Geothermal Notes

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Please note - this page contains notes I made when researching Geothermal systems for heating and cooling buildings. I have not (yet?) organized them for presentation or general use, but everyone is welcome to the information here. If you would like to add to it or organize it, please do.
Michael 18:14, 7 November 2007 (EST)

Water Energy Distributors

Water Energy Distributors - Plaistow, NH 603 378-9122.

  • Carl Orio is lead engineer/installer. Steve Karan works with him on projects using geothermal.
  • Diona - Operations Manager. Came up through residential and a daughter-in-law of Carl Orio.
  • Matt Orio - Residential Business
  • Martin Orio - Commercial Business
  • [ Lauren] - Contracting

A lot of information on geothermal at WED's web site.

Martin Orio

Talked with Martin 1/29/08. He lived in Needham for several years before moving to NH to join the family business. Grew up in Medfield near Millis

  • Yes, timeline for HR would work for geothermal
  • Ballpark for outside work $1,500 - $1,700 per ton
  • NB - HR is about 90,000 gross square feet
  • White Paper for Westborough school (1997) - 200 tons for 72,000 sf
  • He,Carl and others are doing a public meeting on geothermal in Bolton on Thursday 1/31
  • Joel Lindsay from Weston Solutions 978 870-4683 arranged the session
  • At Town Hall at 7:30 pm (Bolton Calendar shows
  • Martin would host us for an hour meeting at their office to review our plans
  • We (Architect/PPBC) would then have to do a contract for a feasbility study/design study to developed detailed plans, costs, payback, etc.
  • Ballpark (for typical scope) $3,000 - $4,000

Matt Orio

Talked with Matt Orio 9/6/07. He handles residential business for the company (WED/Northeast Geo)

Carmen at NortheastGeo (Matt's assistant) will send materials for the tables at the Fall Forum.

Ballpark costs

Ballpark figures for outside costs for a typical 2,000 - 3,000 sq foot house:

  • Open Loop System - $7,000 - $9,000
  • Closed Loop System - $12,000

Total costs (including internal equipment and systems) for new construction for similar sized home is typically $16,000 - $20,000, can be very competitive/comparable with more traditional alternatives.

The internal costs can vary quite a bit, especially for retrofits. Those costs should be separated anyway because they are generally needed no matter what the fuel choice. (Total costs and ROI have to consider everything, naturally.)

Operational cost savings - Matt suggests that a typical home spending $3,000/year on oil (at $2.35/gallon) and paying 14 cents/kwh for electricity will see the total cost drop to about $1,500. Matt provides detailed cost savings and financial projections for every project he does.

Houses in New England typically use 2,400 heating hours and 700 cooling hours. So heating drives the investment and savings, but of course makes sense to do both.

Type of system

Closed loop system has a more predictable cost. Rule of thumb for a standing column well is about 150 linear feet of piping per ton of equipment. Rough cost for drilling and piping is $20/linear foot. Typical 2,000 to 3,000 square foot house requires 4-5 tons of capacity.

  • 1 Ton of cooling capacity = 12,000 BTUs (/hour)
  • NB: for cooling system - 1 watt = 3.4 BTU/h
  • 1000 BTU/h = 293W

Closed loop system uses an environmentally-friendly liquid (propylene glycol).

Open loop system can be either a field (typically used in new construction, spread out over the parcel area, just below frost line) or a standing well. Rule of thumb is that costs for a open-loop standing well are 35% below closed loop costs. Can be even less. The costs depend on how deep the well has to be and how long it takes to drill it, which is largely driven by the local geology.

For example, west of the Connecticut River in the Berkshires, you find 100 - 300 feet of dirt in the valleys before you hit bedrock. That can mean a very deep well (or a recommendation to do a closed-loop system).

If you can get 5-10 gallons/minute from the well, you will typically need about 1/2 the well depth of a closed loop system. If you can draw off some of the water before returning it to the ground, you draw more water in from the surrounding aquifer at 50 degrees, increasing the efficiency of the system.


Northeast Geo reps ClimateMaster. Climatemaster's site has information on their equipment, overviews of geothermal systems and links to information about available tax credits.


Northeast Geo has done about 12,000 residential installations in New England. Steve Grogan has had geo in his house for 20 years (where does he live?).


  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency credits from Federal Government (on the 1040) - up to $2,000 total. $300 for geothermal heat pump.
  • Coolchoice program - sponsored by utilities and energy efficiency organizations in New England. Now distributed to utilities. For Needham, CoolChoice is at NStar. Provides funding for commercial (and municipal?) projects.


