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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    7

    Undersized geothermal system?

    I have read a number of the threads on this website and greatly appreciate the expertise of those who share their experience. Here is my problem:

    I am planning to install an open loop geothermal system HVAC system in North Carolina on a new home construction. I have already contracted with a local HVAC firm with experience with geothermal systems, but as I learn more about these systems, I am concerned that the HVAC system itself and the size of the loop may be undersized for the home. As a physician, I am a firm believer in the concept of a second opinion, and I was hoping someone who specializes in designing geothermal systems could provide a second opinion about the installation we have planned. I recognize that without floorplans in hand, the opinions provided will be just estimates, but I'd like to know if we are in the right ballpark. Unfortunately, I have very little time to obtain this information (just thought of the idea of a second opinion, though it seems obvious in retrospect). The well has already been dug and the duct work laid. The HVAC system itself has not been installed, however, though I expect it will be within a week or so if I let it proceed. I would be happy to provide whatever information I can to expedite the process:

    house size: total 4675 square feet

    * 2100 sq ft first floor - half 11 ft ceilings / half 10 ft ceilings
    * 1900 sq ft 2nd floor - 9 ft ceilings
    * 675 sq ft attic - 9 ft ceilings (attic will be finished; insulated roof deck)

    crawl space construction with sealed crawl space

    house faces south

    windows

    * quite a bit of window facing north and south
    * windows are Jeld-Wen Premium Wood Siteline EX Low E, argon filled
    * U-value = 0.32
    * CR = 55
    * SHGC = 0.27

    insulation - two options being considered

    * open cell foam entire house with 5" in roof deck + 3.5" in 2x4 construction
    * open cell foam of 3rd floor to include roof deck + batt insulation in remainder of house including R-13 in walls

    other issues

    * 2 adults + 2 children
    * largely wooded lot with considerable shade
    * 45 degree roof pitch

    planned geothermal system

    * open loop, vertical well
    * 600' column already achieved
    * 5-ton total split between crawl space and attic

    Thank you for any information you can provide. I would also appreciate any suggestions on whether to use foam insulation throughout or just keep it to the roof deck and 3rd floor and batt elsewhere to save money.

    These forums are invaluable to us HOs without your expertise. Thanks.

    -JAB490

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    South Jordan Utah
    Posts
    158
    Any geo system should be sized using the BTU/hour load that is calculated from a Manual J heat load.

    If your installer did not do this, he is guessing on the size of your heat pump.

    If you can provide the results of the Manual J, then we can better help you with a second opinion.
    Dewayne Dean

    www.palacegeothermal.com

    See my live system data here:

    We Heat and Cool with Dirt

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    7
    Thanks. I'm happy to get whatever info will help. Am I just asking him for the BTU/hour load? He assured me he was using manual J calculations - which is how I learned about manual J in the first place - so, assuming he actually did, I do believe the system was based on something more concrete than his guesstimate. Based on other threads where people have mentioned square footage, HVAC tonage, and loop size, I'm concerned that we are trying to skirt by with the bare minimum acceptable size because any larger would make the system cost-prohibitive (2nd well, larger HVAC, etc). I'll see what I can find out.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Beech Creek, PA
    Posts
    68

    things to think about with open loop systems

    I have been installing and servicing geothermal now for about three years. the company i work for is the biggest geothermal installers in central PA
    A few questions i must ask:

    Why are you going open loop?
    What we have found is that the open loop system needs to have more flow then closed loop system due to the loop water and not being able to take advantage of an antifreeze. which brings up another problem what happens when temp. gets below freezing? even though the loop will be below the frost line (and since you are going with wells it is a better advantage) But pulling up ground water will bring in sediment which is going to plug your coaxle coil quicker then a closed loop would. and another problem with open loops or pump and dump is what happens when north carolina has a drought which occurs often in the southern climates. (i have a sister that lives in creedmore NC which is close tothe durham area.

    Another good note to think about is each ton should have around 200 ft per ton or for every 1200 btu

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    7
    Hmm. Can't remember why we open vs closed loop. I suspect that's just what our contractor is more used to because closed loop wasn't really discussed much.

    The 200ft per tone rule of thumb would obviously put us undersized for the well since that rule would suggest 1000' of well vs. the 600' we presently have. This may be a stupid question - I have no engineering background - but would that rule be the same in PA where the ground water may be in the 40's(?) as in NC where our water is in the 50s or 60? That is, if the water is warmer to start, would I need as much well height, or is that just completely unrelated?

    Also, what WILL happen during the next drought? I guess I thought that at 600' the well wouldn't run dry, but I guess it will run lower. If the well is undersized to the HVAC system, will we just have to run the system longer to achieve desired temp, or will it just never achieve the set temp?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Central Oregon
    Posts
    27
    Original post was in March. The system is probly in already with the schedule he gave. I also wondered about the multi stories and single system not zoned. What really caught my attention was the difference in load cals from NC to ORE. His calcs were so close to even "lol" ours here are like 107k loss to 88K gain and we're way dry, no latent. Always learning on here.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    2,793
    You might try this company for a second opinion, I think they are in your area. If you paid for a heatload calculation then you should get a copy of it.

    http://www.thehomeenergycompany.com/

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    7
    Geodean suggested I ask for the BTU/hour load. I requested this information from our contractor who responded:

    heat loss: 60269 BTU's
    heat gain: 55716 BTU's

    He did not provide a per hour figure. These numbers do not mean anything to me. Can anyone explain?

