For the do it yourselfer

Discussion in 'Quotes and Proposals' started by AMI Contracting, Mar 14, 2012.

  1. AMI Contracting

    AMI Contracting A nice Van Morrison song Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Someone wishing to do their own geothermal installation should understand all the steps and hire out those they don't feel comfortable doing themselves. Thousands may still be saved without installing your self onto an Island.

    Here are the larger tasks for a typical geothermal install:

    Design: not only load calculations, but duct sizing, loop sizing flow center sizing, heat pump sizing. Good design and calculations ensure the best result. Are you the best designer? This work is relatively inexpensive when compared to the pitfalls you might avoid. A good designer will know your area, it's soils, utility companies etc. or come to your home to understand them.

    Equipment selection: Bigger is not always better and while we have all preached that brand doesn't matter- installer does; once you become the installer you want to select equipment that is easiest for you to install and service.

    Loop design/selection: Here size matters more than anywhere else. By far the hardest thing to fix once installed is underground loops.
    Vertical loops: almost always require a licensed well driller and are generally the most expensive (unless you are lucky enough to reside near waterpirate).
    Horizontal loops: are the easiest closed loop for the DIY to install.
    Open loop: Probably the easiest loop system for a homeowner to install if you have a well and a place to dump the water.

    Duct size and installation: Whether transitions or a whole house duct system, competant sheet metal fabricators and installers may save you time, money and improve performance.

    Electrical system sizing and installation: A geo system may require electrical support equivelant to what you already have in your home. Heavy draws on mis-sized wiring can create potential hazards.

    Excavation: Experienced diggers can greatly speed your project and reduce impact to your lawn. By the time you subtract equipment rental and your time as well as possible damage to your property, a hired excavator may save you money.

    Flushing and fusion: Though covered in part by loop design, you have indoor piping flow center selection and assembly to consider. Fusionless fittings are available though not inexpensive. PEX and other materials may be employed but you have to isolate individual loops or employ a flush cart. Some folks may prefer to hire out all or part of this task.

    Where to find help:
    Many of the advertisers and contributors here have assissted DIY projects. Reputable companies will rarely assist folks out of a driveable radius as design is very geographically specific.
    Can't find someone in your area? The international ground source heat pump list of certified loop installers identifies the company many of the installers work for. If it is a well driller or excavator they may be less likely to feel as though they are taking work from themselves by assisting you.

    Where not to find help: Success rate is much lower with those who buy a crated kit on-line sized soley by the square feet of their house. Those who don't find it necessary to be familiar with your home, duct work and it's location are literally rolling the dice for your satisfaction.
    A customer I met recently had a 2 ton duct system and load. He was recommended a 4 ton heat pump (by XYZ water and wind)! If you want noisey operation and poor performance they had it nailed.

    While these are the high points, your success depends on how much you educate yourself or how experienced those you employ to help are.

    Don't forget permits are required in many areas not only by law but for tax credits, utility company rebates and homeowner insurance compliance.

    Finally some tax credits and utility company rebates require a contractor involved in the installation. Make sure you don't lose $700 in rebates to save $1,000 on help.

    I'd like to here some legally installed DIY stories. Note: if your idea of saving money was ignoring laws, violating codes etc. that's not the money saving strategy we are interested in promoting.

    Good Luck.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012
  2. Blake Clark

    Blake Clark Member

    I am probably not the typical self-installer, but I have plenty of hindsight into how much effort goes into a good install. First, second, third and forth lesson learned: the effort is WAY more than I bargained for when I started. It took over a year to get my system installed and optimized. I did save significant money - but only if I don't count the hundreds (if not thousands...) of hours of research, design, and installation.

    I used a professional firm with years of experience in Geo to size the system. (I still think its one size too big). I also used the same company to certify my installation for tax, warranty, and code purposes. This wasn't cheap, on the order of a couple thousand dollars. For this, I got access to their engineers with any questions I had, access to their suppliers and subs, and a handful of site visits, including power up and testing. This isn't how they were accustomed to doing business and this arrangement wasn't without tension. I get it, though, they put themselves on the hook and didn't have as much control as they would have liked.

    I have a standing column system (described in other posts) and sub-contracted a drilling company with experience in geo to modify my existing well with a return line, new pump and wiring. This was about 3 thousand, not including pump and controls. It was a full day with three guys and a track hoe, plus material.

    I did everything else, including ductwork design and modifications, pump sizing, manifold and control systems, plus two new circuits from the panel. That last one was easy, since the panel was 10 feet away and had plenty of space in it left over from the days when the house was electric baseboard :eek:

    Ductwork was not a piece of cake. I did add zoning and needed to accommodate twice the airflow of my old propane system, which meant extensive modifications. Just trying to figure out how to get everything to fit was challenging enough, let alone balancing the system. I am very proud of that work, and in the end I think I did a better job of sweating the details than many pros would. I'm pretty sure that <200 blower watts for 1,300 cfm isn't achieved on most jobs! Luckily, there was a commercial sheet metal fabricator down the street from me. They don't normally do residential, but I talked them into fabbing the transition pieces. They also ended up installing them for me (mainly 'cause they were curious about this strange technology called geothermal and wanted to come see it for themselves!) Still, I shelled out thousands on sheet metal and controls and spent countless hours wrestling with it.

    I mentioned I am not the typical DIY'er in that I was in it for more than just saving money. I was determined to demonstrate that a poorly producing domestic well with a 100 foot deep water table could be a cost effective and efficient exchange loop for geothermal. I pushed the design envelope quite forcefully and took some calculated risks which in the end paid off (so far) with very high system COP and much lower installed costs than drilling new boreholes through granite.

    Would I do it again? Well, sure, yeah. I kinda know what I'm doing now....
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2012
  3. AMI Contracting

    AMI Contracting A nice Van Morrison song Industry Professional Forum Leader

    I confess blake we sometimes do turnkey systems that drag on awhile. Congratulations onyour successful outcome.
  4. Blake Clark

    Blake Clark Member

    Thanks, Joe. I've been following the DX thread and I know you ask (and are qualified to ask) the tough questions. How come I get off so easy? :rolleyes:

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