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The Demise of Hallowell International

High-Tech Maine Heat Pump Maker Fails, but Questions Remain ~

The power is on, but no one’s home at 110 Hildreth Street in Bangor, Maine, the commercial warehouse building that until recently housed the plant and offices of cold-climate heat pump pioneer Hallowell International.

Top: Duane Hallowell in 2008 with an Acadia unit, in a publicity photo. Middle: The Hallowell facility in Bangor, Maine, rented with seed money from the city, now stands idle in the middle of an empty parking lot and un-mowed grass. The company’s remaining inventory of parts, like this idle unit by the company’s former warehouse (bottom), is due to be auctioned off to repay creditors.

In 2007 and 2008, Hallowell was the darling of the energy-efficiency buzz machine, announcing with supreme confidence the introduction of an advanced two-stage heat pump that would heat homes in northern climates with three times the efficiency of ordinary electric heat. Even in zero-degree weather, these heat pumps were supposed to be cheaper than oil heat — even cheaper than natural gas. Hundreds of consumers lined up to buy the units — including a military base contractor who installed 1,370 of the systems for base housing in New Jersey. But now, according to the Bangor Daily News, Hallowell is effectively out of business, and the company’s remaining physical assets are on the auction block (“City official confirms Bangor heat pump firm out of business,” by Eric Russell).

“In late January, company President Duane Hallowell told the BDN he was trying to find an investor to stem financial uncertainty,” says the Daily News. “Since March, though, neither Hallowell nor his attorney, Benjamin Marcus of Portland, have returned calls for comment.” Julia Wasson, publisher of the Blue Planet Green Living website, posted this update in March to a friendly 2010 interview with Hallowell: “Our efforts to contact Hallowell International have been unsuccessful for the past six months. We have heard reports that the company is out of business, though we have not personally been able to verify this.”

That same stone wall has confronted frustrated consumers who are struggling with performance problems and outright failures of Hallowell’s “Acadia” heat pump units installed on homes — including a major commercial buyer, First Montgomery Group (FMG), whose military housing division, Architectural Renovation and Construction, installed 1,370 units for a base housing project for the combined Fort Dix – McGuire Air Fore Base in New Jersey. FMG executive Matt Haydinger told Coastal Connection in June that more than a third of those installed units quit working, and that most of the units never delivered the promised efficiencies even before the compressors failed. "They [Hallowell] were non-responsive to our calls, our warrantee bills that we were sending them, parts calls – they have completely ignored us and dropped off,” said Haydinger. “We've actually filed suit, and we await a response from them, which our attorney believes is not going to happen at all."

Individual homeowners who’ve been stiffed by Hallowell are fuming. A Google search for “Hallowell Acadia” brings up two kinds of results: glowing reports about the technology’s promise from 2008 and 2009, and bitter, frustrated bulletin board rants from 2010 and 2011 posted by homeowners who bought into the products, and are now stuck with the problems (and the sky-high electric bills and repair costs). Typical of the latter is this tale of woe, posted on a CNET.com forum in January of this year:

A long and thoughtful post from January on the Greenbuildingtalk.com forum ends, “In summary, I was very enthusiastic and thought that we were making the best decision for our family. It was a tremendous expense especially as my wife is a teacher and I'm self-employed. I thought that we're ahead of the curve and that this would be great. I was extremely patient and never got angry although I admit that, in the privacy of my own home, my language got colorful when I saw those electric bills. One could easily blame it on the installer if it wasn't for the fact that Hallowell had been involved since day one on the installation and the owner himself came down to check everything out for himself. In fact, the installer is the only one who has stood by me this entire time. The product is defective and exorbitant to buy, install, maintain and in monthly utility bills. I'm sure that I'm not the only one to get a lemon.”

