SOUTHAMPTON, MASS. —Jim Patterson has been the sole owner of Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling for the past eight years. Working alongside his two sons, Patterson has made a name for his company throughout Western Massachusetts, Southern Vermont and Northern Connecticut by specializing in high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. He is NATE certified in six categories of HVAC service and installation, has six mechanical licenses from two states and has won a handful of RPA Showcase Awards.

Patterson's home.

Orchard Valley has used their expertise to set themselves apart from the competition. “For me,” Patterson says, “the interest lies in the technology. If I had to do just boiler cleanings and furnace swaps every day I think I’d lose my mind. … Now, clients are searching us out for that technology. It started there and has spawned into something self-sustaining at this point.”

Patterson is so passionate about the latest heating and cooling technology that at times he sounds almost like a hobbyist, talking with the same kind of enthusiasm one finds in model train builders or vinyl record collectors. To satisfy his need to tinker and experiment he has re-worked the mechanical systems on his own home several times.

“Before we sell the technology,” Patterson says, “I try to integrate it into something I do at my own home; to figure it out there instead of figuring it out on the jobsite.” Patterson also documents his utility bills and fuel usage to see exactly what his energy savings are. Then when his clients ask —as they inevitably do —“So Jim, what do you have heating your home?” he can not only make the best case for the technology, he can better illustrate the potential return on investment.

“My wife calls the house a laboratory,” Patterson says. “We built the house in 1993. It started out as an oil-fired radiant system,” running a Viessman. About six years ago Patterson upgraded to an LP-fired Buderus modulating-condensing boiler. At about the same time he also added an air-to-air heat pump.

Then last October he decided to make the leap to a geothermal system. “Everything worked out in a kind of perfect storm for us,” Patterson says. “We had some other work we were having done outside, so bringing in the well-drilling rig just made sense.”

Hansen Well Drilling dropped two 450-ft. closed-loop wells in the yard, trenched bottom and sides. On the inside of his 3,200-sq.ft. house Patterson installed a 5-ton ClimateMaster Tranquility water-to-water system hooked to an 80-gal. Caleffi buffer tank to feed his radiant floor heating. The radiant system is all 5/16 PEX in climate panels with Climatherm fusion pipe for interior distribution mains. “We’re running a Grundfos Alpha on the six zones of radiant,” Patterson says.

To heat and cool that part of his house that does not have radiant Patterson installed a Carrier Infinity air handler fitted with a Hydron low-temperature hot water heating/cooling A-coil. “Instead of doing two geothermal systems,” Patterson explains, “which a lot of guys would do —having water-to-water just for radiant and another geothermal split for the heating and cooling —doing just a single water-to-water system allows me to use one geo piece of equipment and then redesign the rest of the system around it.”

The limiting factor was of course the air handler. But by using the A-coil, Patterson can pump 120°F water through the unit to heat his home. “In the summertime that flips,” he says, “and I’m pumping chilled water through it for the cooling.”

 

As a back-up, the system uses a propane-fired on-demand combination water heater/space heating unit from Navien. “As the geothermal is running,” Patterson says, “we strip heat off the compressor and use that to pre-heat our domestic water. So we’ve got a 60-gal. tank filled with water that will be anywhere from 70°F to 120°F. If it’s only heated to 75°F-80°F from the geothermal we use the on-demand heater for the balance. We’re trying to strip all the Btus we can out of that geo box.”

In an effort to make every Btu count, Patterson stresses the importance of good insulation. “Three of the homes I sold [systems for] last year were new-construction, super-insulated homes,” Patterson says, with heat losses somewhere south of 30,000 Btus. “If you start out with a house that’s already got 60 or 70 or 80,000 Btus of heat loss, then you’re doing some creative designs to try and integrate geothermal.”

As an added little gift to himself, Patterson even installed a HEPA air filter to help relieve his allergies.

The whole job was finished three-and-a-half weeks after the wells were sunk. Patterson is deliberately keeping some elements of the design half-finished. “The technology is changing so quickly in all the markets that we deal with,” he says. “Manufacturers are actually offering variable speed pumps on the loop side, instead of standard single-stage pumps… I kind of have my system set up so that as the technology evolves I can slide out what I have and slide something new in.”

While pleased with the system’s heating performance, Patterson found the very mild winter —he was out golfing in January —made it difficult to gather good data on the system’s efficiency. However is has been a fairly warm summer, and his air handler has been handling the conditions very well. “About 15% less in electrical usage over what was typically touted as the most efficient air-to-air conditioner the market has,” he says.

Jim Patterson is happy with both the way his home system is performing, and with the direction he’s steered his business in. “The technology is only going to improve,” he says, “fuel costs are not going to go down. So the draw for clients to search us out is always going to be there.”