Geothermal works for all types of buildings
By Mark Sherry
Sean Steffes, son Ben and Dan Walsdorf (left to right) stand with the new backhoe and directional boring machine acquired by Advanced Custom Geothermal in the past year. The machinery reduces the amount of ground disturbed during the installation of geothermal systems.

If a former church building which was built in 1876 can make use of geothermal heat pump technology, what building cannot?

There will be no argument from Dan Walsdorf or Sean Steffes on that point. The owners of Advanced Custom Geothermal in Kiel have long pushed the points that geothermal heating and cooling makes good sense for just about any building in any location, and what they did at St. Martin Heritage Park in the town of Charlestown is a shining example of that.

The former Catholic church, hall and adjacent grounds is now a park which hosts family gatherings, weddings and a number of other events each year. On many cold winter nights, however, the building sits empty, yet powering two oil furnaces to just keep the building at 38 F was costing the park organization more than $4,000 per year.

The park organization contacted Advanced Custom Geothermal, which in November 2008 installed a six-ton geothermal unit. Since that time St. Martin Heritage Park has saved about $2,600 per year on its energy costs, and is already about halfway home to paying off the installation cost.

“It’s been very comfortable,” said Joe Heimann, a member of the park board. “Now we keep the church at about 50 in the winter and we have air conditioning in the summer. If a bride wants it cool for her wedding, we can take it down to 65 degrees in that big old building when it’s 85 or 90 outside.”

Social hall also uses geothermal

The group was so impressed with the geothermal system that it now heats and cools the separate social hall with geothermal as well. “We have no regrets,” said Roger Woelfel, president of the park’s Board of Directors. “Dan explained how everything works and walked us through it all.”

A geothermal system circulates a water-based solution through a buried loop system of polyethylene tubing to take advantage of the moderate and constant temperature of the earth. A single piece of equipment has the ability to heat and cool a home while providing some or all of the home’s domestic hot water needs as well. This is why geothermal systems can save 40 to 70 percent on monthly utility bills.

It is not surprising then that in the eight years in which ACG has been involved in geothermal, the popularity of these systems has increased as more homeowners educate themselves about this cost saving, renewable energy source. “Some HVAC contractors are jumping on the geothermal band wagon,” Walsdorf said, “without having a thorough knowledge or understanding of how geothermal technology works or the importance of the proper design and installation of the geothermal loop field.”

“One of our greatest strengths is that we have always been qualified to design and install our own loop fields,” he added. “We have total control over our projects from implementation to finish. We have the education and experience to customize each system based upon the homeowner’s wants and needs, the uniqueness of each floor plan, and the location of the home.”

In the past year Advanced Custom Geothermal also acquired a backhoe and directional boring machine which greatly reduces the amount of topsoil excavation which must be done to install the system.

ACG is also remaining on the cut-ting edge of geothermal technology by getting involved in a University of Wisconsin-Madison test of a new geothermal system.

The U. S. continues to lead the world in terms of total installed geothermal units, but on a worldwide basis it has been losing ground on the annual number of new units installed. That brought about the implementation of a 30 percent U. S. government tax incentive.

Tax credits still available

Tax credits for home and business owners investing in geothermal heat pump systems were enacted in October 2008 and continue through 2016. The tax credits have no upper limit and are a catalyst to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency property improvements on new or existing homes and businesses.

The tax credits are just one reason why more and more homeowners believe that when it comes to the heating/cooling system of the future, “It’s geothermal... period,” Walsdorf said. Why? “Because these systems are among the most efficient and comfortable heating and cooling technologies available,” he said. Approximately 70 percent of the energy used in a geothermal heat pump system is renewable energy from the earth.

As a way to continue to educate people about geothermal technology, Walsdorf and Steffes continue to do 30-minute radio programs in cooperation with Cumulus Media, Inc. and the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. A link to the show can be found at ACG’s Web site.

Advanced Custom Geothermal is one of WaterFurnace’s top contractors and has achieved Geo-Pro status for the quality of work it does, as well as the quantity of units installed. The company’s employees have traveled from Kiel to Stevens Point, Pulaski, Grafton, Jackson and many points in between to install geothermal systems. “They’re seeking us for our experience and workmanship,” Walsdorf said of customers who have heard about the positive reputation of ACG.

Along the way, ACG has helped dispel some misconceptions about geothermal heating/cooling. The system can be installed in existing homes as easily as it can in newly constructed homes. The property does not have to have a pond on it, nor must it be in a rural setting or on a large lot. As an example, Walsdorf points to an installation at a home in downtown Kiel. Loops can be installed vertically on even the smallest city lot or horizontally on other lots.

Even living above rock formations does not prohibit installation. Walsdorf said well drillers do not mind hitting rock, with the exception of granite, because drilling through rock allows stability of the well bore until installation of the geothermal tubing is complete.

Savings from day one

Rural or urban, new home or existing, what customers of Advanced Custom Geothermal are finding are savings from day one of their installation. “From day one you have positive cash flow,” Walsdorf said. To help make the finances work out even better, Advanced Custom Geothermal is offering a 360 days same-as-cash option on existing energy systems retrofitted to geothermal.

To find out how much you could save on utility costs by installing a geothermal system, go to www.advancedcustomgeothermal.comand click on the savings calculator. The software will ask for the address, age, approximate size and what type of heating system is currently being used in the home. A suggested geothermal unit and the annual savings it could provide are only a click away.

Walsdorf, Steffes and their experienced crew do more than geothermal system installations, although that is about 75 percent of the company’s business— and growing. They also install and service conventional heating and cooling systems including oil furnaces and boilers; perform commercial refrigeration services; and provide custom sheet metal fabrication, not only for HVAC installations, but applications such as metal roofing and related accessories.

Walsdorf and Steffes are assisted by qualified full-time employees Matt Werdeo, Joe Castro, Jeremy Oostdyke, Ryan Marquardt and Dan’s wife Connie, who handles the office management for the company. Part-time employees include Mark and Sue Steffes, Alex Walsdorf, Gerry Pitzen and Kim Hennings.

To keep abreast with current trends, their employees continually attend training sessions. Once or twice a year a representative from WaterFurnace, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., comes to Kiel to provide training. Employees have also taken advantage of in-house training at WaterFurnace’s production headquarters. Education is key; all full-time ACG employees have received their Geothermal Equipment Service/Installation Technician certification. Dan and Sean also hold the Geothermal Piping and Design certification.

That training helps Advanced Custom Geothermal provide quality service to its customers, which in turn has helped it become accredited by the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, The Wisconsin Geothermal Association, and the Better Business Bureau. In the past year Walsdorf also was appointed to the WaterFurnace Dealers Advisory Council, which explores new product development and other industry trends.

It all adds up to Advanced Custom Geothermal being one of the most sought-after companies in the state when people decide they want to start saving serious money on their heating/cooling/ hot water utility costs—all while utilizing renewable energy and greatly benefiting the planet.

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