Geothermal heating and cooling has always been somewhat of a niche market or a specialty if you will. Why is that? How come every HVAC or mechanical contractor will install an air-to-air heat pump but not a water-to-air heat pump? Heck most of us have installed a water to air heat pump on a cooling tower loop a hundred times before. I can say from personal experience it’s most likely the fear of the unknown. When you know something really well you tend to stick with what works and avoid the work you don’t know, or aren’t proficient at. This makes a lot of sense considering we are all in this business to make money after all, and how can you keep margins up while dealing with a learning curve and a “new to you” technology? There isn’t a lot of room for error these days with tight margins and lots of competition which brings me to my next point of reasons why you should include geothermal in your repertoire. I like to refer to it as the double D’s; Diversity, and Distinction.
Diversity: One of the biggest reasons I dove into the geothermal industry personally was diversity. As a primarily commercial service contractor we were seeing the market get flooded with competition and low ball bidding. Rooftop HVAC systems were our specialty in the retail and commercial office space locations. We grew to a size that was great for having enough techs to give excellent service and response along with being able to handle larger installations. However with that said we carried a larger overhead than many smaller 1-4 man shops. It was time to seek alternatives in the area of renewable energy, specifically geothermal and solar thermal technologies.
Distinction: How could we separate ourselves from all the other rooftop HVAC contractors, even those with the same company infrastructure as our own? Let’s face it, not every contractor out there can offer up these alternative solutions to their customers. So why wouldn’t we want to be one of the contractors that could? Seems like a simple enough question to answer, right? Renewable energy is the future of this industry after all isn’t it? Well wanting to do geothermal and solar thermal and actually modifying your company to be able to do it is not as simple as the answer above. However, it is important to distinguish yourself apart from the other contractors in some way and what better way is there than getting involved with one of the most energy efficient means of heating and cooling there is available in the world today? Maybe someday these technologies will be mainstream and just like our rooftop business every “Chuck in a truck” will be able to sell and install them. For now we will settle to be one of a small percentage of contractors in our area that are able to sell and install renewable energy solutions with success and reliability.
The transition into the geo and solar markets is not necessarily easy. Although we have installed over 100 tons worth of geothermal heating and cooling in the last year not every job was a home run. The first one or two had their bumps in the road but like anything else you figure it out and get it done. Were the margins always there from day one? Not exactly, but again we adapted, learned from the challenges, and continued on to a new, sensible, and profitable market to further diversify and distinguish ourselves from the competition.
Scott has been working in the HVAC industry for almost 20 years. He holds numerous licenses with the state of Mass and is NATE and IGSHPA certified. Scott also holds a certificate from Northeastern University in HVAC Systems Design. The sign on his office door read “Sales Engineer” but he wears many hats for Mercury Mechanical HVAC Services, located in Weymouth, Massachusetts. He's proud of his two growing kids and loving wife and just as proud to have called Mercury his workplace home for 17 years.