What’s hot and what’s not

geothermal heat pump iStock_000011516097LargeLast month we discussed the hot topic of attic encapsulation. Well, there is another hot topic I would like to cover and that is geothermal ­heating and cooling. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t get questions about geothermal. It used to be the only geothermal question I received was, “What is geothermal and how does it work?” Now the question is usually about how to find a reliable dealer or whether or not geothermal is feasible for a particular situation. Many callers know someone who is happy with their geothermal system, particularly the system’s comfort and affordable operating costs.

Many energy efficiency experts agree that geothermal systems are the most efficient heating and ­cooling systems on the market today. Properly sized, designed and installed, ­geothermal units provide efficient cooling and heating for your house or business at a fraction of the cost of natural gas, propane or electric resistance systems.

Some callers wonder if they can afford a geothermal system. Well, in many cases it is feasible and folks can afford it. And in some other cases it is feasible, but folks cannot afford it. In a few cases, it simply is not feasible. Let me explain how we decide the feasibility of installing a geothermal system by using a few examples.

Example No. 1

A homeowner would like to install geothermal in his new 2,500-square-foot house. The house will be built to high energy efficiency standards and even includes triple glazed windows and attic encapsulation. The basic heating and air contractor has already made “guess-timation” for a 5-ton, high efficient heat pump system at a cost of $13,300. However, this knowledgeable homeowner insisted on a Manual-J load ­calculation to determine the exact heating and ­cooling loads based on the high-energy efficiency ­proposed construction methods and ­materials. Requesting a Manual-J load ­calculation eliminates the guesswork.

The house really only needed a 2.5-ton system, and a geothermal system could be installed for about $17,000. Okay, that figure seems rather high. Now, let’s apply the 30 percent federal tax credit, which equates to about $5,100. Now let’s calculate the actual end user cost for installation. The ­initial cost of the geothermal is $17,000. Now subtract the $5,100 tax credit. The final cost for the best heating and cooling system ­available is $11,900. This situation is far ­better than investing $13,000 for an air-source heat pump! And now this homeowner gets most of the household hot water for free.

Example No. 2

A homeowner with an older house needs to replace an old heating and cooling system and is determined to install geothermal. After a rather long conversation it was obvious that this existing house needed several energy efficiency improvements. Remember that energy efficiency improvements are nearly always a better investment than heating and cooling systems because the improvements require no fuel to perform, require no maintenance and typically last for the life of the house. We determined that a $5,000 investment for efficiency improvements could save about $9,000 on the initial cost of a smaller “properly sized” geothermal system. Improving the ­inefficiencies within the home meant a lower British ­thermal unit (BTU) ­requirement from the new geothermal system. Now the homeowner has a ­comfortable home, with the best heating and cooling ­system, with lower operating costs.

Example No. 3

Another homeowner was really excited about possibly retrofitting geothermal into the existing home. After asking the usual questions, we concluded the 1,500-square-foot

Doug Rye can be heard on several dif­ferent Illinois radio stations. You can go to Doug Rye’s Web site at www.dougrye.com, e-mail him at info@philliprye.com, or call 501-653-7931.
Doug Rye can be heard on several dif­ferent Illinois radio stations. You can go to Doug Rye’s Web site at www.dougrye.com, e-mail him at
info@philliprye.com, or call 501-653-7931.

all-electric home was very energy efficient with monthly bills that ­averaged $100. Plus, the heating and cooling system was original and both home and ­system were only 13 years old. Since the existing system was still functioning properly and the bills were very reasonable, I suggested that the homeowner focus on hobbies because the investment in geothermal was simply not feasible on this house.

Find out if geothermal is feasible for your home by contacting the ­member services representative at your local electric cooperative.