  • Frank Needham - Needham Company in Bridgewater. Matt will call him with a heads up. He has been doing geothermal for about 20 years.
  • 508 726-1134
  • Ken McKeen - Baines McKeen in Braintree. Talk with Ken, the owner. Also very experienced with Geothermal
  • 781 843-1163
  • Needham Oil & Air - have talked with Matt. Seem open to Geothermal, but haven't done anything with them (they are a fuel company)


Regulations - open loop wells are under the authority of the Mass DEP. Matt has been very encouraged recently as the Mass DEP (Mark Pelletier) came to them when they were redrafting the well regulations in Massachusetts.

Have to investigate local regulation and permitting. Can be issues in some towns where they want to sell their water. These systems are not net users of water, but some places you'd spend more money explaining that than just doing a closed-loop system. Some Boards of Health get concerned, but can usually address those easily since the water never touches in-building systems.

Call with Diona

8/15 - Talked with Diona

  • Carl will come and talk to communities - customized presentation (see web site for examples) based on audience. Cost usually around $1,000.
  • Call Matt Orio after Monday 8/20 to get ballpark numbers on residential
  • Come to their homeowners' seminars (monthly) - bring plans, talk with installers, get any questions answered (see web site - RSVP required) Next on 9/15

  • Use about 700 feet of horizontal pipe per ton of A/C
  • Size systems in NE by heating capacity
    • Manual J (MA) for residential requires heating and cooling by load, cfm by room
    • Manual N for commercial
  • Zoning in MA
    • State level don't have a clue how to handle geo; they talk with Carl to write regs (whch is a good thing)
    • Local level - often have a problem with local Board of Health until they understand that you're not contaminating the groundwater
  • Open and closed systems
    • Open - Pull groundwater up through vertical column, run through unit (heat pump/chiller), return to ground. Never touches internal system, which interface in the heat pump
    • Closed - Run Polyglycol through closed loop into ground and back through unit
      • Actually less environmentally friendly because of leakage potential
      • About 30% more expensive, 30% less efficient (but less maintenance)

  • Residential Water
    • Makes ROI/Justification easier if drilling well for both purposes
    • Otherwise, no need to use residential water - can drill just for geothermal
    • Existing well can be problem because may need more depth or capacity
    • Domestic use rated by g/min - usually 5 g/min
    • Geothermal doesn't need much gpm, has other requirement (what was it?)

  • Haverhill Public Library - good project to look at on their web site

WED also reps one of the manufacturers of the geothermal heat pumps they use (more expensive, so doesn't always get used).

Steve Karan - BER

Steve Karan, BER, Inc. (Building Engineering Resources) 508 230-0260 x215,

On geothermal systems, BER primarily designs the building equipment. They work with Water Energy Distributors in Plaistow, NH. WED designs and drills the wells. They also do the economics of the wells.

BER will provide them tonnage for A/C and WED will figure out the size and number of wells. They can get 30-40 tons per well. (Residential typically needs 5 tons or less).

  • Vertical wells - standing column wells
  • Horizontal installation - piping laid below frost line around the property. (See page on the Irish company.) (Question - is horizontal a sealed system - not using groundwater?)

Water Energy Distributors -

Carl Orio.  Steve works with WED for many of its geothermal projects.  


  • Compressors have to be sized for low-temperature water. But they also operate much more efficiently.
  • Geothermal is typically run for heat pumps but can use geothermal chiller.
  • Heat pumps require compressor in unit ventilator. Adds noise and makes bringing in outside air more difficult.
  • Chiller - run water to rooms and just need fan. Easier to mix outside air. Also less complicated to run water than ductwork, especially in renovations of older buildings.

  • Geothermal eliminates one central piece of equipment - cooling tower. Water waste.


  • Water quality can be an issue with wells - if it is poor, may need to filter entire system, adding expense. (Need to better understand this.)


  • More likely to do horizontal piping (especially in new construction, because have access to the site to bury pipes)
  • Typically <5 tons
  • BER using geothermal in a Boston building renovation - houses a TV studio, so noise was an issue. Couldn't put cooling tower on building, no place to put large exterior compressors.
  • Using geothermal in full renovation of Ames Library in North Easton. Privately paid for - presumably grants and donations. Replacing all HVAC systems - much smaller plant in basement means they can renovate space for the children's room.


  • Costs have come down - application is less cumbersome, have created multiple categories
  • Typically hire a LEED consultant for the project - tracks points and handles paperwork and filing.
  • Costs include:
    • Consultant to gather and track information, file application
    • Consultants to test and validate compliance for points

    • Consultant to gather and track information, file application
    • Consultants to test and validate compliance for points