Geothermal gets even more efficient
By Mark Sherry
Dan Walsdorf (left) and Sean Steffes of Advanced Custom Geothermal recently received an award from WaterFurnace “for outstanding achievements in sustainability and environmental stewardship, installing systems valued at $2 million.”

Geothermal heating/cooling systems have always seemed relatively “high-tech” to begin with, but new technology is making improvements to even these cutting edge systems.

Led by owners Dan Walsdorf and Sean Steffes, Advanced Custom Geothermal in Kiel has been installing and maintaining geothermal systems throughout northeast Wisconsin for more than a decade. One key factor in its success has been their ability to stay on the lead edge of changes in both geothermal and conventional heating/cooling systems, and the two men said they are intrigued by a couple new developments in their industry.

One of those is a new high temperature heat pump for geothermal systems. A geothermal heat pump is a central heating and/or cooling system that transfers heat to or from the ground. It uses the earth as a heat source (in the winter) or a heat sink (in the summer). This design takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems. Steffes and Walsdorf explained that previous heat pumps could maintain the temperature of the liquid in the radiant system at around 120 F, but the new pump can get the temperature close to 150 F making it more efficient for heating homes and businesses.

The men said they also are excited to be able to install or convert systems to take advantage of the new Symphony system from WaterFurnace. Symphony is a technology platform which can provide detailed feedback of a comfort system in real time and also provides the tools to control it all from any web-enabled smart phone, tablet, or computer.

Symphony is a Wi-Fi based comfort platform that ACG’s owners say is unsurpassed in its ease of use, feature set, and the level of information it provides. Symphony marries the Aurora controls of a WaterFurnace geothermal system with a WebLink router, giving the homeowner access to the comfort system from practically anywhere. Symphony is cloud-based so there is no software to install and provides control over the entire geothermal system, not just the temperature as in other “smart thermostat” systems.

A number of other potential features attached to Symphony add to its attractiveness. People can now have flush-mounted temperature sensors in their homes instead of thermostats. Symphony can sound an alarm if equipment such as a sump pump fails. People can zone and control up to six areas of their home. In addition, a personalized dashboard provides quick access to the system’s settings, operational status and history, alert history, energy usage, and zone temperatures as well as local weather.

Yet another new feature in the geothermal area has not even been tried yet by Advanced Custom Geothermal, although Walsdorf plans to serve as his own guinea pig soon. It is the new direct exchange or DX ground loop heat pump which buries the refrigerant lines. That used to be a no-no as the effects of moisture and being underground would eventually eat away at those lines, but a new material is now being used which allows those lines to stand up over time.

Walsdorf and Steffes said the company which sells the system has been around for quite a few years and that they have seen it done but have never done it themselves. Walsdorf, however, said he will embark on building a new home for his family this spring and he will install the system as a way to test it. The system promises to be more efficient and take up less land, so the men said they are looking forward to working with it and seeing how it performs.

In addition to these advancements in geothermal systems, Advanced Custom Geothermal is also keeping up with improvements in conventional gas, electric, oil, and boiler systems as ACG sells and services all those systems as well. They said it is interesting that manufacturers of conventional systems continue to try

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