AirEaseLeaks.org


Air Ease Leaks ~ Geothermal Systems ~ The Clash of Theory and Practice


Welcome to AirEaseLeaks.org. This is the place where we share our extensive user experience with a geothermal heating & cooling system and the company (Air-Ease Heating & Cooling from Tinley Park, Illinois) that designed it, installed it, and maintained it in our home. Here you will also find useful tips and research into green technologies, environmental issues, and discussions on different approaches to savings on energy costs.

When it comes to advanced geothermal heating and cooling systems, in theory everything should work perfectly and be cost-efficient. That's how it was presented and promised to us by the Air-Ease company, both during the sales pitch and also during the times when this expensive system was failing. In practice, it's a completely different story. We have been consistently reminded that we don't know how this 'complicated system' works (and the installer refused to give us any installation manuals for the WaterFurnace equipment and geothermal loops design); however, as users, we only needed to know whether the system works or not. Way too often, it didn't - despite our best efforts to keep the system regularly maintained and having it diagnosed for all possible break-points. As it turned out, our efforts to resolve the problems with the system installer were both costly, painful, stressful, and fruitless.

We hope this factual information (we have a backup of each and every email sent, received, and posted on this website; the only fragments edited from these emails are personally identifiable information) will be useful and educational to anyone who considers a geothermal-based heating / cooling system for their home or business. We realize some of the things related to the operations, actions, or inactions of the company we review here may at first seem almost unbelievable, but we assure the readers that this story has actually happened and we back everything up with evidence and possible logical conclusions. As to why this company does the things they do, we may never fully know or comprehend because it goes beyond a reasonable person's imagination. If you need more information, advice, or references you may contact us using the details below.

Are you a current of prospective customer of Air-Ease? Check out the Consumer Tips and Warnings page.




          Air Ease Warning Message
          AIR-EASE SERVICE NEEDED: Phone Contractor. 708-429-6550. Another Service Failure Message.

CONTENTS

I. Introduction

A contract to design and install a working system by Air-Ease Heating & Cooling (including water units, geothermal vertical closed loop fields and loops, all piping, grout and sand, a custom ground header with flow center, radiant pex & routing, boilers with heat exchanger, radiant floors, air and water system backup, fresh air ventilation system, humidifier, registers, and other).

Geothermal System Contract (page 1) Geothermal System Contract (page 2)


II. Summary of the Problems

Our building contractor hired Air-Ease (Air Ease Heating & Cooling in Tinley Park, Illinois) to install a geothermal system in our new house in 2010. They finished the installation in 2011 and we paid many thousands of dollars for the system. From the very beginning (the initial building report indicated problems related to low operating temperature and leaks) the system was not working properly. The general contractor eventually refused to work with Air-Ease after they failed to live up to the contract and after they failed to make the heating work without issues on two levels of the house. In the end, we had to cover several thousands of dollars in extra costs to finish the construction. Unfortunately, it was just the beginning of our journey and the initially discovered problems with heating turned out to be just a tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the major things that failed or were done in a wrong way:

- The ground loops filled with propylene glycol (antifreeze agent) rather than METHANOL (alcohol) as specified in the contract.

The Air-Ease contractors:

1. Switched the fluid for loops without ever discussing it with their clients. UPDATE 1

Propylene Glycol vs Methanol
Air-Ease switched the liquid for loops (their solution failed anyway)

2. Provided the propylene glycol solution mixed in wrong proportions (the fluid inside of the loops freezes which makes the machines to shut down).

The propylene glycol solution used by Air-Ease is in proportions that does not provide basically any freeze protection. It's almost 90% water. We have extracted some of the solution from the ground loops for testing, and the simple test results show it starts freezing in temperature around 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The slash icing crystals are still present in the liquid even at 25 degrees Fahrenheit. At 19 F degrees, the liquid is almost frozen solid.

Closed geothermal loops in this geographic region, with temperatures falling well below the freezing point, must be filled with liquid that has antifreeze properties. The Waterfurnace machines have the temperature protection shut down mode (error notices: Water Flow or FP- depending on the equipment) set on closed loop CL to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently Air-Ease Heating and Cooling, having been in the HVAC business for 20+ years, did not know this, or they have decided to save money on us and not only switched from Methanol to propylene glycol, but in fact used basically water with around 10-12% glycol only. No wonder our machines have been shutting down with the FP error for months now. The freezing point table for propylene glycol shows that for 10 F degrees the correct proportions of liquid require about 30% of glycol and 70% water.

