Going geothermal – Picking a contractor

I’ve already talked about making the decision to install a geothermal system at our farm. Now I’ll talk about how we selected our contractor.

We started getting our quotes before we took possession of the farm. We knew the furnace upgrades were somewhat urgent, and the ecoEnergy rebate program expired at the end of the month that we took possession. Our goal was to have the contractor selected and the work scheduled so that we could have our new geothermal system installed the first week we owned the farm.

We didn’t really know anyone who had geothermal, so we couldn’t get a referral. There were a couple of houses along our concession that had geothermal, and the contractors had posted signs at the edge of the road, so I got one number that way. Through the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition, I was also able to get a list of CGC qualified companies in our area. We made our short list, and I started calling people.

I called five companies to start. I asked each of them the same basic questions about how geothermal works and what would work best for our situation. Based on the initial phone interviews, I then chose three contractors to come out to the farm and quote on the job. The decision of who made the short list depended on how they answered my questions and the overall feel I got from our conversation.

The site visits involved looking at locations for the loop field, inspecting the duct system within the house and checking out the utility room to figure out how to lay out the new system.

I was also up front with all of the contractors about two things that could dramatically affect our system. First, I knew I wanted to eliminate the two furnace set up and include the pool room on the same system as the rest of the house.

However, having one system was contingent on using the pool room as just a room and not having an indoor pool. A pool causes issues with temperature and humidity that can challenge a geo system.

The second issue was that we know that we hope to add on to the house eventually, so we wanted a system that was sized to handle the larger square footage.

During the site visits, I had detailed questionnaires that I asked each contractor. I’ve posted the questionnaire here in case anyone wants to check it out or copy it for themselves.

This post from 3 acres & 3000 square feet was helpful in giving me an idea of what to look for in a contractor and what questions to ask.

Based on just the questionnaires, the three contractors were pretty evenly matched. Two out of three used the same brand of highly rated heat pumps. They all did heat loss calculations to determine what size of system we needed (although it was a bit of a guess as to how big our house would be eventually). They were all very experienced and had worked on lots of residential and commercial projects. They could all do the work within the time frame that we needed. And I liked all of them.

In the end it came down to the quotes. I was surprised with the amount of variation in both the systems that were recommended and the prices that were quoted.

  • Contractor #1 quoted us a 5 tonne heat pump with a 6 tonne loop.
  • Contractor #2 quoted us a 4 tonne heat pump with a 4 tonne loop for $3,650 more than #1.
  • Contractor #3 quoted us a 6 tonne heat pump with a 6 tonne loop for $4,200 more than #1.

From what I can tell, most of the variation in the systems came from how each contractor accounted for future expansion. In the end, we felt like the 5 tonne heat pump with the 6 tonne loop would best meet our needs today and down the road. And I can’t deny that the lower price was a key part of the decision too. Reference calls yielded very positive reviews and confirmed the good vibes we had felt in meeting with the reps from the company.

So, we said, “You’re hired!” to Waterloo Energy Products and sent off our deposit cheque. Installation was quickly scheduled to begin the Monday after we took possession. And that’s next in the series. Stay tuned.

Click here for part one of the “going geothermal” series: The decision to go geothermal.

Going geothermal – The decision

A rural area presents certain limitations when it comes to city services. Most likely, you don’t have natural gas available at the road. That means, when it comes to heating and air conditioning, you have a choice of oil or propane. However, large rural properties open up a third option: geothermal.

When we first saw the farm, we recognized quickly that the furnace was pretty old and would have to be replaced. During the home inspection, our suspicions were confirmed.


One of our old furnaces. Notice all of the soot.

There were two oil furnaces in the house: one for the house itself and the other for the indoor pool area. The pool furnace didn’t seem to be working. The house furnace, in addition to being ancient (probably original to the house), had been modified and jury-rigged over time so that it actually wasn’t in that great of shape.

Air conditioner

The old air conditioner

The air conditioner also appeared to be original to the house (remember we’re talking 30-40 years old here), the hot water heater was also running on oil and the oil tank itself was 20 years old.

When we were talking options with our home inspector, we were focused on a new high efficiency oil or propane furnace. My brother who had tagged along during the inspection said, “Or you could do geothermal.”

We scoffed because the only thing we knew about geothermal was that it was expensive.

However, after talking things through, doing a little bit of research and starting to run the numbers, we decided very quickly to go geothermal.

Why we chose to go geo:

  1. Since we had to upgrade the furnace, air conditioner and oil tank, we’d have to put out a significant amount of money just for up front capital costs.
  2. Given that oil was our most likely option for our location, we’d have to continue to put out a significant amount of money for ongoing operating costs.
  3. We plan to be in this house for a long time (notice the “forever house” tagline above), so the geothermal would eventually pay for itself, and we’d actually be able to save money over the long term.
  4. Through the Government of Canada ecoEnergy program, we could get a rebate for installing a geothermal system.
  5. We had the space to do a horizontal loop, the least expensive layout for geothermal.
  6. It’s a green option that’s a lot more environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuels.

Click here if you’re interested in more on how geothermal works.

Once we made the decision to go geo, we had to find a contractor, which I’ll talk about in the next installment of “Going geothermal.”