An ordinary residential job for Ray Bayliff, and most othergeothermaldrillers for that matter, involves drilling one set of boreholes to install a single geothermal heat pump system for one house.

Article Index:

This year, the geothermal drilling contractor of 25 years has been assigned a job most in the industry would consider an unconventional godsend. “This is pretty unique,” Bayliff says.

Bayliff’s Duncan, Okla.-based business, Van & Company, has been selected to drill boreholes for a 100 percent geothermal neighborhood of 46 homes in Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City. That’s right — every house in McAlister Construction Inc.’s Avondale residential development project will use geothermal heating and cooling systems, and Bayliff’s drilling crew will drill the holes for all 46 of the vertical loops necessary. “They’re excited. … They think, how cool is that that we’re the ones that are going to get to do it,” Bayliff says. “Because I know there are other drilling contractors that are right there in Oklahoma City. But we were selected and we’re thrilled.”

McAlister Construction co-owners Josh Kitchen and Greg McAlister have placed a strong emphasis on energy efficiency in the homes they have built since 2007. In a typical year, Kitchen says they build three to five geothermal homes. This is the first time they’ve gone 100 percent with a neighborhood. “We found that if you make geothermal an option, some will choose to do it, some won’t,” Kitchen says. “But we think if you don’t give a customer a choice and they see the benefits of it, I think it’s a pretty easy selling point.”

The homes, ranging from 1,600 to 2,500 square feet, will include one or two Tranquility 22 Digital Two-Stage (TZ) Series ClimateMaster geothermal heat pump (GHP) systems. One to three boreholes will be drilled into the front yard of each home, most likely under the driveway. The two to two-and-a-half year project kicked off in December 2014 and Bayliff says he expected to start drilling in early February.

As far as interest is concerned, so far, so good, Kitchen says. “As we’ve started these houses we’ve already had a ton of interest. We’ve just broken ground. Already people are getting down payments and contracts already on a few of these.”

The drilling involved is expected to be pretty straightforward, according to Bayliff, who says he’s familiar with the area, which is made up of sand, red bed, water and some clay. The boreholes are projected to reach about 200 feet deep and take about an hour and 15 minutes to complete. Bayliff’s drilling crew of three plans to start out using a Gefco rig and potentially add a Mobile Drill track rig to the jobsite lineup depending on how things play out.

Easier for the Driller

What’s so great about this project, Bayliff says, is that it involves new construction. When existing homeowners make the transition from traditional heating and cooling systems to GHPs, Bayliff and his team have to deal with potentially challenging yards with established landscaping. Often times the neighbors live really close and more care has to be taken to contain the mess that drilling brings. “In this case we pull on with a rig and the lot’s just dirt and so they’re not as picky,” he says. “On an existing home you have to work around the bushes and the sidewalks and fences and other things, where in this case we will be deeper than all of the other utilities and so we kind of get in first.”

The biggest advantage to drilling boreholes for a neighborhood of 46 homes involves time and transportation. Bayliff says he provides geothermal drilling services across the state of Oklahoma, so jobsites tend to be pretty far from headquarters. But with all of the work literally in one neighborhood, a lot less time is spent on the road between jobs. “It’s more efficient for us because we pull the rig into the addition and we’ll do 10 houses in a row right in that addition,” Bayliff says. “It’s nice to come in and set up and drill maybe 30 to 50 holes and then leave instead of drilling three or four holes.”

The drilling will be carried out on a rolling basis, as homes are built. Bayliff says as many as 10 homes at a time will be ready for boreholes.

The advantages of close proximity are just as exciting to Kitchen, who says that when the driller is able to increase efficiency and save money on fixed costs like gas, he benefits. “Some of the savings has been passed onto us so we’re able to get a little bit better pricing from drillers because we’re saving money, they’re saving money too,” he says. “Even with ClimateMaster, because we’re committing to do this kind of project, they’re working with us on the prices.”

Beneficial for the buyers

Ultimately, the future Avondale homeowners will benefit greatly too. Kitchen says his building company averages in the low 50s on Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index scores. By going geothermal, he expects the homes to fall into the 30s.

The more energy efficient a home is, the more affordable the utilities will be, Kitchen says. “Let’s say someone has a mortgage on a house. Let’s say they spend $20 more a month on their mortgage because they’re getting a geothermal system. The savings are probably $75 to $100 a month on energy use, so it’s a no brainer.”

He says the customers that request geothermal for their houses typically have an engineer in their family or somebody that is up on the technology, so they’re quite informed. But, Kitchen says, a lot of people he builds for don’t fully understand the benefits of GHPs and that the up-front costs can be hard to get past. He says a lot of those look at the cost of their monthly payment when purchasing a home and fail to consider what their utility payment will be. “Depending on the house, you can spend $10,000 to $20,000 more a house to put a geothermal system in up front, but you can save $100 to $200 dollars a month. So it’s pretty clear how quickly you can pay back that investment.”

A Bright Future for Geothermal

Since McAlister Construction started in 2001, Kitchen says consumer awareness about energy efficiency and the option of geothermal continues to grow. So does Bayliff, who says that demand for his drilling services keeps getting better with time.

Kitchen says he’s dedicated to educating home buyers about the benefits of GHP systems and that from experience, an understanding of what geothermal heating and cooling offers has positively impacted clients’ opinions on the option.

Bayliff, who says he thinks geothermal should be mandatory, is very appreciative of McAlister Construction’s approach to taking the choice out of going geothermal with the Avondale development. “I believe in geothermal,” he says. “I believe in the future of geothermal. I’ve seen it grow for the last 25 years and I believe it will continue to grow.”

A neighborhood in need of geothermal drilling certainly bodes better for business than a single home does, and unique super-sized contracts like this one could very well become a new norm for geothermal drillers. “I can definitely see where we’ll do it again in the future,” Kitchen says. “Time will tell.”

Bayliff says he believes in the geothermal business so much that this past year he and his wife borrowed the money to buy two new drilling rigs. “I’m 66 years old. I should be retiring and here we’re not at all. We’re
just excited.”

Valerie King is associate editor of National Driller.