Is Geothermal in Your Future?
Remodeling is the ultimate in "sustainable" housing, and upgrading a home's ability to save energy and other resources is becoming easier and more effective as "green remodeling" becomes mainstream.
As a professional remodeling contractor, we feel it's important to keep up on emerging technologies that may soon help our clients save money, improve comfort and reduce our impact on the environment.
In the spirit of learning about these new technologies, we profile a rising star in the world of heating and air conditioning: Geothermal (or "ground-source") heating and cooling systems. Simply, a geothermal system uses the temperature of the ground to condition the air that is distributed through the house using conventional ductwork.
To transfer ground temperature to the home's central air distribution system, a closed loop of narrow, flexible pipe is installed at least 8 feet underground, vertically or horizontally.
At that depth, the temperature of the ground is about 68 degrees. Conductive, non-toxic fluid is pumped through the pipe and is heated or cooled (depending on its temperature) by the constant temperature of the ground. When that fluid returns to the surface, it transfers its temperature to the air being blown into the home's ductwork.
That's exactly how conventional, air-sourced heat pumps work, except that those systems use the temperature of the ambient outdoor air, which is far less predictable and constant than underground temperatures.
In winter, for instance, if the thermostat is set at 72 degrees, the heating coils in the pump only need to boost the incoming, ground-conditioned, 68-degree fluid by a few degrees to achieve the desired temperature. The outdoor air temperature that day may be far colder; requiring far more energy from the pump's heating coils to warm it sufficiently.
Because this type of ground-source system requires far less supplemental heating or cooling measures to achieve desired indoor temperature and comfort levels, it uses less energy. In turn, there's less wear and tear on the heat pump, allowing it to operate at optimum efficiency for a longer period of time and with less maintenance.
Cost and payback:
The cost to install a geothermal system and the savings vary. Geothermal systems costs at least twice as much as a conventional air-sourced system, but cuts the monthly energy use and cost in half compared to natural gas and 66% compared to propane. There will be a substantial return on investment within a few years. The best benefit is you get free air conditioning, and the more air conditioning you use, the more hot water is produced for your hot water tank.
People with geothermal systems also report better and healthier indoor comfort, especially in the height of summer or winter when a conventional heat pump has a hard time conditioning the outside air to the desired indoor temperature.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems may not be for everyone or every remodeling project, but they are a proven, energy-efficient option that delivers better performance and lessens environmental impact.
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