Société canadienne de l'énergie du sol


Discussion paper posted March 20

This document is designed to solicit feedback from the ground-coupled heat pump sector in Canada on the need for training of the industry. Your response is requested on any aspect of this document, which will be developed into a formal proposal subject to your comments. The paragraphs are numbered; please note the number to which your comments are referring. Your feedback by April 30 would be appreciated. 

The ground-source heat pump industry uses a mature HVAC technology and, as a result, requires a skilled workforce that is qualified in all aspects of proper design and installation of systems. Professional training is a key element of any industrialized economy, and the GeoExchange sector is no different than our competing technologies. 


During the past 15 years, the earth energy sector in Canada has relied on training from four identifiable sources: 

    Professional training organizations 
    'Ad hoc' programs and courses 
    The Canadian Earth Energy Association. 
Each has its fortes and its drawbacks. 


Manufacturers are ultimately responsible to provide their installing contractors with an adequate level of knowledge and resources that are required to design and install their equipment, but the level of training offered has varied widely. As the largest dedicated company in the field, WaterFurnace has been recognized as a leader for its training courses in Indiana and the occasional 'road tour' to centres across Canada, but this commitment appears to become a lower priority recently. Some of the larger integrated HVAC companies in the United States have offered intensive specialized training in ground-source units to their dealers, but this is spotty and appears to have no presence in Canada at this time. An increasing number of manufacturers provide technical specifications on the internet, while some offer reference training on CD-Rom or other media. The smaller and less committed manufacturers offer little or no training, trusting that their dealers have sufficient knowledge and experience to meet the needs of the marketplace. 

Manufacturer training is mandatory to ensure that dealers are aware of the unique features of that supplier, such as calculation of pressure drops, desuperheater settings, etc. The cost to participants is often subsidized by the manufacturer to ensure attendance and for public relations reasons, but travel costs and non-billable time away from work impose significant impediments to many dealers. There are potential problems If the manufacturer does not train to Canadian standards, such as the manufacturers that teach heat loss design from their own software (as opposed to the CSA F280 invoked in federal standard) and the past emphasis on cooling design (which is largely irrelevant in Canada's residential sector). The quality of instruction is perceived to be high, as it is in the manufacturers' best interests to ensure that their dealers are fully qualified. In addition, manufacturers have a coercive power to demand that their dealers be qualified under threat of termination of licence. Any proprietary aspects of the manufacturers' training is deemed to be non-relevant to the balance of the industry participants. 

Professional training organizations

Among the diverse groups that offer stand-alone training, the International Ground Source Heat Pumps Association is recognized as the most professional and comprehensive in its curriculum. Currently, IGSHPA offers courses that are designed for three distinct markets (installiung contractors, train-the-trainers and architects-engineers), and it plans to offer a course soon to train system inspectors. 

Training courses from outside groups must set a fine line on quality between being extremely demanding (to appeal to good dealers and to set a high standard of excellence) and overly lax (to appeal to dealers with limited ability and those who take the course for reasons other than a sincere desire to excel). In most cases, the syllabus reflects what the market WANTS which, it is hoped, reflects what the market NEEDS. In the absence of any subsidy, the participation fee must be set at a price to recover all costs of course development, marketing, administration and overhead. Again, travel costs and downtime are sufficient disincentives to dealers to take the course, along with concern over the relevance of content from an outside group, and a common lack of perception of the need for training (covers dealers who know everything there is to know, and those dealers who do not understand the basic need for training). 

'Ad hoc' programs and courses 

A number of private groups offer 'private' training, such as Caneta's commercial design course and the recent Alberta Geothermal Team course, as well as other ad hoc alliances that provide sporadic training. The Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium has funded satellite videoconferences where training is an adjunct to a focus on product awareness, and some of the information disseminated by groups such as the IEA Heat Pump Centre, CADDET and others could be classified as training. 

