Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Bionic House

Last summer, literally in the middle of a heat wave (and we were about 1000 miles away), our air conditioner died.  It wasn't really surprising, but let me tell you that it wasn't fun to return to a hot house after driving for fourteen hours.  We planned to simply replace our unit, but found that our furnace was too old to be retro-fitted to a high-efficiency air conditioning unit. 

shocking it doesn't work anymore - circa 1970's maybe?

After much investigation, we decided to invest in geo-thermal heating/cooling.  I will admit, we are not the "greenest" family, but for us geo-thermal just makes sense.  We'll get a substantial tax break, refund from our electric company, and we'll reduce our utility costs by more than double.  The investment on the front end is definitely substantial, but we estimated that we'll make up our costs in the first three years. 

Rob and I bought our house about ten years ago - it was originally built in 1955.  Thankfully, most of the major work had been done to it (and well) before we'd purchased it.  But, time goes by.  We had always joked that we thought in one year we'd probably have to replace a furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and roof.  Well, this year it's been everything but the roof - but let's throw in a refrigerator and updated electrical for good measure. 

I'm just waiting for money to start growing on trees. 

no luck yet

I thought it might be interesting to chronicle our journey.  So, if you're interested - I'll take you along for the ride!

The basic concept in a geo-thermal system is to utilize the constant temperature of the Earth (which is normally about 59 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Here is the spiel from our little brochure:

Nearly half the solar energy our planet receives is absorbed by the ground.  As a result, below the surface the earth remains a constant moderate temperature year round.  This provides an ideal source for heating and cooling your home.  Geothermal systems use a sealed underground loop piping filled with circulating water and an ultra high-efficiency Tranquility heat pump to exchange heat between your home and the earth.  

In the winter, the earth is your source of heat.  Water circulating in the loop piping absorbs heat from the earth and carries it to the heat pump, where it is concentrated and sent as warm, comfortable air throughout your home.

In the summer, the earth is your source of cooling.  The heat pump absorbs heat from the air in your home and transfers it to water circulating in the loop piping where it is absorbed by the earth.  This provides cool, dehumidified and comfortable air throughout your home. 

So, that's the concept - I'll update you as things happen. 

The first step was to mark where the 450 foot deep wells will be drilled.

this is in our back yard - where we'll have our well drilled

The next step was to call our gas company to mark the natural gas lines - we certainly don't want an explosion. 

Because our wiring was last updated in the 1960's, we'll need to have our wiring updated in order to fully support the heat pump. 

For those of you that may be interested, we'll be using Mid-Atlantic Geothermal for all installation.  I would recommend them and I'll introduce you in the next installment. 


  1. Oh, I hear you! The hubs and I have decided if we are building, we are getting the geothermal unit. yes to the upfront cost but with the tax break, and utility break, we also concluded a 3-4 year money-back plan.

  2. It sounds interesting. I'd never heard of geo thermal heating so maybe we dont have it here .I'll have to check that out.

  3. We've looked at this, Kirsten; however, for right now, natural gas was the way for us to go. I'm very interested in your progress. Be sure to keep us updated!

    PS...Since your house was built in 1955 (like my first house), did you have to add insulation to the exterior walls? We did. I remember the day these two guys came and drilled little holes in the mortar between the bricks and blew in insulation. It was fun for me and boys to watch, and it made a huge difference in our energy bills! Just curious if your Northern house was built like our Southern house. Happy Thursday! :o)

  4. Pretty sure it's not a usual form of energy here in Oz, solar is the main alternative energy source. Will be really interested to hear all about it.