Technology Reviews

Our Experience With Geothermal

During July 2009 we replaced our almost 50 year old furnace at our house with a GeoComfort Geothermal system thanks to available tax credits which brought the cost down to something we could justify.  Today I gave a presentation to the Exchange Club in Urbana regarding the factors that led to our decision in moving to geothermal and our experiences with it since.  Overall, we find we are more comfortable since moving to Geothermal, we enjoy our backyard more without a noisy outdoor unit, and we’re confident we made the greenest choice available to us.  Variable pricing and changes in how quickly we turn the unit on in summer and winter make it difficult to know if we’re meeting predictions for utility usages since the installation; savings is not as much as we had expected.  Our biggest disappointment was with the installers because of the overall poor communication and installation delays.

I’d be interested in hearing others experiences with Geothermal and with our installers, Bratcher. Slides from the presentation are available in PDF and Quicktime format.

Answers to a few questions raised following the talk:

Would you have been able to install Geothermal without the tax credit

We were only able to justify the purchase because of a 30% tax credit that had no cap.  The air-source heat pump had a $1500 cap for the tax credit while ultimately our tax credit for the ground-source (Geothermal) heat pump was just over $5000 and was the difference maker.  With tax credits, payback from staying with our existing but much costlier to operate system was 10 years for the air-source heat pump and 11 years for the Geothermal system.  Without the tax credits payback for Geothermal is over 17 years, but the upfront cost would also have been more than we could have paid even with a home equity loan.

Our commercial installation is struggling to balance heating zones since moving to Geothermal in the building.  Have you experienced anything similar?

I know our church went with Geothermal for the new addition and has had some problems balancing heat between areas.  We haven’t had much of a problem, but we’re only 1750 square feet.  But we do notice that when the system kicks into high, our ducts are noisier than the old system.  I’m told that’s because older duct systems weren’t designed for the higher air flows of the newer systems.  My understanding is that in new installations balancing heat and noisy airflow aren’t as much a problem.

My wife likes it warmer in the house so Geothermal probably isn’t an option for us.

We chose to go with a full Geothermal system that uses electric heat plates as a supplemental heat source.  But we turned off that supplemental heat at the circuit breaker so that it wouldn’t kick on every morning as we warm up from the 63 degrees we like to sleep at.  So far we haven’t noticed not having a supplemental heat source even in this cold winter.  As I understand it the system is designed to run closer to 72 degrees constantly.  But even if you like it warmer, choosing a high efficiency furnace would still give you a system that mostly uses Geothermal and then only uses the furnace to warm the air the rest of the way and would be more efficient than just the high efficiency furnace alone.

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