Organizations which offer training as a sideline to their principal function experience many of the same pros and cons of the professional organizations noted above, and it can be argued that there is a strong incentive for such groups to lower the quality of content in order to appeal to a larger mass market of dealers and, thereby, increase their profit. There is no control over the syllabus, the quality and accuracy of content, nor the level of knowledge attained by participants. 

The Canadian Earth Energy Association 

The most comprehensive effort to provide training in Canada was offered by CEEA in Ontario between 1990 and 1993. Dealers were obliged to take the course if they wanted to participate in the Ontario Hydro rebate program, and significant revenue was obtained from Ontario Hydro, the Canadian Electricity Association and from participant fees. The syllabus was based on a manual prepared by CEEA, and involved on-site training and repeater courses. 

CEEA's training was viewed by most industry practitioners as inadequate and superficial. A large amount of money was used to develop a manual which had numerous deficiencies. Dealers were forced to take training courses, so fees were set at a high level and the qualifications were set at a low level to ensure a high pass rate. The frequency of courses offered in Ontario was good because of the intensity of the program, individual participant travel costs were minimized due to the centralized location, and there was central control over the training content. CEEA was involved only in residential rebates, so the syllabus involved no component of commercial design. 


There are at least seven distinct components that will be required in order to ensure an adequately-trained workforce in Canada. 

System Design 

The key element to a successful GeoExchange system is the system design, starting with a preliminary decision of whether a site is suitable for this technology. The building dynamics must be well known, and the configuration of an earth energy unit is sufficiently unique from other HVAC systems to require specialized training. A number of training elements are integral to other HVAC technologies (eg: heat loss calculation, lifecycle costing, etc), with the exception of the design of the loop bed and the calculation of pipe configurations. 

Technically, an earth energy system could be configured by any professional with competence in space conditioning design (with the caveat above), subject to the availability of good material. However, the availability of 'tailored' training to encompass all aspects of system design would be a positive addition to the domestic market and would also foster the image of a 'profession' as opposed to a rag-tag group of companies. The core of IGSHPA's training is a course that address this area and the next section on system installation. 

A complementary service could include the proposal submitted to NRCan, to provide a nation-wide design assistance program for the C/I market. This initiative would offer a subsidized but fee-based introductory design for specific sites, while concurrently generating a revenue source for EESC. A similar initiative has been developed by GHPC. 

System Installation 

There are three components to an installation: the loop, the box and the distribution. Again, all aspects could be completed successfully by a competent HVAC contractor, subject to the availability of proper resource materials. 

Proper installation of the loop bed is crucial, regardless of the configuration of the pipes and the source of ground heat. A number of related professions (such as well drillers and gas pipeline trenchers) can install open or closed pipe properly, but none are trained in the unique aspects of the earth energy industry. The installation of the box is relatively easy with a basic knowledge of plumbing, refrigeration and conventional HVAC systems, but, again, there are unique aspects of a ground-source unit that would require specialized training to ensure adequacy. Installation of a heating distribution network (whether it be forced air or hydronic) reflects conventional techniques for other HVAC systems, subject to specific modifications for a GeoExchange unit. 

The existence of a ground-coupled loop is what makes earth energy a unique source of renewable energy, and professional training in this area will be necessary if the industry wants to ensure quality installations and to foster a sense of professionalism among its practitioners. 

Third Party Inspectors 

A key element of the Ontario rebate program was a technical confirmation of each installation by a qualified CEEA inspector, but the association's implementation of this process was insufficient and resulted in legal liability. Subsequently, the industry discussed the need for on-going inspections, with a focus on municipal building inspectors (who do not exist in many rural areas), electrical inspectors or third party groups. It was agreed that inspectors from within the industry (while potentially highly qualified) were not a positive concept. 

For a proper inspection, it would be necessary to tour the site before the loop is buried, but this creates an extreme timing issue for inspectors. There is also a need to determine what factors are crucial, important or peripheral to a good installation, so the inspector can make a correct determination based both on regulation and industry practice. IGSHPA is finalizing a 1.5 day course in conjunction with the Mechanical Licensing Board in Oklahoma, which they will use as a prototype to encourage building inspectors to become trained in the field to accommodate a growing number of installations. 