The solution to this problem: we have to flush the loops completely and fill them up with proper mixture to work for our geographic area.

- WaterFurnace system failure - error message FP (freeze protection). We've been waiting for a week for a service appointment; they sent the same "technician" who always answers 'I don't know' to questions about what's wrong and why something doesn't work properly. This last time he said he couldn't fix the leak on the failed machine by himself, but he came alone (so they were going to charge us for at least two visits and we doubt it would be fixed). The leak has been there for a long time -- this is the second or third year we've requested it to be fixed. They made excuses not to repair it during the warranty period. This is the 4th repair service this year alone. After over half an hour of 'diagnosis,' he claimed he couldn't determine the reason of the FP error message, either. UPDATE 2

- CONSTANT pump failures (they had to replace a few failed pumps in the last 3 years). When asked why they fail so often - they don't have a legitimate answer. They just keep charging us for replacing them. UPDATE 3

- Whole House Fresh Ventilation System installed by Air-Ease Heating and Cooling has been generating and dripping excessive condensation during winter time. Recently, we've hired a genuine contractor to investigate and address this problem. If the vent was installed horizontally with a slight angle down through a wall instead of the roof, the melting ice would drip to the outside of the house, thus, actually never resulting in any problems whatsoever. So much for the 20+ year 'experience' of the pseudo-installer. UPDATE 4

Air Ease Geothermal System Installed
Leaking Geothemal System Designed, Installed, and Maintained by Air-Ease Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Tinley Park, IL.

(The Water Bucket Kit designed, provided, and maintained by owners)

- Radiant heating fails to work on the whole first floor. Right from the start only one-third of the floor was heating; the rest of the area was always cold. Air-Ease does not know why despite the fact that they designed and installed the system. There is no thermostat to control the portion of the floor that does not heat. UPDATE 5

- Several failures and repairs of the installed 3 Water Furnace units. A number of repairs was performed during the labor and material warranty. After the 1-year labor warranty expired, we pay for the labor on repairs. WaterFurnace manufacturer has warranty labor allowance for the 10-year residential warranty, but Air-Ease does not even credit the whole labor allowance to us; they overcharge us for that too.

- Second floor AC unit generates condensation that floods the floor. To meet the building code, Air-Ease installed a sensor that has a little light when water is present. We were told the sensor shots down the AC unit to prevent condensation overflow. It does not - the floor flooded twice already, the light is on basically all the time when the AC is working and collecting condensation. We had to purchase specialty mold control sponges to keep the water draining from collection pan and prevent drain clogging and flooding. Of course, it was not a solution provided by Air-Ease.

- Overcapacity of the whole geoexchange system designed, which costs us more than we should have paid for heating/cooling system in this house. According to the engineer hired by the general contractor, Air-Ease designed the geothermal system at about 125% of the calculated heating load (normally, geothermal heating/cooling is calculated at 70% - 105% heating load). Air-Ease refused to provide any load calculation until the contract was paid in full. We believe the bad system design is the main source of the problems, but the company has failed to acknowledge and to address it. UPDATE 6

- The second floor backup air-forced heat doesn't work at this time when the primary radiant heat is broken. Shouldn't a 'backup system' work when the primary system is down?

- Drain for water collecting pan clogs and overflows on the 2nd floor AC blower because of insufficient draining design.

- Air getting into the "closed HVAC system" which was supposed to be sealed tight enough for air not getting in there. This requires additional system flushings (and extra costs associated with that).




All of these failures and extra service calls happen despite the fact that we have been paying the annual fee to Air-Ease Geothermal Heating & Cooling to do the system maintenance twice a year. We pay and do maintenance and the system still fails constantly. They keep charging us for every visit, and in the end the system still leaks and malfunctions. Their comments, like: "we know how the system should work and you fail to comprehend its complexity" or "you are charged only parts and labour" do not help at all.

Their persistent and almost pathological lying pattern to deny the facts, to undermine the authority of governmental institutions and other contractors have been shocking. For example, they wrote that 'the BBB closed the file because the Residents refused to cooperate' (after the facts have been published, they have conveniently removed this statement). Or they wrote that 'the system has been checked out by the Builiding Departament' - below is a formal letter from the Land Use Office stating otherwise:

"The Building Division does not do specific inspections of GEO Thermal Systems."

"The Health Department had no specific installation regulations for these systems and a system requiring anti-freeze is a 'closed' system (which) does not require a permit from the Health Department."

