By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Lou Rakus, the president and owner of Chelsea Heating & Air, has seen plenty of changes during more than four decades in business and one of the most significant has been the emergence of geothermal systems. Chelsea Heating & Air has already installed more than 2,500 of them in homes and businesses around the area, and Rakus expects geothermal systems to only gain in popularity in the future because they are a more cost-effective option when compared to the traditional energy systems. He estimated that geothermal systems already account for 70 percent of the company’s business.

 There are a number of reasons why geothermal systems have grown in popularity, and it starts with the savings that homeowners will see on the energy bill each month. Because geothermal technology offers the highest cooling and heating efficiencies of any system available, it requires less energy to do the work of heating or cooling a home. Less energy translates to a lower energy bill for consumers.

“We can offer this unit which is very efficient,” Rakus said of the ClimateMaster geothermal heat pump systems.

Rakus said that customers can find out how much they might save by choosing a geothermal system by visiting www.chelseaair.com and using the geothermal calculator that takes into account several factors—what area a person lives, the square feet of the home or business, and the current energy costs—to determine what the potential savings might be. Most customers are surprised by the potential savings.

“It is usually between 50 percent and 80 percent savings, depending on the systems that they have,” Rakus said.

Another benefit that comes from the efficiency of the systems is the fact that they are environmentally friendly, which is an important consideration for some consumers.

“This is the most ‘green’ thing that you can do other than solar,” Rakus explained.

Geothermal systems utilize the Earth’s ability to effectively store heat in the soil—nearly half of the solar energy the planet receives is absorbed by the ground. This heat energy is maintained at a constant temperature year-round. Geothermal heating systems, also called ground-source heat pumps, utilize the steady supply of heat energy from the Earth to heat the home or building. In the winter, the earth is the source of heat as water circulating in the loop piping absorbs heat from the earth and carries it to the heat pump, where it is concentrated and sent as warm, comfortable air through the home. In the summer, the heat pump absorbs heat from the air in the home and transfers it to water circulating in loop piping where it is absorbed by the earth. This provides cool, dehumidified air throughout the house. ClimateMaster systems work year-round in all climates.

Traditional heating systems, by contrast, produce byproducts that contain harmful emissions that contribute to environmental problems like acid rain and the greenhouse effect.

Rakus added that geothermal systems don’t require an outside unit so homeowners don’t need to worry about concealing an air conditioning unit. There’s also very little noise associated with geothermal systems.

“They make no more noise than the refrigerator,” Rakus said. “You hardly know that the system is running.”

Customers only need to have geothermal systems serviced once a year, which is another advantage over traditional systems, and typically results in more cost-savings.

Rakus joked that the employees charged with making repairs to geothermal systems are now “starting to feel like the Maytag Repairman because there are so few calls for assistance.”

Rakus started Cheslsea Heating & Air in Delaware County 41 years ago with “$100 and a used Volkswagen.” He moved the business to Avondale and it grew rapidly—right along with the growing southern Chester County community. He eventually expanded to the company’s present home in London Grove Township, building the successful business on a foundation of quality work and reasonable prices. Rakus likes the geothermal systems because he knows that customers are going to be pleased with the results.

Geothermal systems had already been around for decades when they first became widely available in the 1970s. Up until that time, they were more difficult to install and more expensive so they weren’t an option for everyone. But then technological advances made the systems easier to install and changes in the marketplace made them affordable to more homeowners.

The Internet allows people to do their own research about geothermal systems, and word-of-mouth has also proven to be a good way for people to learn about the benefits of the systems. Customers who are satisfied with the systems often tout it to their friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

“These people talk when they put the units in,” Rakus said.

A geothermal system has a longer lifespan than other systems—typically between 30 and 40 years, compared to 15 to 18 years for other systems. Rakus said that they are now seeing customers who purchased geothermal systems in the early days come back for replacement units.

“The unit will last twice as long and save money every day that it is operating,” explained Rakus.

Rakus said that when customers analyze all their options, they often conclude that geothermal systems are the most affordable option because the systems reduce monthly energy bills and last a long time. Because of the environmental friendliness of the geothermal systems, there is a federal tax credit available for customers who purchase them. PECO and PPL Electric Utilities also offer rebates.

“It’s more affordable than what people think,” Rakus said. “I love it when people do the numbers and the numbers speak for themselves.”

Rakus said that geothermal systems aren’t just the present of the industry, but the future as well because they are safe, affordable, durable, and suitable for all property sizes.

“We’ll get to the point where geothermal will be the main system installed in homes,” he said. “It just makes a lot of sense to do it.”

Chelsea Heating & Air, which is located at 946 Lake Road in London Grove Township, serves all of Chester County, Delaware, and northern Maryland. Call 610-268-2200 or visitwww.ChelseaAir.com for information about the geothermal system.