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Sales warm for geothermal maker

$40 million quarter sets record, up 40% from year-ago period

A Fort Wayne company on Friday had some bright economic news amid the general doom and gloom.

WaterFurnace Renewable Energy Inc., which manufactures geothermal heating and cooling systems, said its third-quarter sales of $39.9 million were a record and 40 percent better than the third quarter of 2007. That means earnings per share are expected to be 42 cents, a 50 percent increase from 28 cents in the same period a year ago.

The figures, part of a pre-announcement of third-quarter results, were unaudited, but Bruce Ritchey, CEO of WaterFurnace Renewable Energy, said he expects little change when official numbers are released Nov. 11.

WaterFurnace Renewable Energy, headquartered in Fort Wayne, changed its name in May from WFI Industries Ltd. but continues to trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the WFI symbol.

Ritchey attributed the growth in sales to high energy prices, increased concerns about dependence on foreign energy and a desire to protect the environment.

“In a lot of ways, we’re in the perfect market,” Ritchey said.

The company uses the Earth’s consistent, below-ground temperature of 50 degrees to moderate seasonal extremes. It makes systems that consist of 50 feet of polyethylene pipe about six feet underground through which pressurized water circulates. That water carries heat away from homes in summer and to homes in winter.

WaterFurnace makes 40 percent of all geothermal heating and cooling systems sold in the United States, Ritchie said.

Despite decreasing sales of new homes, WaterFurnace’s installations in those homes have grown over the past four years, Ritchie said.

The company’s retrofitting of existing homes has grown even faster, he said. In Indiana, it costs $12,500 on average to retrofit a home with a WaterFurnace system, Ritchie said.

WaterFurnace’s Fort Wayne workforce has grown from 238 last year to 267.