Geothermal heat pumps have long been on the fringes of modern day HVAC equipment. The latest estimates put market penetration at less than 1% of the overall housing market. This was easily explained twenty years ago. Oil was cheap, geothermal technology was still working out its kinks, and a wide ranging and professional installer network was just beginning to form. These barriers kept geothermal from being an automatic consideration when upgrading a residential heating system.
Now, 20 years later, these are no longer issues. Oil is more costly and experts agree that it’s only going to get more expensive. Natural gas, though relatively new to the HVAC scene, still comes with its own risks and expense.
Geothermal technology has also come a long way, and automation has moved forward with leaps and bounds. Now, a home owner can check the status of their geothermal unit remotely, from their iPhone. They can program the smart thermostat to raise and lower the temperature remotely, and check on the actual function of the machine to make sure there are no warning indicators. Even the worry of losing heat in the middle of winter is no longer necessary, since all heat pumps come with an optional electric back up.
The largest barrier by far to geothermal adoption has been the standardization of the industry and the lack of certified, qualified professionals in the industry. In the infancy of the technology, installations were done by geothermal enthusiasts, who often had little or no standardized training or certification. With the introduction of the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition in Canada, a new standard of excellence was now attainable. The Canadian GeoExchange Coalition offers training courses and certifications, as well as a centralized, national registry of certified individuals. This organization also became an advocate for geothermal, allowing the technology to become eligible for energy efficiency grants across the country.
This broad sweeping standardization and certification enables homeowners to rely on a certain standard of excellence and knowledge that the CGC certified installers would possess, making the process of installing a geothermal heat pump through a reputable company easier than ever before. Many large HVAC companies have added geothermal installations to their wide repertoire of services, pushing geothermal even closer to the mainstream.
Geothermal has come a long way in the last 20 years. The technology has improved in leaps and bounds, rising oil prices and general concern for the environment make them a compelling investment, and the presence of certified and professional installers eliminate the concerns most homeowners have about high quality workmanship.
There is still work to be done, however. More effort needs to be put into eliminating the remaining barriers, including access to financing for homeowners and ensuring that realtors value the home appropriately after a geothermal heat pump is installed. Homeowners must currently seek bank financing for their geothermal installation, which can be cumbersome. Additionally, realtors need to be educated in the value that geothermal provides a home, so that they can fully convey the benefits to prospective buyers and price the home accordingly.
Geothermal is on the cusp of entering the mainstream of the HVAC market. The technology is ready, the distribution and installation system is in place, and the incentives are there. The barriers to geothermal have reduced significantly over the years and are continuing to disappear.
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