Even on a Google Groups forum created for homeowners who are banding together to keep their units in operation, there are voices arguing that it’s just not worth it. “Stop trying to fix the machine,” posted one owner in June. “People, I am a old man who has been doing this HVAC-R for over 45 years … after going over the machine with many other experts, time has come to get rid of your Acadia unit.” But when another owner responded that he did plan to junk his Acadia this month, he heard from a third owner, and from Western Massachusetts hvac contractor Gabriel Josephs, who both wanted to salvage control boards and other parts from his heat pump so they could try to keep other units in operation. (Josephs has installed 30 units in homes in his Berkshire county market.)

So is the failure of the heat pumps (and the company) the fault of an unworkable technology, or just the result of bad business practices? That question remains an open one. Hallowell evidently pursued a course more typical of software vendors than hardware manufacturers: beta-testing a product on consumers before it was ready for prime time. But FMG’s Matt Haydinger says his company has been able to put the failed Acadia pumps back into operation with retrofit modifications, using parts and expertise supplied by other manufacturers (and at his own company’s expense). So the unfortunate buyers of engineer/owner Duane Hallowell’s early output may have been let down, not by a technology, but by a business — a start-up powered by one man’s dream that appears, for now at least, to have been too good to be true. Meanwhile, others are working on research and development to perfect the idea, with hopes of introducing a version that would work in the real world. Hallowell’s machine is based on a 1973 patent by engineer David Shaw. A more recent patent, applied for by Indiana University engineering professor Eckhard Groll in 2006 and issued in February, 2010, references the earlier Shaw patent, but addresses what Groll says is the key deficiency in the Acadia version of the device: displacement of lubricant in the refrigerant during the two-stage operation of the paired compressors.

Groll told Coastal Connection, “I am relatively familiar with the Shaw patent and the systems that were introduced based on this patent. In my mind, the main issue for the failure of the systems is poor oil management. The two compressors in series have different oil discharge rates during operation. If you do not design the system so that the oil return guarantees proper oil levels in each compressor, you will run into bearing failures over time. Our patent addresses exactly this point: proper oil management for two-stage heat pumps with economizing.” With Federal grant money, Groll is planning a test of his modification before proceeding to market, he says: “My colleague and I received a significant grant from the Department of Defense to further develop our technology and run two field trial units at Camp Atterbury in Indiana during the winter of 2012-2013. We are currently developing these units together with Emerson Climate Technologies (compressors), Ingersoll Rand - Trane (systems), and Danfoss (expansion valves). If the field trials are successful, then IR-Trane plans to commercialize this technology.” This typically conservative engineering approach stands in marked contrast to Hallowell’s “sell ‘em now, fix ‘em later” strategy; not surprising, perhaps, given that Groll is a university engineering professor, while Hallowell is reported to be an ex-Navy refrigeration tech with no college degree. Says Groll: “I think that one of the mistakes was to go relatively quickly into the market without some careful field trial test first. We will see if we can do any better.”


  • Empire_2
    Empire_2 Member Posts: 2,343

    Nice explanation.  As soon as I'm finished with my Chess match,.....I will comment.  :-)

    Mike T.
  • Happyacadiaowner
    Happyacadiaowner Member Posts: 3
    Fully reliable starting circuit fix


    As you can see from my recent posts on the Google group - I dug into the Acadia debacle entirely from the electrical failure side.  My system failed that way  - and according to Gabe Josephs virtually all of the failures he has seen were elctrical.

    Bristol and Hallowell had strained communication at best - and when the excessively complex dual relay'dual contactor implementation suggested by Bristol starting failing with the use of the second high power contact failing in a low power logic task - I realized that that circuit was the culprit. Later I found out from internal Hallowell sources that GE had traced the failure to uneven wear on the two contacts.  As the power contact wears down - a tilting of th eactuator leads to an open of the second contact - which then leads to total start cap and compressor failure!

    Amazingly I have found out that IMC had patented a fully reliable starting component - the UMSR that was designed specifically for the Twin Single - and which complied exactly with the electrical timing specification implied by Bristols complex combination of dual pole contactor and dual potnetial relays.