Building Division Response
Response from the Building / Land Use Division

III. Correspondence between Air-Ease, Builder, and Residents

COMPLAINTS SENT TO AIR-EASE DESCRIBING THE PROBLEMS

Air Ease Cold
Air-Ease Heating Solution

MISCELLANEUS EMAILS RELATED TO AIR-EASE, BUILDING CONTRACTOR, AND WATERFURNACE

IV. Formal Complaints

- Better Business Bureau. Complaint ID#: 94525747

Better Business Bureau - Air-Ease
BBB Response to Complaint against Air-Ease

Office of the Illinois Attorney General: Consumer Protection Division. File No: 2014-CONSC-00387791:

Illinois Consumer Protection Division
Illinois Consumer Protection Division

V. Conclusion

All information and reviews of our over 4-year experience with the geothermal system we have in our house, and dealing with the installer (Air-Ease), is documented in detail on this website. We've been patiently trying to work with the company for over 4 years to get the issues resolved. Unsuccessfully.

Their replies to reasonable complaints are full of incorrect and invented statements, which are clearly contradicted by the actual evidence and experience. And we are not alone; here is a comment posted on Yelp website by John T. that states:

"I have dealt with the owners of Air Ease. I have found them to be highly unethical. ... The reviews I have read, and the replies from the owner always blames the customer."

The company continues being untruthful about providing 'sessions and operational videos' related to the system (there were no sessions and no such videos have been shown or given to us). In the end, their decision was to 'permanently suspend any services to us' (despite the fact that the Preventative Maintenance plan we are on doesn't expire for the next few months).

Their new-old 'tactic' (as apparently practiced on other people who complained about their service or actions) is to try to post our names and made up stories in the hopes that we retract our published statements. This is a blatant violation of our privacy and security and it is considered illegal in most states.

On top of that, Air-Ease now falsely claims that the emails have been 'heavily edited' so that we APPEAR as a victim. We have documented a few years of problems with the system and the installer; we have paid several thousand of dollars in repairs and maintenance fees that have NOT resolved these problems; we have been unable to leave the house during freezing weeks in case we need to call for an emergency heating repair service; during a number of weeks when the system was shut down, we had to use a gas fireplace heat reflector to keep the house warm; we have devoted hundreds of hours to research and inform other potential customers about the company and the way the geothermal HVAC system SHOULD work.

In conclusion, the Tinley Park, Illinois Air-Ease Heating & Cooling company refuses to take any responsibility for design, installation, and maintenance of the constantly malfunctioning geothermal HVAC setup. From the very beginning, there were numerous problems with their system and they were unable to make it work both during and out of the warranty period. Therefore, we have no other choice but to hire another company that works in this industry to perform the necessary and costly repairs. Hopefully their business and operations will be more honest, professional, and reliable. At the same time, we do not recommend any homeowner to install a geothermal system in their home.

VI. Updates

The following are updates to the problems described in Section II above. Thinking about them from the angle of our own experience and looking at the reply posted by Air-Ease to the BBB office ("Most of their concerns result from the continued lack of knowledge of their geothermal system."), it gives even more food for thought. Please scroll down for the final update.


UPDATE 1: Regarding Air-Ease's unprincipled replacement of methanol with propylene glycol.

The entire geothermal loop field, interior piping, and all units have to be flushed and the loop fluid needs to be replaced with methanol (at least 21% by volume for 15 degree F freeze protection of the working fluid.


UPDATE 2: Regarding the WaterFurnace system failure (FP - freezing protection) error message installed and maintained by Tinley Park's Air-Ease.

It took ordering a thermostat part and two service trips for another HVAC company to find the problem with the WaterFurnace hardware. As it turned out, the equipment was set to 'OPEN LOOP'; that's why the FP warning message turned on every time the air temperature outside went below 33 degrees. Why was it set to OPEN LOOP despite the fact the system installed by Air-Ease was CLOSE LOOP? And more importantly, why didn't the FP warning message turn on in the last 3 years during the freezing days? A professional service technitian who researched and found this problem has never experienced anything like that; he said it was impossible that it would switch on its own (the programmer function is inside of the hardware protected by a 4-screw panel).

At this point we can only speculate, but here is what might have allegedly happened:

1. During the Fall maintenance (or during another time when Air-Ease installers showed up to fix something), Air-Ease installers changed the set up of the machine from CLOSE loop to OPEN loop.