There is a widely-held view within the industry that ground-coupled installations do not need an inspections because the good dealers do not make mistakes, but this is an erroneous and dangerous view. Also, inspections will become an important issue in future if GeoExchange units were to be qualified for any incentives, for verification of greenhouse gas emission credits, or for coverage under an insurance warranty. There are also on-going concerns by some regulatory authorities with the lack of inspections (such as MNR officials in central Ontario who are unwilling to approve lake loops without an inspection of the shoreline point of entry). 


As one of a range of HVAC options available for space conditioning in buildings, it will be important to acquaint architects, engineers, building owners and other key specifiers with the financial, environmental and aesthetic advantages of ground-coupled heat pumps. The largest need in this area would be awareness and marketing, but there is also a need to train a growing number of specifiers on the basics (or higher) so they can specify the technology. IGSHPA offers training courses of up to 5 days in duration for architects and engineers, and their course includes AEE credits. 


To minimize travel and downtime costs for participants, and to increase the frequency of courses that are offered across the country, it would be beneficial to have trained trainers in many locations. This network of trainers would provide regional perspective and allow more-frequent training courses to be offered. IGSHPA developed a course for this market, but it is not a high-request option and would not be an attraction in Canada until there were tangible signs of market growth (thereby allowing these trainers to recoup their investment by selling their new skills). An element in such a course would be the quality control of individuals who, if they failed to convey the proper message to their own students, could do significant harm to the industry. 

One ancillary use of regional trainers would be to allow an honest effort at continuing education and re-certification. 

Customer Relations 

GeoExchange is a premium product, but much of Canada's HVAC industry is not well trained to market units to affluent customers in a strategic manner. Experience from CEEA indicates that many dealers lacked PR skills with the market demographics, which resulted in an unnecessarily negative image of the sector. 

In addition, the evolving market for green power and climate change issues in Canada means that dealers should be trained to promote GeoExhcnage units in an appropriate manner, respecting the growing awareness of consumers in this area. 

Post-Training Support 

Any formal courses should include a number of other 'traiing' elements, including some form of continuing education or re-certification (mentioned above); post-course 'hand holding' support in terms of readily-available documentation (this is often provided by manufacturers); and a format of high-level technical assistance suggested by EESC as a 'flying squad' to solve critical problems in a timely manner. All of these support tools not only provide comfort to contractors, but convey a positive image of the sector to the outside world. 

Another valuable training tool would be the compilation and timely update of all relevant regulations and standards (down to the municipal level) and interpretative documents that will facilitate compliance by installing contractors. 


Training is an investment in the development of the ground-source heat pump market and is more willingly funded by those with a long-term interest in the success of the sector. However, there is a significant cost that must be borne by a combination of participant, sponsoring manufacturers, utilities, end users or interested third parties, environmental agencies, energy departments and a range of other groups at the national, provincial or municipal levels. 

The total price to develop and deliver training will reflect a number of factors, including development and production expenditures, marketing expenses, the cost for course instructors and teaching materials, allocated overhead costs, 'profit,' retained allowance for future revision and more, not to mention the cost to the individuals who participate. 

In light of the relative absence of any training in Canada, the options are open, and range from a decision to not provide any training at all (let individual manufacturers and private trainers meet the need), to endorsement of one or more groups, to licencing of specific products (such as design software), to partnering with qualified bodies to offer tailored courses in this country, to development from scratch (by a community college?) of a unique syllabus for the domestic market (possibly with the intent of offering the material in foreign markets to recover costs). Costs could range from nothing to several millions of dollars. 

IGSHPA reports that it charges US50 for its course to dealers and installers; up to $1,000 for its trainer course; $525 for its course to engineers (plus a $400 testing fee for certification); while the price point for its course for inspectors will be $125. IGSHPA currently does not require re-certification or continuing education. 