    My system was turned off when the second stage heat was failing to go on - and I found my compressor to be totally sound - but if I had kept allowing the system to run - since the start cap was failling to be removed pouring 10X power into the motor until the Bristol overload trips - I would have had a compressor failure just like countless others.  When I replaced the complex starting circuit with my fix - it worked fine and will for years.

    In all of the discussions on the Google group, I have only found one compressor that failed mechanically  tracable to the oil issue - and that owner replaced both compressors - and has recently rewired them using my fix.  In fact his failure was purely mechanical - with the twin Single being prone to internal failure due when kick started - and the second compressor failed when metal scraps migrated through the oil connection. 

    I should note that I am actively (with Gabe) setting up an extensive life test of the UMSR - and in addition we will experiment with using smaller start caps than as specified by Bristol.  The Acadia is made to "rest" for 10 minutes between starts - and the refrigerant pressure gets down to about 150 psi between starts.  With such a low pressure - one does not need the beefy start cap (324 uf) speced by Bristol which is designed to guarantee starts into full compression.  With a softer start I think this beast will last forever!

    Note that the ACHP which was Hallowell first machine with the dual comppressors - but which used the T-89 which Bristol speced with KSTS xxxx retroseal parts wired identically to the UMSR solution (but not nearly as good)

    ---- and these machines are still running three years later.


    The bottom line is that with a proper starting circuit - these machines will be relatively reliable - and neither Gabe Josehps or I see see any evidence that the oil management solution and associated compressor mods used by Hallowell are showing high failure rates.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 2,827
    following hallowell

    i remenber when hallowell first came out ,i was personally under the impression that this was not a dual compressor unit but a booster compressor set up which basially increases the suction pressure to enable the primary compressor to operate eff in it,s design perimeter by increasing the sution pressure to enable the condenser to extract more heat out of the refregerant .This type of system  as far as i know is usually used in very low temp system basically refregeration .When i first had seen the hallowell system i thought that it was a great idea and fiqured that application for a booster set up but did i realize that you would need a very low electrial KW rate to make it worth it's while for myself wheather it's heat pump or cooling you are still powering a compressor and using electric .For heat i will stick to hydronic systems never liked heat pumps and or hot air system to much electrical comsumpition and for myself lower over all comfort and controlls .Still think that this will not be the last time we see some one trying to use a booster compressor set up to get heat pump performace down to very low temp not a bad idea where all you have is electric and no access to fossil fuels .Just my take peace ad good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Happyacadiaowner
    Happyacadiaowner Member Posts: 3
    Aqua systems

    Clearly any benefit of having a high COP makes the use of the refridgeration cycle as a means to heat water a good idea - and use of a water coil instead of the DX coil in the York air handler used with the Acadia - would be a great idea. unfortunately York doesn't offer such a coil allowing use of an intermediate water storage system.

    A company - Aaua Systems sells such a product using the Ruud Heat pump. Without the booster the mass flow at low temps is insufficient to supply the needed BTU's but there are a lot of good advantages to the use of water as the intermediate.

    For starters - the horrible cold air blast one gets during defrost is eliminated - since the heat needed to defrost is sucked back out of the water storage tank.

    I have been playing with what I think is a patentable idea for a water coil/system involving some valves and some control to do the same for air based systems as an add on.

    I love the quality of heating I got with my Acadia when it worked - and of course took advatage of the AC when needed.  Also I put a humidifier on my York to keep my all wood house at a good humidity during the winter - and there is nary a crack in the wood.

    All in all - since my Acadi delivered very low priced heat and ac when it worked - and I have now made it reliable - I plan to stick with my Acadia and help others fix thiers also.

    David Friedman
  • Steve_175
    Steve_175 Member Posts: 234
    edited June 2011
    The origin of this

    I want everybody to know I did not write the original post. It came from this web zine.

This discussion has been closed.