2. When the cold days arrived, the FP message turned on and the heating system was shut down. That required us to schedule extra service calls and pay for parts and labor.

Another weird possibility is that this WaterFurnace Envision machine (which has been serviced a few of times under warranty) keeps resetting by itself and it is shutting down because of low water pressure resulting from the wrong pump installation.

With Air-Ease, we've experienced a number of such 'coincidences' (ie. sudden leaks or malfunctioning system parts) within a day or two of their maintenance. Obviously, we've been charged separately for every subsequent repair or alteration. This past Spring, a couple of days after the scheduled maintenance, a geothermal circulating pump started flooding -- replacement under warranty alone cost us almost $500. It had not leaked for 3 years before and it started leaking all of a sudden right after Air-Ease maintenance.

At first, we thought -- it was very strange. Now, after yet another suspicious failure of the other machine that occured after the Fall maintenance, things simply added up to a very disturbing picture. Have their other customers experienced a similar pattern of unexpected breakdowns followed by HVAC system maintenance? Was the "repair technician" (ie. the company owner) caught red-handed interfering with the system the last time he showed up to "fix" the bizarre open vs. close loop problem which resulted in him making up the story about life threats? They have never answered our question why he came alone if he could not perform the repairs by himself, either.


UPDATE 3: Regarding constant pump failures installed by Air-Ease.

One of the major reasons for constant failures of the water-circulating pumps was the incorrect design of the hydraulic system. The main circulating pump to water storage tank has been CONSTANTLY running (whether thermostats called or not); in result, the pump has been overworked to the point of burning down every heating season. Additionally, this one pump has been pushing water in the wrong direction - thus making the system work harder and less effectively. Last but not least, they installed PVC pipes on the main geothermal ground loops.

Circulating pump running
Water circulating pump constantly running (the dates indicate the previous pump breakdowns and replacements)

Moreover, one of the heat pumps has been installed in the wrong orientation. The Air-Ease heating & cooling "experts" have installed the face of the pump horizontally, while the flat-face area should be installed vertically. This could be the reason of the ongoing leak from that pump. Here are the instructions (and diagram) from WILO pump 'installation and operating instructions' manual:

"Pump must be installed with the shaft in the horizontal position in such a way that it is not stressed by the pipework (installation position in Fig 2.)"

Wrong pump orientation
Air-Ease installed the pump in the horizontal position


UPDATE 4: Regarding whole house ventilation system designed by Air-Ease.

PROBLEM

Roof vent for fresh air exchanger condensates and leaks during winter time – visual presentation below. Warm moist air from interior of the house travels us the vent and condensates as ice layer on the inside of the vent over the roof line. It slowly melts and runs down with gravity to the inside of the duct and drips on the floor through gaps in the insulation sleeve on the interior ductwork.

Roof vent winter condensation
Roof vent for exchange of fresh air

SOLUTION

No real working solution to this poor design. Vent walls outside will always be cold even if insulated, so ice will always form on the inside of them from the warm air escaping from the interior. Applied solution – vent closed off and sealed to stop air travel.

Condensation leaks sealed
Roof vent condensation leaks sealed


UPDATE 5: Regarding the non-working radiant heating on 2 out of the 3 zones on the first floor.

Throughout the four years, only the center zone was heating; the East and West zones were never warm. To the question: Why is this happening? Air-Ease's answer was always: "I don't know! Is your house hot?!"

After we had other contractors fix the problem (it required rewiring the zones), at this point we have two possible explanations for the failure by Air-Ease:

1. This was done on purpose because Air-Ease connected this one machine to heat a very large radiant area on two levels, but the machine could only produce output for a smaller area. So when all radiant zones were connected at the very beginning, the pumps kept on failing over and over again, and the machine was shutting down or braking down - causing complete failure of the heating system. Instead of correcting the blatant design issue, Air-Ease just disconnected the two zones and only left one center zone heating. This kept the Waterfurnace machine running, but the water pumps for the zones were still failing every year because they were overworked (1 zone tried to heat the area of 3 zones). In summary: an ethical failure.

2. Alternatively, Air-Ease simply didn't know how to wire the zones correctly - a basic lack of knowledge of what they are supposed to do. Professional failure.


UPDATE 6: Regarding system overcapacity and overdesign.

To make the system work, it requires piping reconfiguration and re-installation to reduce interference between split and water-to-water units. It also requires an increase of the size of the pipe running across the basement to the Packaged synergy unit from 1 inch to 1.25 inch to reduce the head-loss through that pipe and improve pumping efficiency for that unit.

