Architectural and engineering firms purchase insurance to protect themselves for errors that may occur on a project. Many commercial building projects require general contracting firms and mechanical contractors are covered with a surety bond or bid bond to ensure the project is is completed as designed. Large commercial projects are complex to build and unforeseen difficulties can happen that delay construction or create situations that are expensive to remedy.
More and more projects are being designed that include the design and installation of a GCHP system and a GHX. The design of a GCHP system is still fairly new to many mechanical system designers, and some areas have few contractors with experience in the installation of either the equipment or the GHX piping in these systems.
Consequently, systems may not perform as the building owner has been promised. The expected savings in energy cost don't materialize. The performance of the system may deteriorate after a few years, or there may even be a catastrophic failure of the system. It can take a great deal of time and money to determine the cause of the problem and to fix it.
The concept of a GCHP system and a GHX does is not complicated...but the process needed to design a commercial GCHP system is different than that needed to design a conventional HVAC system. And the type of work needed to install a GHX is work that is not familiar to many mechanical system contractors, or even drilling or excavation contractors. But to someone familiar with the design process and the installation methods, it's not any more complicated or difficult than designing or installing a conventional system.
In addition to differences in the design and installation of a GCHP system, few building owners and/or operators are familiar with the operation of a GCHP system. Together, designers, installation contractors and building owners/operators that are not familiar with these systems can create problems that are difficult and expensive to fix.
Because system designers, installation contractors and building owners/operators are unfamiliar with GCHP systems, there are potential problems that can arise that will cause inefficient operation or even failure of the system to operate.
These and many other potential problems can be avoided with a better understanding of how a GCHP system operates and a better understanding of the design process and installation procedures by designers and contractors.
Mitigating the Risk: Any failure of a system, whether it is caused by design issues, installation problems or lack of operator understanding, can have consequences for the the designer and/or contractor. Working with designers familiar with GCHP systems is one method of reducing the risk. Taking courses or workshops to learn the design process needed for GCHP systems is another. Taking courses for the installation of systems reduces the risk for contractors.
For someone providing insurance or bonding for design engineers and mechanical contractors, it would seem prudent to motivate the companies you are insuring have the knowledge needed to properly design, install and operate these systems appropriately. An example of a system failure is described here.
In my blog I'll be expressing my opinions about what I've the learned about ground coupled heat pump (GCHP) systems over the last 30 years. I've been very fortunate to work with many interesting people who are passionate about this technology...engineers, geologists, mechanical contractors, drillers, excavation contractors...in different parts of the world. I've learned a lot from them and will be using this forum to pass on some of the things I've learned and feel are important. Please feel free to use this information if you feel it's worthwhile...hopefully you can avoid some of the same mistakes I've learned from.
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