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Glenwood business happy with geothermal heating

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentTom Dykema, a project manager for Mueller Construction Services, leads a tour of a construction project at the Midland Center in West Glenwood on Friday morning. The building will utilize geothermal power for heating and cooling.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Tom Dykema is sold on using geoexchange to heat and cool buildings.

The concept to him isn’t too far removed from Anasazis at Mesa Verde building dwellings into sheltered canyon walls: using the earth to moderate the temperatures of the places people live.

In a geoexchange heating and cooling system, also known as ground source heat pumps, fluids are pumped through pipes underground. The earth leaves them at about 55 degrees. Liquid is pumped back up and cools structures in the summer and heats them in the winter using compression and electricity.



“I keep asking myself where’s the downside? Where’s the unintended consequence?” Dykema said. “And I can’t find one.”

Dykema, project manager for Mueller Construction Services, is a new prophet of the benefits of geoexchange after working toward completion of a second 36,000-square-foot building at the Midland Center in Glenwood Springs, across from the city’s Municipal Operations Center.



“I’m a new convert to the geoexchange heating system, but until I can find a downside, I’m a believer,” he said.

The two buildings at the Midland Center are probably the only commercial buildings in the Roaring Fork Valley to use geoexchange technology, and one of the few examples of it on the Western Slope, said Dean Moffatt, owner of SunDesigns Architects PC. He said there are quite a few geoexchange systems in residences upvalley but none he knows of in existing Glenwood residences.

City engineer Mike McDill said the city plans to use geoexchange technology for a planned new wastewater treatment plant in West Glenwood Springs.



SunDesigns designed the two buildings at the Midland Center and their geoexchange systems for the owner of the property, Al Cappo. It began with the west building about four years ago. The east building is under construction but should be complete by fall or winter.

At both buildings in the Midland Center, piping in the geoexchange systems goes through 36 bores that reach about 275 underground.

“The purpose of the ground loop is to dissipate heat in the summer and collect warmth in the winter,” Moffatt said.

From there pipes go to a mechanical room where small pumps move the fluids. Then the system connects to a building loop. The copper pipes hit the rafters and loop through the buildings. The ground source heat pumps ” which look basically like regular air ventilation and heating boxes ” connect into the loop that brings the steady flow of 55 degree fluids. The “magic boxes,” as Dykema refers to them, work their magic and blow out cool air in the summer or warm air in the winter.

Moffatt said one important feature of the geoexchange systems is that they exchange British Thermal Units (BTUs) within the building. For example, Sopris Lighting has many lights that heat the room and it needs cooling even in the winter while the rest of the building requires heating.

“We take BTUs out of Sopris Lighting, put it in the water pipe and send it down to the other end of the building to the day-care nursery, which needs heating,” Moffatt said. “One man’s wasted heat is another person’s beneficial heat.”

Dykema said one current tenant in the west building is a 3,600-square-foot space with 17-foot ceilings and paid only $1,000 in electric bills in 2007. Moffatt said the extra initial cost of the geothermal exchange at the Midland Center is expected to pay for itself five or six years after construction. The initial cost varies with the size of the building and other factors.

“The bottom line about geoexchange is we’re getting off of our dependency on fossil fuels,” Moffatt said. “There’s no dust. There’s no un-burnt gas. The interior environment is much healthier. You’re not tied to the ever-increasing cost of fossil fuels. If you so desire you can elect for wind power for your modest electrical usage.”

He said geoexchange systems considerably reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Geoexchange has been around a long time, but it hasn’t been until the high cost of energy that people are really looking at it,” Moffatt said. “It’s with sustainable technologies like this that it’s ludicrous to continue thinking about developing things like oil shale.”


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