In addition, it turns out that Air-Ease's third-class HVAC design has artificially deflated the installation and running costs of the HVAC system. For example, they required us to buy and install an expensive ErgoMax water heater which was not needed at all to run the system). Our best option is to remove the machine that cost us several thousand dollars from the system and dispose it.


FINAL UPDATE

This time we hired a professional company to do a massive job of redesigning/reinstalling/fixing of geo-HVAC the system. In addition to the updates above, the following are the most important points of the completed repair jobs that wasn't done correctly in the first place by Air-Ease. The Air-Ease Heating & Cooling company continues denying their responsibility for their failed system and discrediting their own customers for exposing the truth about their business and unethical operations. The extra cost to fix the problems was in the low five figures.

- Reconfiguring piping to reduce interference between the combo unit, split unit, and water-to-water unit, which were apparently not getting enough flow from the ground loops as they ran at the same time. Increasing the size of the pipe running across the basement to the combo synergy unit from 1" to 1 ¼" to reduce the head-loss through that pipe and improve pumping efficiency for that unit. All pipes will branch from main 2" line to 1 ¼" supply and return lines for each unit. Installing 2" flush valves on the main line to effectively flush the loop field by itself instead of trying to accomplish that through the smaller flush ports on the individual pump stations.

New piping setup
New piping setup

- The entire loop field and interior piping and units were all flushed and the loop was filled with methanol solution at least 21% by volume for 15 degree F freeze protection of the working fluid.

- Installed electric backup heat strips into the air handler upstairs and the packaged geothermal downstairs. That included installation of breakers and appropriate wiring to the units and control configuration to work properly. Also connected the upper electric element in the storage tank to provide a source of backup heat for the radiant floors and domestic hot water should the geothermal system malfunction in the future. This will prevent another winter of burning propane and kerosene to stay warm should the geothermal system experience a failure.

- Reconfigured hydronic piping from upstairs and downstairs heating zones to utilize the large Geo-Storage tank to serve the entire hydronic heating load of the home including radiant floors and domestic water. The water-to-water unit provides now the vast majority of the heat in the home via the radiant floors, which prevents it from short-cycling. The smaller Ergomax tank is used as heat exchanger in conjunction with the water-to-water unit to supply the Geo-Storage tank for radiant heat and assist domestic water heater. The water-to-water unit finally has the required storage tank of 80+ gallons of water, which it did not have before.

- The hydronic portion of the Synergy3D unit is left unused and the forced air portion of the unit serves as secondary heating along with the split-type unit if the water-to-water unit is unable to keep up. The hydronic piping from the Synergy3D unit to the storage tank was left intact but valves were added to allow isolation during normal operation. The control wiring was disconnected also, but in such a way as to allow for the hydronic portion to be used with very little effort should the water to water unit suffer a failure.

- Adding temperature and pressure gauges on the geothermal ground loops to monitor the ground loop performance.

- Removing air and adjusting pressure on radiant piping to provide enough water flow to all heating zones.

- Finally, a Geo-Booster system was installed in the ground loop field lines. This unit utilizes a small pump to maintain the pressure in the loops by adding in premixed antifreeze solution as needed to maintain a loop pressure of at least 35 PSI and avoid a flat loop that hinders pumping performance and ultimately system efficiency and effectiveness.

OPTIONS:

- High efficiency ECM temperature controlled circulators (pumps) for the radiant piping.

The new circulator pumps for the house zones are based on cutting edge ECM technology that reduces electrical consumption by up to 85% with a more efficient motor design as well as exclusive Delta-T pump control technology. The Taco HEC-2 continuously monitor supply and return water temperatures and adjust the flow rate accordingly, matching the flow to the actual heating load, maximizing pumping efficiency, and reducing short cycling of the geothermal unit. Pump were installed with appropriate valves for future serviceability.

- Remote monitoring/control solution - this will be a better option for replacement when the existing thermostats break down at some point in the future.

The two main thermostats can be replaced with Honeywell VisionPro 8000 with RedLINK touchscreen thermostats and a RedLINK internet gateway to provide remote monitoring and control of the Geothermal units. A useful feature if residents take a trip out of the country or just out of town they can monitor their home's temperature and receive alerts if temperatures drop or communication is lost.

New HVAC system
Geothermal HVAC system after repairs


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