Energy 1 retrofits open-loop geo system for Montana ranch

Energy 1 retrofits open-loop geo system for Montana ranch

Energy 1 is a design-build mechanical contracting company that’s been in business for a little more than eight years The company has built a niche for itself with geothermal The customer was interested in exploring geothermal heat pump options Doing an open-loop system was possible because of access to good ground water Energy 1 used a direct, horizontal drilling technique to run the lines below-grade to the edge of the ranch house Energy 1 decided to use two three-ton ClimateMaster Tranquility High-Temperature (THW) Series water-to-water units The system used Taco zone controls, Grundfos circulators, a Well Mate pressure tank, Bradford White storage tanks and a back-up boiler from Lochinvar The homeowner is happy with his results

Energy 1 is a design-build mechanical contracting company that’s been in business for a little more than eight years. They now have offices in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“We’re involved in a variety of sectors,” said Leo Crane, vice president at Energy 1, “from high-end residential ranch homes and mountain homes to small, isolated off-the-grid trapper cabins.” The company also does commercial work in such sectors as health care, education and the military.

Energy 1 prides itself on being a full-service contractor that can take a project from the drawing board to completion, and then provide full service and maintenance. During the last two years, they’ve brought all their plumbing and electrical design in-house because of how tightly integrated modern mechanical systems have become.

The company has built a niche for itself with geothermal and other high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. It’s a niche that’s paid off.

“We’ve seen a big spike in demand in the last two to three years,” Crane explained. As older systems break down, more owners and facility managers are looking to high-efficiency systems as replacements.

“We think the industry has gone through a recycle or refresh in terms of how people think of buildings,” Crane said, “not just beautiful, but smart and efficient as well… trying to design systems that might be a little more expensive up front, but with a return on investment that can be recouped in a relatively short term.”

The case in point was a ranch owner on the outskirts of Bozeman. The owner, who also manages an international real estate brokerage company, was interested in exploring geothermal heat pump options after learning about the technology from a number of business deals.

“Originally, I did what I thought was the right thing to do energy-wise,” the owner said, “but after living here a few years I realized there was a lot more I could do.” While the house had a tight energy envelope and a radiant system to deliver thermal energy, the owner still worried about curbing energy costs.

“I had been using propane gas,” the owner said, “but I started to run into inefficiencies with the boiler. My plan was to replace it in the next five years anyway.”

The owner came to Energy 1 looking for different strategies to increase the building’s efficiency and his energy independence.

The mechanical room of the ranch house.

“We drew up a few different options, and open-looped geothermal was one of them,” Crane said.

Doing an open-loop system was possible because of access to good ground water. Rather than using a series of borings, open-loop design meant there was just one supply well and one rejection well. Energy 1 used a direct, horizontal drilling technique to run the lines below-grade to the edge of the ranch house.

“This was a beautiful, pristine ranch with mature landscaping, vegetation and manicured grass,” Crane said. “You want to be able to finish the project and not be able to tell, a month later, where the work happened. A lot of our due diligence was in making sure the area of disturbance would be minimal.”

The radiant heating system already in place at the house was staple-down in a 4-in. slab on the ground level and staple-up on the second floor. Keeping this in mind, Energy 1 decided to use two three-ton ClimateMaster Tranquility High-Temperature (THW) Series water-to-water units.

“We’re retrofitting the heating plant,” Crane explained, “but not the heat distribution… so in our engineering process, our equipment selection process, we asked what would be the best equipment for this particular application, and in this case ClimateMaster turned out to be the one.”

The mechanical system used Taco zone controls, Grundfos circulators, a Well Mate pressure tank, Bradford White storage tanks and a back-up boiler from Lochinvar. Energy 1 also installed a propane-fired, high-capacity generator for back-up electrical power.

The work was completed in just six weeks in October-November 2011, with some additional time for fine-tuning and system balancing.

“This is another project that we’ve signed up long-term for annual service and maintenance,” Crane said. “We’ve also tracked our initial energy projections post-commissioning… We’re actually beating our original projections in terms of the savings and efficiency of the system.” To date, propane usage has been reduced by approximately 70%.

The homeowner is happy with his results, and Crane is glad to have another satisfied customer.

“Dealing with the higher-end residential market, a lot is involved even before you put boots on the ground,” Crane said. “You need the right plans in place so you can execute.”

TAGS: Geothermal
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