home. Although they have been around for years and have been called many things, including geo-thermal, geo-exchange, ground-water, ground-water-assisted, ground-water-source, water-to-water and water furnace, they are simply systems that use technology to tap into the earth’s natural energy and temperature — which stays relatively constant — to regulate the heating and cooling of homes.
A&A Air Services Inc., which is among the top 5 percent of Water Furnace dealers in the country, uses something called a closed-loop system and, when installed properly, the system is backed by a 55-year warranty. The loops are put in the ground vertically and can be placed virtually anywhere – in a driveway or under a house, for example – as long as there is a minimum distance of 50 feet from a septic system.
According to Water Furnace, which produces just one of the brands of geothermal units available, “a geothermal system operates more efficiently than ordinary heating and air conditioning systems because it can deliver an astounding five units of energy for every one unit of electrical energy used. By combining stored earth energy with safe electric power, many owners realize savings up to 70 percent for heating, cooling and hot water.”
In addition to the energy efficiency a geothermal system provides, there are substantial financial benefits, as well. According to their Web site, at waterfurnace.com, a typical 1,500-square-foot home in the Delaware shore area with a geothermal system saves about half on its annual heating and cooling bills versus a standard-efficiency heat pump, taking the cost from $1,100 or so down to about $560 per year.
But Chris Allen said he is hesitant to call anything in the area a “typical” home.
“There is a misconception that if a home is 1,000 square feet or 1,500 square feet, that it wouldn’t be cost-effective,” he explained. “People need to realize that it saves the working man money.”
Gaul added that the company has installed systems on homes from 800 square feet to 18,000 square feet, and everything in between. Years ago, they completed a 222-ton conversion of a 104-unit condominium building in Ocean City, Md. And, just recently, they installed a geothermal system in a series of year-round tents for the Boy Scouts of America. They have also installed systems in swimming pools and do radiant/geothermal floor heating.
In addition to staying busy with new construction, and their service departments for HVAC and electrical, Gaul said they do plenty of geothermal retrofitting as well – about 60 percent of their jobs are retrofits, some on homes less than a year old.
“People hear geo-thermal, and they think, ‘My gosh, it’s really complicated,’” said Gaul. “But, it’s not. The end result is you are heating and cooling an environment.”
And as simple as that is, the systems also come with the benefits of being long-lasting, economical and environmentally friendly.
Frank Miranda, who owned many of the TCBY shops in the Delaware beach area before joining Mark Hardt in 1999 to form Miranda and Hardt Contracting, first learned of geothermal at one of his yogurt shops, from Greg Allen himself.
“Greg Allen from A&A Heating and Cooling would come in and look at the yogurt machines and tell me that the technology exists to use something similar in your home, so I became one of the first people around here to put one in at my house,” Miranda said.
“In the 15 years since I’ve had it, it’s paid me back again and again,” he added. “The great thing about it is you are not burning a fossil fuel. You are not burning coal, or wood, or gas or oil. You are using the natural temperature of the earth as it is absorbed. It’s environmentally friendly, reliable and has low operating costs.”