OKLAHOMA CITY — The historic Veraestau property, which overlooks the Ohio River in Aurora, Ind., holds renewed significance as a regional landmark. Two hundred years after its original purchase by Jesse Holman as a country estate, the 300-acre farm, located near the confluence of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, now serves as one of the country’s most innovative training grounds for geothermal system design, installation and service.
GeoFarm, an annual event organized by ClimateMaster manufacturer’s distributor Corken Steel Products Company and geothermal driller Bucher Services, was recently held for its fifth consecutive year on the property, successfully attracting more than 300 HVAC contractors from as far as several states away. The day-long event included a variety of comprehensive, hands-on opportunities for participants to learn about and observe all aspects of a geothermal system— from equipment specification, to loop field drilling and trenching, to system controls programming.
“When we all got together to think through what an event like this might look like, we started with the question ‘What would really help these guys embrace geothermal?’,” said Brian Stahl, technical support and training manager at Corken Steel. “We decided that hands-on learning, where our customers could not just see and touch, but actually have the opportunity to help build a geothermal system from the ground up, was where to focus.”
According to Stahl, the opportunity to use the expansive Veraestau farm, now owned by Bucher Services’ president Dwight Bucher, enabled the companies to create a truly unique event within the industry at-large.
“Our guys count on training to keep their skills fresh and remain competitive, and need courses to maintain their professional licenses,” Stahl said. “Many times these things are about having a bunch of PowerPoint presentations thrown at you, which is just not all that compelling. GeoFarm is an incredible experience, allowing contractors to see geothermal, put their feet in it and really grab a hold of it in a way that gives them confidence to recommend and install these systems when they go back to their daily business.”
Engaged in six one-hour sessions throughout the day, GeoFarm attendees participated in live onsite drilling, trenching, piping and grouting demonstrations, and critiqued fully operational vertical, horizontal and pond loop systems. In addition, they were able to engage with ancillary equipment and service suppliers from every end of the geothermal system, as well as see some of the latest ClimateMaster heat pump units and controls in operation.
“GeoFarm is such an effective way to get contractors up to speed on our latest technologies, by giving them the opportunity to not only learn about their features and benefits, but actually see them live and in action,” said Joe Fish, district manager, residential products, Mideast for ClimateMaster. According to Fish, this year’s GeoFarm training included an overview on the company’s latest unit, the Tranquility 30 Digital Series,with digital communicating controls, two-stage capacity, variable-speed fan and variable-flow geothermal source functions. It also incorporated an interactive demonstration in working with ClimateMaster’s iGate intelligent control system and ultra high-efficiency vFlow variable water flow technologies.
“By giving contractors real tools and know-how in selling, installing and servicing geothermal systems, GeoFarm is a direct line to creating more business for them,” said Jay Kaiser, marketing manager at Corken Steel. “Just the fact that this event has grown three times over in the first five years alone, which equates to the professional training of more than 1,500 people strong, shows GeoFarm’s compelling value to the industry.”
According to James Tobias, new house manager at Airtron Heating & Air Conditioning in Dayton, Ohio, GeoFarm’s authentic experiences are key to helping ramp up the next generation of geothermal contractors. “I’ve been installing geothermal systems in homes since the early 80s, and have seen the industry go through a lot of changes since then,” Tobias said. “Homeowners are getting much more educated about the benefits of geothermal systems thanks to the tax incentives and overall rising energy costs, and some are even coming in with a lot of complex background knowledge from their own research.”
“The construction market is definitely coming back — our business is up 30% this year — and we need trained professionals to be able to deliver on the demand for geothermal installations in homes,” continued Tobias. “We brought guys here for the first time this year, and they’ve already seen so much they can apply when we head back. It’s also great to amp up the enthusiasm by being among peers, learning about the latest technology that’s available. Systems like the Tranquility line from ClimateMaster have really elevated the industry to a whole new level.”
As a fellow veteran in installing geothermal systems, Billy Roe, owner of Grayson, Ky.-based All Temp Heating & Air Conditioning, echoes this sentiment. “In the 80s it was all about aligning with the power companies and their messages to customers about finding ways to save on energy bills,” said Roe. “When we told homeowners they could reduce energy costs by up to 40% from installing geothermal, that was all we needed to say. These days, it’s important to show your credentials and experience in knowing how these systems really work, and ensuring that they’re professionally installed and operate virtually maintenance-free. Word of mouth is a big deal, which means the systems need to be designed and installed properly, and incorporate the best equipment.”
Family-owned Tucker Heating & Air Conditioning of Middletown, Ohio, views GeoFarm as a way of ensuring its staff — consisting of husband and wife co-presidents Ken and Carolyn Tucker, and sons Rob and Scott Tucker — is well-equipped with the latest industry knowledge.
“We’ve attended GeoFarm as a family every year for the past five years, and always find it to be a valuable experience for everyone,” said Rob Tucker, vice president of sales and service. “We really do take our company motto seriously — ‘When you call Tucker, you get a Tucker’—which means we all need to be up-to-date on the latest in geothermal equipment and installation techniques.”
According to Tucker, the business philosophies of both Corken Steel and Bucher Services are well-aligned with those of his own, particularly in their mutual dedication to being very hands-on and high-quality in their service.
“Corken Steel and Bucher have gone to no end in making this one of the industry’s premier trainings, which is very similar to our experience with them when we’re actually on a job,” said Tucker. “It’s clear that they’re committed to ensuring businesses like ours are successful with geothermal installations, and that we understand every part of them so they are properly and professionally installed, tested and serviced.”
Tucker also denotes the importance of using reliable equipment backed by a reputable manufacturer.
“Corken Steel introduced us to ClimateMaster after we’d seen several of their competitors, and there was just no comparison,” said Tucker. “We’ve toured their facility, and feel very confident about installing and maintaining their equipment at this point. It’s invaluable to feel like the companies you work with have your back like this, especially when it’s your whole family’s name on the door.”
ClimateMaster Inc. is a manufacturer of geothermal and water-source heat pumps. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., ClimateMaster Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of LSB Industries Inc. whose common stock is traded over the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol LXU.