WaterFurnace® Renewable Energy is the leading manufacturer of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional geothermal and water source heat pumps. David Soyka reports on how this company renews the heating and cooling business in environmentally and economically constructive ways.
With businesses and individuals alike looking to reduce their carbon footprint, a classic win/win proposition comes to mind: What conserves the environment also conserves expenditures.
It wasn’t so long ago, though, that you had to weigh whether the upfront additional costs of an eco-friendly technology was worth it. Geothermal heating and cooling systems are a case in point. While more efficient than conventional heating and cooling systems, the drawback was that geothermal involved greater upfront expense: The average payback period was five to 10 years before savings from reduced operating costs would recover your initial investment costs.
That was then. Today, WaterFurnace® Renewable Energy offers geothermal and water source heat pumps that reduce carbon footprint and utility bills at the same time and, thanks to new government tax incentives, without need to balance short-term high investment concerns against long term benefits.
“It’s true that it once used to take up to 10 years before you could recover the cost of a geothermal system,” points out Tom Huntington, named last May as president and CEO to succeed retiring Bruce Ritchey. “Now, with the new tax refunds, the recovery period is only two to three years. Homeowners who install a geothermal system before Dec. 31, 2016, can take advantage of a one-time federal renewable energy tax credit of 30 percent of the total investment for the system. And, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, this tax incentive is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009. Homeowners can also take advantage of utility rebates and state tax incentives where available to make geothermal systems even more affordable than ever.”
Nor is it the case that geothermal is only an option for new construction. “We do retrofits all the time,” Huntington says. “In fact, about 50 percent of our residential business is retrofit. All we need is enough ground to put a loop in. A horizontal loop can be used when there is adequate space for trenches that range in length from 100 to 400 feet. If space is limited, vertical loops can be drilled down to anywhere between 75 to 300 feet.” Additional options would tap into a large pond or lake, or even a well water system.
On the commercial side, Huntington notes that WaterFurnace geothermal equipment is great for retrofit Water Loop Heat Pump (WLHP) applications. “Most existing WLHP units can be easily replaced with new higher efficiency models, which can help increase LEED (Leadership in Energy and Design) points for the building. Our equipment is also more comfortable than older units, and at the same time can cut overall conditioning costs for the building by as much as 40 percent.”
So how exactly is geothermal different from conventional heating and air conditioning? Actually, the concept has been around for quite some time (the first geothermal ground source pump in the United States was installed in 1945) and has gone by several different names, including geoexchange, groundwater, ground-water assisted, ground-water-source, water-to-water and, which explains the origins of this company’s name, WaterFurnace.
Whatever you call it, the idea is to draw heat from the ground, which at any level remains a consistent temperature regardless of the climate or season above ground. For heating, a geothermal system extracts heat from the earth loop and distributes it though a conventional duct system. The same heat energy can also be used for a radiant floor system or domestic hot water heating. In the cooling mode, the heating process is reversed: instead of extracting heat from the ground, heat is extracted from the air in a building and moved back into the earth loop; it can also be used to preheat the hot water tank.
Geothermal home comfort systems from WaterFurnace are among the world’s greenest heating and cooling systems, saving up to 70 percent on heating, cooling and hot water costs while emitting zero carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gases. Moreover, using the ground as a renewable heat source eliminates the need for fossil fuels as an energy source, thereby helping to reduce national dependence on foreign oil supplies. Also, eliminating a fuel storage tank also provides for a safer, as well as pollution-free, environment.
As Huntington notes, “Geothermal is also up to five times more efficient than ordinary heating and cooling systems. Operation is quieter as there are no noisy outdoor units. And the elimination of those outdoor units also reduces maintenance because there’s less physical equipment and parts that need to be serviced. The ground loop doesn’t have any moving parts; it is literally expected to last 200 years. Less maintenance also means increased longevity of the overall system. Fossil fuel furnaces typically last about 15 years, conventional air conditioners about 15; a geothermal system on average has a life span of 24 years.”
But what about comfort? Andy Fracica, director of marketing, says, “I have a WaterFurnace Envision™ system in my own home. In previous homes I’ve had high-end heating and air conditioning systems from the leading manufacturers. And I have to say that Envision is the most comfortable system I’ve ever had. In fact, it is so comfortable that I can maintain my thermostat at a much lower levels for heating, and higher for cooling, because it is that much more efficient in evenly distributing temperature conditioning throughout the house.”
Huntington adds, “One of the key things you need for comfortable cooling is effective dehumidification. A geothermal system is much more efficient and effective than conventional air conditioning at maintaining low humidity levels. And when you add features like radiant floor heating, you’ve just got an overall more comfortable environment that maintains a consistent, stable temperature. You can even regulate independent temperatures in different areas, so you don’t have to maintain the same temperature levels at locations that aren’t used much, such as a spare bedroom. The bottom-line result is you’re using energy more efficiently, and, consequently, your energy bill is more consistent and stable as well.”