    I am trying to arrange a meeting with our contractor ASAP so he can explain the assumptions that went in to his calculation and, hopefully, he can show me how he calculated that the system he plans to install can handle the load. But I'm not sure I can pull it off before the system is installed due to my own out of town work schedule. So any information anyone can suggest from these numbers and the information in the first post would be most appreciated. Our contractor seems very reasonable, and I have no reason to suspect he isn't well-qualified. Based on other threads on this website, I'm just concerned he is using all best-case scenario assumptions.

    Also, if it looks like we are undersized and it's too late to change (contract signed, system ordered, partially installed?), would foam insulation (open cell, 2x4 walls + 8" attic) rather than batt (R-13 walls, R-30 attic) make much of a difference in the ability of the HVAC system to handle the load? It means adding a $2500 ERV air exchange system plus the added cost of foam.

    Thanks again.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Kathleen GA
    Posts
    236
    Quote Originally Posted by redmondtech View Post
    I have been installing and servicing geothermal now for about three years. the company i work for is the biggest geothermal installers in central PA
    A few questions i must ask:

    Why are you going open loop?
    What we have found is that the open loop system needs to have more flow then closed loop system due to the loop water and not being able to take advantage of an antifreeze. which brings up another problem what happens when temp. gets below freezing? even though the loop will be below the frost line (and since you are going with wells it is a better advantage) But pulling up ground water will bring in sediment which is going to plug your coaxle coil quicker then a closed loop would. and another problem with open loops or pump and dump is what happens when north carolina has a drought which occurs often in the southern climates. (i have a sister that lives in creedmore NC which is close tothe durham area.

    Another good note to think about is each ton should have around 200 ft per ton or for every 1200 btu

    First, if you are going open loop then you don't have to really worry about loop size. You simply need to insure that the inflow and return wells are as far a part as possible (at least 50 feet). If you can have them at different depths that helps also. Do make sure to go deep enough to avoid drought issues.

    Redmontech: Your post confuses me on several fronts. You state open loops need more flow because they can not take advantage of antifreeze. Everything I ever see is that the antifreeze has less heat transfer than water and requires more pump power too. This should mean that an open source unti would require slightly less flow - not more. Can you explain your logic or why your company is seeing the reverse of what engineering predicts and most other companies have found? Thanks.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    South Jordan Utah
    Posts
    158
    It looks like you are OK.

    Call me if you have any questions.

    My phone number can be found on my website posted at the bottom of this message.
    Dewayne Dean

    www.palacegeothermal.com

    See my live system data here:

    We Heat and Cool with Dirt

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    7
    Thank you for looking at the information and providing feedback. I greatly appreciate the second opinion, and it is reassuring to know things don't look dramatically out of line. Our contractor has since provided me with the entire manual J calculation (about 10 pages, more or less). Is there one particular thing I should look for in those calculations? At this point I need to decide if using foam throughout the house - rather than just in the finished 3rd floor attic - is worth the additional $5000 cost for the insulation and air exchange system. If the HVAC is boarderline, I'd spend the money on the foam. If we are well within specs, I would save the money.

    Thanks again for your time and knowledge.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Posts
    159
    Quote Originally Posted by jab490 View Post
    Thank you for looking at the information and providing feedback. I greatly appreciate the second opinion, and it is reassuring to know things don't look dramatically out of line. Our contractor has since provided me with the entire manual J calculation (about 10 pages, more or less). Is there one particular thing I should look for in those calculations? At this point I need to decide if using foam throughout the house - rather than just in the finished 3rd floor attic - is worth the additional $5000 cost for the insulation and air exchange system. If the HVAC is boarderline, I'd spend the money on the foam. If we are well within specs, I would save the money.

    Thanks again for your time and knowledge.
    Did he do the manual J assuming the foam insulation or batts?

    I'd say a 5 ton looks right, but be careful about open loop. I ran open loop for awhile, and I clogged my water lines with rust build-up. Also, redmondtech said open loop requires more flow. That's wrong. I believe it's just the opposite. With open loop you can run less flow because you are getting "new" water all the time. In a closed loop you need more flow because you're essentially recycling the water. Without knowing more about your lot it's hard to argue one way or the other (open vs closed). Obviously your contractor was good enough to do a manual J and select the right size unit so he/she seems respectable, but remember that it's pretty important to get your loop right. Geothermal only turns out to be wonderful when your loop is right.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Beech Creek, PA
    Posts
    68

    good discussion

    jab490

    If your loop is undersized of course your system is going to run un-efficiently. poor water flow in the summer months running a/c will over heat the compressor heating the windings in the motor and giving you less compressor life. you would be constantly failing either thermal cut out or high pressure depending on the safty device.
    poor water flow in the winter would freeze your water coil and starving the compressor of refrigerant either way is no good. but you have been doing your research and getting good information from everyone good luck ad your doing it right.

    Also about the different entering water temp. for different regions in the united states is an answer that i dont have but that is a great suggestion for the loop footage. i will find out and post back
    Good Luck,
    Brian

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