Let me tell you about our experience with a WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system at our house. We bought a $100,000 plus "high end" WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system for our custom built house.
We did our research about geothermal HVAC systems. We learned that WaterFurnace makes the best geothermal heat pumps and equipment, although their prices are also high. We discovered that homeowners are advised to buy high quality geothermal heat pumps and to hire the most qualified designer and installer. We followed all of that advice.
We hired a top WaterFurnace dealer in our area. The dealer specialized in "high-end geothermal HVAC systems". The owner of the company was a state-licensed professional engineer who also had IGSHPA geothermal HVAC training and certifications. He also had training from WaterFurnace. Our architect and builder had prior experience with the HVAC dealer and its owner, and recommended them to us. Our architect used them to maintain his own home's HVAC system. So we thought we were "golden" and naturally assumed that we would end up with an extremely high quality result. Boy were we ever wrong.
Upon completion of the house, we discovered that our geothermal HVAC system didn't heat or cool the house properly. Our dealer promised he would fix the problems. Since he was a top WaterFurnace dealer and a licensed professional engineer on top of that, we trusted him and assumed everything would be straightened out quickly. We thought it had to be something minor. Pretty soon we were into June, July and August without a properly functioning air conditioning system. Our dealer was now blaming the problem on the house instead of his HVAC system.
At first he said it was because the next door neighbor had cut down a tree in their yard. He said our attic was "too hot" even though it had twice the code-required ventilation, 30 inches of blown insulation and had passed inspection during construction. As a delay tactic, he insisted we cut holes in our brand new roof to add power ventilators (which we did but it didn't help). We were surviving only by using portable air conditioners.
What we didn't know was that our dealer was in the process of selling his company to a group of investors who had no prior HVAC experience and were going to hire him to continue to operate the business for them, as their employee. Meanwhile, the design problems with our geothermal HVAC system were being concealed from us and also from the buyers who paid a lot of money to buy the business. Our dealer had been deliberately delaying and stonewalling until he could get the sale completed and hand the problem over to the new owners.
As would be expected, we appealed to WaterFurnace for help. We assumed that WaterFurnace would step in, make a phone call and help us. We assumed that WaterFurnace couldn't afford to let one of its top dealers have a failed geothermal HVAC system in a major market, with a top architect and builder, and not do something about it. Well, we were certainly wrong about that too.
We were told that WaterFurnace's policy was not to involve itself in disputes between their dealers and homeowners. The only way WaterFurnace would visit the house would be if the dealer requested it.
WaterFurnace's only interest was whether their heat pumps performed according to their specs. We couldn't believe that WaterFurnace would behave that way. Our architect and builder design and build large luxury houses that are all perfect candidates for WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC systems. But after our experience, however, I doubt they would recommend that their clients buy geothermal HVAC systems and I assume the word has spread among their professional peers. In my own case, when people have asked me for information, they immediately lose all interest after they hear our sad story.
Pretty soon it was time for heating season. We had to use space heaters. We finally had no choice but to fire the WaterFurnace dealer in December, after giving him more than 9 months to fix our problems.
We turned to another large WaterFurnace dealer for help. The owner of that WaterFurnace dealership said he would be willing to help us out but first we had to hire an independent HVAC engineer to analyze the problems and propose corrective action. We agreed to do that. The engineer was shocked. He told us the problem was a bad design and bad engineering. He wrote a thick report detailing numerous design and engineering and installation problems that prevented the system from heating and cooling the house.
Obviously we couldn't live in the house or sell it without a properly functioning HVAC system. So we had no choice but to use the sales proceeds from our former house to pay for ANOTHER new geothermal HVAC system for the new house. That meant we were unable to pay off the money we had borrowed to build the new house. So now we have a mortgage on the new house we hadn't planned on. For most homeowners, this would spell financial disaster and possibly the loss of a home.
The second WaterFurnace dealer's owner was wonderful. He arranged to have WaterFurnace reps to come to our house twice before work started, to see the original system. They witnessed all the design and engineering and installation mistakes made by the first dealer. I heard what they said with my own ears. They made written reports. It cost us a whole lot of money, but the second WaterFurnace dealer made our HVAC system operate properly although some compromises were necessary.
The first WaterFurnace dealer refused to pay us "one dime" towards the cost of repairs and design changes. We probably would have settled for $75,000 or maybe $50,000 or less. So we hired a lawyer to recover our damages. This was when we discovered that the company had been sold to new owners. Of course, prior to the sale, the problems with our WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system were concealed from the buyers. When they learned of our complaint, the new owners required the former owner to defend them and pay all expenses. The former owner refused to arbitrate the dispute, as was required by the contract. Arbitration would have been quick, inexpensive and private. So that left us with no choice but to file a lawsuit, which greatly delayed things and increased our attorney fees and costs.
We naturally thought WaterFurnace would step in to help us recover our damages. We felt confident that having WaterFurnace on our side would force a quick, out-of-court settlement. Well, we were wrong once again. WaterFurnace was not willing to help us, even though we were in the right and having seen the system they knew it. When we took WaterFurnace's depositions, we were told their reports had not been put into writing. Their representatives were unable to remember key details.
Without WaterFurnace's help, we ended up having a two week jury trial. We won a rather large judgment against the company (now owned by new owners) for breach of contract, breach of warranty and concealment. We also won a judgment against the former owner for professional negligence, misrepresentation and concealment. Both the company and the former owner are now in Bankruptcy Court, in separate cases. Even now, WaterFurnace still could probably come into the Bankruptcy Court to help us.
Here's the bottom line: our $100,000 plus WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system has now ended up costing us $750,000 -- that's right, 3/4 of a million dollars, including the original cost, the repair costs and our attorney fees and expert fees. This case easily could have been settled inexpensively early on with WaterFurnace's help, but instead it has cost $1 million just for attorney fees alone for both sides. None of this would have happened had we chosen to buy a conventional HVAC system. Most homeowners would be financially destroyed by having the outcome that we have had.
Horror stories similar to ours can be found all over the Internet. The geothermal HVAC industry may be government subsidized, but sadly it isn't regulated. Congress gives the geothermal HVAC industry a 30% federal tax credit without any concern about whether these systems are correctly designed or actually work properly. This 30% federal tax credit benefits manufacturers and dealers, allowing them to charge more money for these systems. So the tax credit really doesn't go to the homeowner. The truth is that government at all levels fails to protect homeowners. The law and the courts also fail to protect homeowners. Yes, geothermal HVAC systems theoretically are supposed to save homeowners money in operating costs. Some question if that's even true. But that's only true if they are designed properly and actually work properly. Many homeowners report HIGHER operating costs with geothermal HVAC. Homeowners need to be aware that they are on their own when problems occur. Nobody is going to help them if they have problems like we did and like many others apparently do. Nobody is going to pay for the damages and repair costs.
My advice? Buyer Beware!!! I tell people to buy a high efficiency, reliable, conventional HVAC system and stay away from geothermal HVAC systems. There's just too much risk for the average homeowner. There's no way to be sure a geothermal HVAC system is designed or installed properly, or that it delivers the promised cost savings. And as for WaterFurnace? They might make great geothermal heat pumps and other equipment, but they do not support the end-user homeowner, at least not based upon our experience with this company.