Mrs. Shayne’s Adventures in Geothermal, Part 1
November 9, 2011
Our upstairs heater went out a few weeks ago. I called the guy. He came, handed me a piece of paper with an estimate scrawled on it, and said, “We can do it on Thursday if you want us to.”
Someday soon, I may look back on that day with regret and nostalgia, because at this point, we seem to have departed on a journey in HVAC that feels like Captain Cook heading off for the Hawaiian Islands.
We, and by “we” I mean me, with Hubbo chiming in occasionally with phrases like “maximum ultimate cost analysis” and “good luck with that,” have decided to switch out all our natural gas/electric heating/AC systems for a geothermal system.
If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, feel free to ditch out right now and go browse our archives for knitting stuff. (Here’s some choice 2008 action for you.) But if you hear the word geothermal and think hmmm I semi-know what that is, sort of, then come sit here by me. You can be an armchair participant in our little adventure.
What Is Geothermal, Anyway?
The basic idea with geothermal is that you use the earth’s steady temperature to help heat and cool your house more efficiently. Consumer Reports gives a pretty good summary here. Basically, if you start with air that is 60 degrees instead of 90 or 20 as you do with traditional systems that work with the air outside, it takes less energy to get it to the 70 degrees that you want it to be. The geothermal system uses a lot of fairies and leprechauns to make that 60-degree air show up from the underground, or as we like to call it, heaven.
The up-front costs are high, but the monthly energy bills are said to be lower, enough so that over the millennia, the system will pay for itself. When that break-even happens is probably the least knowable part of this. All I know is that this system will reduce our carbon emissions by some significant amount, we will save 798 trees in 20 years, and our yard is going to be a big damn mess next week.
At this point, I’ve spent weeks reading about geothermal, talking to people who’ve had it installed for a while, some who just had it installed, and some who tell me about the 50-foot fireball that came off the drilling rig when a hydraulic hose popped off. I’ve also heard about my geothermal guy’s pet moray eel, a quarry fire, and a lot of other harrowing stuff. But I’ve concluded that it’s worth giving it a go. We need to replace our systems anyway, and I do not have enough going on in my daily life, obviously.
Geothermal makes economic sense only if you’re in need of new system, if you’re planning to stay in your house a while, and if your house is configured well for a retrofit. The math does not work if you’re just willynilly ripping out your old stuff because you like the idea of geothermal. We’ll eventually break even on the geothermal part of our new system–7 to 10 years, we think, sooner if we’re lucky–but not on the entire system. Which is OK, because as I say, we have to replace them anyway. Also: the federal tax credit of 30% is a huge factor in all this. We would not be doing this without that big incentive from the U.S. government. Our tax dollars at work! In our own home!
The Exciting Part Begins
So. Yesterday the drilling guy came out and spray painted five white circles on the ground right outside my office window. This is where they’ll be drilling 150-foot-deep holes, into which they’ll run pipes that will make a closed loop filled with Kool Aid or Gatorade or vodka that will carry Earth’s temperate temperature into some gizmo heat pumps that will deliver beautiful heat and cooling to our house. That is the fantasy that I will cling to.
I’m told that this will all be done by Thanksgiving. If it’s not, I’m totally going to tell you who we’re working with and rag on them without pity until it’s finished. If it goes well, we will rename the blog for this company, and I’ll invite you all over to stand around one of my air vents and watch all that beautiful, efficient air spewing out all over the place.
So stay tuned. I have a blanket that I’m working on to cool my nerves. If this thing doesn’t work, I’m going to need a lot of blankets.
PS All you geothermal veterans, please feel free to share your experiences. (Moth Heaven, I’m looking at you.)