Dave Mitchell believes consumers should do some research before investing in sustainable energy products.
He recommends that homeowners and businesses visit www.focusonenergy.com before deciding which system to install and which contractor to trust.
He said the recent surge of interest in sustainable energy has led to inexperienced contractors flooding the market. He believes poorly performing systems may lead to a lack of confidence in the industry.
“There are a lot of people installing systems now and they don’t know what they are doing,” Mitchell said. “People need to do their homework and they should ask to talk to an installer’s other customers.”
He said contractors listed with Focus on Energy are state-certified.
Fifteen years ago, he started Mitchell’s Heating and Cooling Co., which specializes in geothermal systems.
“We saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel; geothermal systems were a relatively new technology and few people were doing it at the time,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he also installs solar thermal heating panels, including those on top of Fox Valley Technical College in Waupaca.
Mitchell is also on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Geothermal Association and the solar thermal advisory committee for Wisconsin Focus on Energy.
“Geothermal is the most energy-efficient system you can put on your house or building,” Mitchell said. “Geothermal takes heat out of the ground and transfers it to your house much like an air conditioner takes heat from your house and discharges it outside.”
Mitchell explained that geothermal installers bury plastic pipes in the ground outside the house. To create a vertical loop field, which is used primarily for small lots, a rig will drill holes about 150 to 200 feet deep, insert U-shaped coils of high-density plastic pipe, then backfill the holes.
When more land is available, the pipes are installed into trenches that are 6 to 8 feet deep. The length of the trenches vary between 100 to 300 feet, depending on the size of the building, the local climate and the type of soil. After the piping is laid, the trenches are filled.
“The best soil is wet clay because it transfers heat really well,” Mitchell said. “Dry sand is the worst.”
Mitchell said that determining the proper size of the loop field is key to installing an affordable, yet efficient system. If the loop field is too large, the payoff on installation costs will take too long. If the loop field is too small, the customer will have to rely on a backup source for heating.
Geothermal works best with hydronic heating systems, according to Mitchell. He said geothermal can be tied into an existing hydronic system or can be installed with a newer, more efficient hydronic system that radiates heat from beneath the floor.
“The air systems are more popular because they’re less expensive,” Mitchell said. “However, people who have lived with hydronic heating won’t be happy with forced air because with hydronic you don’t have the drafts that you have with forced air.”
Mitchell said that while geothermal systems are more expensive to install than traditional furnaces, a 30 percent federal tax credit is available on all qualified renewable energy systems.
“You will also save 50 percent on your monthly heating bill,” Mitchell said.
Geothermal systems can also be used to air-condition a building at about 30 percent less than electrical appliance. Payback on a geothermal system is estimated between two to seven years.
Mitchell also noted that geothermal is clean, reliable and environmentally friendly.
“The earth is the biggest solar collector out there. So we’re using the sun’s energy to heat your home,” Mitchell said.