Stormproofing with geothermal systems

I recently presented a paper on geothermal HVAC implementation to the New York City Council. Though the benefits of geothermal heating and cooling systems are great, one of the benefits of most interest was the stormproofing aspect. Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, was a hard hit for the Big Apple. Afterwards, residents wanted to know more about how geothermal can strengthen the resilience and infrastructure of their city.

With geothermal heating and cooling systems, the equipment can be housed entirely inside, reducing premature wear and tear. Placement of Roof Top Package Units (RTUs), condenser units and cooling towers can be eliminated or consolidated safely inside.

As recently as January 2012, we have witnessed the resilience of geothermal heating and cooling systems. Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern U.S., and the New York Times reported, “Geothermal Designs Arise as a Stormproof Resource.” Property damage was significant, and many were left without heat or air when their outdoor equipment was destroyed by wind and water. Buildings with geothermal heat pumps fared better, sustaining no damage due to the “all-inside” nature of a geothermal heating and cooling system.

The presence of outside equipment on the roof or outside a building presents a kind of double jeopardy. Outside equipment will be naturally degraded by seasonal weather. Snow, rain, wind and blazing heat all take their toll in the first place. As if that is not enough, normal landscaping and maintenance claim their occasional victims. We’ve all arrived at a service call to find the HVAC unit has been vandalized or salvaged for copper. Every home and building owner has experienced one of these risks of outdoor equipment, or they one day will.

The costs associated with housing outside equipment in risk-prone areas can be high. Risks can be related to inclement weather, personnel protection or outright vandalism. For government buildings in Florida, hurricane-hardened shelters are required for outside cooling towers. The enclosure structures may be as large as a gymnasium, and cost millions.

Studies have been done on the effects of outside noise on personnel and the general public. With geothermal cooling and heating systems, these nuisances go away. A 2010 City of Los Angeles study indicated that even residential outside equipment for air conditioning is notably loud, and actually drowns out the sounds of birds and other natural ambience, leaving instead the dull roar of condenser fans. Commercial cooling equipment is louder than that, and cooling towers are louder still.

A large percentage of commercial buildings use cooling towers because of their ability to improve efficiency for the air-conditioning/chiller equipment in the building. But, a cooling tower is loud, and it consumes large quantities of fresh water due to evaporation and blow-down (about 50 GPD per ton). Increasing numbers of clients are making the switch to geothermal, claiming that elimination of fresh water consumption is the primary motive/benefit.

Refrigerant volume is also reduced through the use of geothermal HVAC systems, especially when compared with VRF and spilt systems. A geothermal heat pump (GHP) is a self-contained piece of equipment with a factory-sealed refrigerant system. Instead of copper refrigerant lines going to an outside condenser, a pair of pipes is connected to the GHP similar to the way a washing machine is connected.

With geothermal heating and cooling systems, you have another sales tool, and your customers can weather the storm and rest easy. The equipment is all inside, reducing premature wear and tear. Rooftops are cleaned up, condenser pads are turned into break areas and there is no equipment in the way of landscaping or passersby. And, don’t forget the peace and quiet! With federal and local tax credits and the highest energy efficiency available, geothermal systems become an easy sales opportunity.

Geothermal is a mainstream technology; why not treat yourself and your clients to the benefits of a geothermal heat pump? You can get on the "Geothermal Day 2015" bandwagon by visiting the site, National Geothermal Day aims to raise awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of geothermal energy and its vital role in building a clean and secure energy future. n


Jay Egg is a consultant and designer of geothermal HVAC systems, and the author of two books and several articles on the subject. He is the founder of Egg Systems, focusing on geothermal consulting, engineering and contracting technologies. He can be reached at

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