MECHANIC FALLS – It was an idea that had been noodling around in Hal Bumby’s mind for more than 25 years.

But it wasn’t until oil hit the $4-a-gallon mark with no relief in sight that Bumby finally decided to convert his wood products company to geothermal heat.

“My goal is to get us off of oil,” said Bumby, president of Maine Wood Treaters on Walker Road. “I don’t need Iran or Venezuela telling me what to do.”

Bumby is in the process of researching and installing a system that will pump water from 800 feet underground, into a system that extracts the heat, then returns the water back to the Earth.

He hopes to have it up and operational before this heating season begins. And to recoup his installation costs within a year.

“We go through a lot of oil here,” said Bumby of the 44,000 square feet of buildings where raw lumber is treated for commercial uses, such as decks, fences and landscape design. He expects to save a tanker of oil – 8,000 gallons – per month with a geothermal system.

“The problem is that we’re spending a fortune for oil from foreign countries, which is like a tax on our economy,” Bumby said.

By his calculations, he’ll save at least $200,000 in oil costs this season with the new system. He expects that will be enough to offset the increased electrical costs for the geothermal system and its installation.

But his immediate problem is finding contractors who are experienced enough with industrial applications of geothermal heat to create the system. He’s meeting with one engineering firm next week to get a quote.

“There’s little expertise locally,” Bumby said.

That’s not a surprise, said John Kelly, executive director of the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, a trade group that promotes geothermal heat. While geothermal heat is widely used in other parts of the United States and internationally, it’s a relatively rare technology in the Northeast.

“It’s growing in New England,” said Kelly, who noted he fields more calls inquiring about conversions from oil than any other type of inquiry. But there are fewer IGSHPA-certified geothermal contractors in the Northeast than other parts of the country, and most of those are geared toward residential systems, not industrial. (A list of certified Maine contractors is available at

Bumby said his staff worked out various scenarios, deciding to use the plant’s existing well, which extends 800 feet into the ground where groundwater remains at a balmy 56 degrees year round. At 1,000 feet it would have reached 60 degrees, and gets progressively warmer the farther down you drill, Bumby said.

“If you go down miles, you get some pretty high temperatures,” he said. “But we need the technology to use it.”

Geothermal also dovetails nicely with the company’s efforts to go green.

“We promote ourselves as using sustainable forest products, and geothermal is a green heating system,” Bumby said. “It ties into the whole concept.”

Maine Wood Treaters stopped using arsenic long ago to treat lumber and instead uses a process certified by the Scientific Certification Systems of San Francisco, the group that awards its trademark green cross to environmentally friendly products. Additionally, the vast supply of wood at Maine Wood Treaters comes from sustainably managed forests.

“If you buy pressure-treated wood from a dealer, it’s probably our product,” Bumby said. “Our market share among independents is very good. We don’t sell to big boxes.”

It’s just another facet of being green.

“I justified getting into this business because making wood last longer is, in my mind, an environmental good,” Bumby said. “I’ve always thought we were a green industry. Now we’re just taking it a step further.”

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