Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


Artlip and Sons helps schools get heat from the Earth instead of natural gas


Hank Artlip, president, Artlip and Sons.

SMACNA contractor Artlip and Sons Inc., based in Aurora, Ill., recently helped two elementary schools in Illinois’ West Aurora School District 129 go from heating with natural gas to heating with energy efficient geothermal heat pump systems.

These systems use the temperature of the ground—which is normally warmer than the air above ground in winter and cooler than the air above in summer—to heat or cool the schools.

The project was part of HVAC renovations performed over the summer break at the Hall and Goodwin elementary schools after the district passed a bond that included funds for installing geothermal systems in 11 schools.

HVAC renovations done on tight summer schedule


Installing a geothermal system involves drilling wells under sports fields or open areas around the school.

“It was a pretty aggressive timeframe—from the end of May through the beginning of August—with a lot of unknowns,” said company president and SMACNA Board member Hank Artlip. “We tried to do as much ahead of time as possible and be prepared, but until they started taking down ceilings it wasn’t clear what space we had or the full extent of what needed to be done.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), geothermal systems are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available today. Installing such a system involves having well contractors drill hundreds of wells hundreds of feet deep in the area around the schools—typically underneath sports fields or large open areas.


Artlip and Sons installed all geothermal loop piping, heat pumps, and sheet metal and mechanical work for the buildings’ heating and cooling systems.

Then a closed loop interconnected system of polyethylene piping is installed in the ground and into the wells and then routed into the building. This is where Artlip and Sons stepped in.

“We connected to the piping where it came into the building, installed all geothermal loop piping within the buildings, installed the geothermal heat pumps, and completed all sheet metal and other mechanical work related to the heating and cooling systems,” Mr. Artlip said.

“In most classrooms, we installed vertical geothermal heat pumps with three-way discharge hoods. In others, we installed horizontal geothermal heat pumps above the ceilings and connected to existing ducting or added new ducting and registers. In larger common areas, like offices and gymnasiums, we installed rooftop units along with ducting and registers,” he added.

Artlip and Sons installed approximately 100 tons of geothermal equipment into each of the two schools. The contractor’s portion of the work was approximately $500,000 per school (excluding the geothermal heat pumps, which the school district pre-purchased). The work kept three to four members of SMART Local 265 and three to four pipefitters from UA Local 597 busy at each school.

Mr. Artlip said that one of the things he learned from a prototype school that his company worked on five years earlier for the school district, Smith Elementary, was that setting back the temperatures of these systems during unoccupied periods can cause problems.

“The control systems used at that time were self-learning devices that created a set-back schedule based on motion or activity in the classroom. We found that when all the systems came out of set-back at similar times, it was too much of a load on the geothermal field. The geothermal loop would either drop well below freezing in the heating season or rise to unacceptable levels in the cooling season,” he said. “We found that the systems need to be operated at the occupied temperatures 24/7/365.”

 WASD129 - Hall - Geothermal Job Picture 2
In most classrooms, Artlip and Sons installed vertical geothermal heat pumps with three-way discharge hoods

A good market to enter, minimal maintenance

According to Mr. Artlip, geothermal installations are becoming more common and can be a good emerging market to enter. An advantage of the systems is they require less maintenance than conventional systems. Maintenance usually involves filter changes and inspection of the systems to ensure that they are operating properly, which works out for Artlip and Sons, since the company specializes in maintenance and service.

WASD129 - Hall - Geothermal Job Picture 3

Geothermal systems require less maintenance than conventional systems, usually filter changes and systems inspection.

“We provide service for the geothermal installation at Smith Elementary that was completed almost five years ago, and the system continues to operate as well as when it was installed,” Mr. Artlip said.

Another selling point has been the 30 percent federal tax credit that expired at the end of 2016; however, it could be renewed in the future. Further, many states offer rebates as well.

The return on investment can be good, with energy savings of up to 50 percent. Further, geothermal heat pump systems can help any project achieve LEED certification through the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC).

“The district used to have boilers in the buildings and now they are not using fossil fuels at all. Electricity is only required to run the compressors and fans,” Mr. Artlip said.

Additional resources:

Artlip and Sons

USGBC Geothermal Systems

“Ten Myths About Geothermal Heating and Cooling” National Geographic 

Orientation on geothermal systems by Geothermal Genius

SMACNA’s “HVAC Systems: Understanding the Basics

SMACNA’s “Energy Systems Analysis and Management Manual” 

As school starts, work continues on some West Aurora projects” Chicago Tribune