At this stage, it is a 'chicken and egg' situation, where dealers are unwilling to invest in training until there is evidence of a return in the market, and the market is reluctant to invest in the technology without the existence of a trained labour base. A key rationale for rejection of NRCan's subsidy under REDI was the appreciation that the industry could not tolerate another round of uncontrolled growth, and asked for assistance in evolving the infrastructure to guarantee a proper evolution. 

One low-cost option would be to develop an electronic training course, either on videotape or for virtual posting on the internet. However, the lack of consensus on a syllabus and the profile of a typical contractor indicates that a physical interactive forum is the most preferred forum for training, despite the higher cost to participate and the lower flexibility for scheduling. 

Training is the basic first step toward developing a qualified labour base for the skilled design and installation of GeoExchange units in the residential and commercial / institutional sectors. As market demand grows for systems (including possible assistance under the climate change agenda or future subsidies from utilities), it will be crucial to avoid a repeat of CEEA's failure to develop suitable and sustainable training. 


The CSA C445 (residential) and C447 (commercial) installation standards are under revision at this time, and will be amalgamated into one document to govern all buildings under 10,000 ft2 in floorspace. It will be important to ensure that both the required and the recommended clauses in the new standard reflect the needs of the industry and the (sometimes contrary) needs of the end user, and that the controls are suitable for possible use by inspectors in the future. 

The necessity of having training material and courses available in french must be addressed, to ensure that technical material and the lexicon are compiled at the earliest possible opportunity. Very little technical information exists in french among manufacturers, and early action on this issue will allow a market roll-out in Quebec to parallel the balance of the country. 

If training is to be a prerequisite for some form of certification or operating licence or industry endorsement, a certifying body must be created to determine what skill sets are required to respond to domestic demand for excellence in design and installation. Among the issues to be resolved would include the questions of grand-fathering experienced contractors; credits and equivalencies; evaluation and performance standards of the individual; exemptions from specific course components; disqualification and revocation of certification; an appeals process and reinstatement criteria; liability issues; monitoring of trainers competence; schedule for revision of course and course materials; evaluation of course content; testing via telephone or at regional meetings; etc. 

A certifying body must be divorced from the politics and personalities of the sector, and could / should include representation from foreign agencies and interested agencies such as building inspectors. It must strive to be non-coercive, encouraging dealers to become certified with the prospect of increased business as opposed to being penalized by the removal of incentives such as under the CEEA structure. 

Although not specific to GeoExchange, training should be mandated in customer relations and public relations. Too many dealers sell this Lexus product from a Lada showroom, and there is a need to enhance the professional image to customers. 

There is also a need to provide 'financing' training for dealers, which could include use of the lifecycle costing algorythm developed by Marbek Resources for its market development study, or NRCan's RETScreen program for preliminary feasibility costing, or the HVAC Advisor software program. 

EESC is a supporter of the 'Heat Pumps in Cold Climates' conference in Ottawa this August, which will have a heavy emphasis on ground-coupled systems. In light of the number of delegates and possible interest, it is suggested that a prototype training session be offered at that time. If funding can be obtained, the Society could offer a 'train the trainers' course, with a subsidy based on regional representation, to train key regional representatives who could assist a cross-country roll-out at a later date. 


This document supports the need for training as a prerequisite for the enhanced penetration of GeoExchange technology in Canada. 

It addresses many of the complex issues involved in such an initiative, draws on the experiences learned under the CEEA regime, summarizes the current state of industry training that is offered elsewhere, and attempts to provide parameters for resolution of many of these issues for the Canadian market. 

It suggests that discussions with IGSHPA be undertaken to determine if their courses are suitable for Canada, subject to specific revisions needed to reflect domestic requirements in regulations and industry practice, and the details to be resolved. 

The issue of training is a key element of EESC's business plan for 2000, and will work with other involved and interested parties to identify the needs and opportunities in this field. 

Your comments would be welcome on this document. Do you agree / disagree with any paragraph? Why? Please keep your comments brief and relevant, and provide alternatives to the options offered.

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