ENVISIONING THE FUTURE
The Envision series is the company’s flagship line, setting the industry standard for efficiency, reliability and quiet operation, and is suitable for both residential and commercial applications. First introduced in 2006, the Envision product was named one of the “Top 10 Green Building Products” by Sustainable Industries Journal. Available in seven single speed sizes and five dual capacity sizes, all Envision units utilize the ozone-safe R-410A refrigerant. Coated air coils add durability and longer life. A sophisticated microprocessor control sequences all components during operation for optimum performance (the amount of current needed to activate the unit is reduced by 70 percent compared to conventional systems), and provides easy-to-use troubleshooting features with fault lights and on-board diagnostics. Unit configurations include horizontal, vertical top discharge and vertical bottom discharge. Heavy-gauge metal cabinets are coated with durable poly paint for long lasting protection.
The latest Envision NDW Hydronic line is designed for high-volume water demands and high-capacity heating and cooling performance for larger luxury homes. The system includes radiant floor heating and domestic hot water heating, and can even be use to heat pools and spas as well as melt sidewalks and driveways.
The Envision NDW series can reduce water heating costs by as much as 60 percent a year. The extraordinary efficiency of this comfort system delivers almost four dollars of heat for every dollar of electrical energy used, an efficiency rating of 400 percent compared to traditional ordinary furnaces that can, at best, deliver 97 cents of energy for every dollar spent on fossil fuel.
Another leading product category is the relatively new Synergy3D Series, which provides forced air heating and cooling, hydronic heating for radiant floors and a desuperheater hot water assist option that can provide homeowners with free supplemental domestic hot water in one convenient package. The Synergy3D’s high efficiencies are achieved by utilizing two-step Copeland Scroll UltraTech™ compressors and variable-speed (ECM) fan blowers that consume less energy and provide improved comfort. In addition, a sophisticated microprocessor control sequences all components during operation for optimum performance and provides easy-to-use troubleshooting features with fault lights and on-board diagnostics.
In addition to heating and cooling comfort systems, WaterFurnace also offers a complete line of indoor air quality (IAQ) products, including the AlpinePure Series of premium air cleaners, purifiers and media filters, AlpinePure Energy Recovery Ventilator and AlpinePure drain pan treatment. The company also offers a premier line of pool heaters, which include heat pumps designed to last twice as long as traditional gas pool heaters.
HERITAGE OF INNOVATIONS
WaterFurnace practices what it preaches. Its 110,000-squarefoot headquarters in Fort Wayne, Ind. is a model for the potential of commercial geothermal heating and air conditioning. The facility is a working model for large-scale commercial and industrial buildings, comprising a pond loop serving 41 geothermal units in various zones to satisfy all building temperature control requirements. In several areas throughout the building, the ceiling panels are made of clear plastic to display the conditioning equipment for in-depth training classes offered on-site to HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) contractors and installers.
WaterFurnace also has a number of notable commercial and residential installations that showcase its capabilities. These include London’s Buckingham Palace, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, the home of NASCAR’s Darrel Waltrip, and Shania Twain’s home. In addition, WaterFurnace is the exclusive supplier to 100 percent geothermal housing developments, including Bee Creek in Ossian, Ind., and Masters View in Juliet, Tenn.
The company was founded in 1983 by Jim Shields as WaterFurnace International. In 1990, WaterFurnace launched the first variable-speed, two-stage compressor unit – the most efficient, water-source heat pump on the market at the time and, in 2001, the first water-source unit to use non-ozone-depleting refrigerant. In 1992, WaterFurnace was acquired by WFI Industries Ltd. and by 2007 it broke the $100 million sales mark. In 2008, to more clearly reflect its heritage of green innovation, the company changed its name to WaterFurnace Renewable Energy and is currently traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
True to its former name, WaterFurnace markets globally through dealers and distributors. Its fully integrated assembly operation is ISO 9000:2000 certified. “We are big believers in lean manufacturing and six sigma practices. In most cases we can ship product the same day as ordered; at the very least, we aim to ship within three days,” Huntington says.
“What has really made us stand out over the years is our people and their commitment to quality,” Huntington emphasizes. “That extends through product manufacture through to customer support and service. These days, everyone is more conscious of the need to be green, both to be environmentally responsible and to save money on energy costs. Despite an uncertain economy, more homeowners and businesses are adopting geothermal. Over one million geothermal systems of some type are used in U.S. residential, commercial and government buildings. And each year, U.S. homeowners install approximately 50,000 more geothermal systems. American homeowners are clearly warming up to the fact that green geothermal energy is available anywhere in the United States – literally in their own back yard.”
He adds, “Compared with other energy sources, geothermal is only beginning to reach its potential. We have a history of providing geothermal systems that dates back way before it starting becoming this popular. Our customers can be confident that they are dealing with experts that can provide the technology they need for all their comfort, air quality and water heating needs in ways that will save on energy to save them money.”