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Geothermal Energy and Your Home

Choosing to build a new home or renovate your existing home seems to be the beginning of a myriad of choices, and for each choice, there seems to be an infinite number of options available. Homeowners are adding to their list of “wants”, a home that is not only beautiful and functional but are taking into consideration the carbon footprint of their home, and the possibility of energy savings over the longer term by implementing technology such as geothermal systems.

Geothermal technology has advanced greatly since the first recorded system in 1912, and although groundwater heat pumps have successfully been used since the 1930’s, advances such as plastic piping have encouraged the resurgence of its popularity in the 1970’s.

So what is geothermal? And what do you need to know, as an architect or homeowner, about the basic processes involved with the construction of this type of system?

Simply, geothermal systems involve the use of a mechanical device that transfers heat to and from the ground to heat, cool and produce domestic hot water. Traditional air source heat pumps rely on varying outdoor temperatures; geothermal systems take advantage of the consistent ground temperature. These units can be central heating only, hot water only, or heating and cooling systems. When choosing geothermal, homeowners can anticipate a typical energy savings from 25% to 70%, and have the lowest life-cycle cost of any HVAC system. Although geothermal systems usually cost more to install, they generally require less maintenance and repairs.

There are 3 components to a geothermal system:

  1. The geothermal heat pump/water source
  2. Heat sink/heat source
  3. Distribution system

While the actual installation of a geothermal system is complex, we’ve listed a few items that homeowners should be aware of, to better understand the process:

  1. A locate service should be ordered to mark all existing underground utilities, piping etc.
  2. Installation (for new construction) should occur before sidewalks, patios, driveways or other construction.
  3. All piping should be marked on the plot plan to minimize the chance of damage to the installed piping both during the construction of the home, and maintaining the home in the future.
  4. Although there are many guidelines published on the internet about the installation of geothermal systems, local codes should be adhered to (or the greater of the two guidelines). For vertical systems, regulations that govern water well installation apply.
  5. For horizontal systems, trenches should be 8-10 feet apart, and at least 10 feet from utility lines, foundations, and property lines, as well as 50 feet from wells.

When working with any contractor, it is paramount that they are responsive to your questions and concerns. If at any time you don’t feel that the process is going as expected, or have concerns, don’t hold back on mentioning them.  Schedule meetings with your contractor to keep the conversation flowing, take pictures of the installation for reference in the future, and keep yourself informed!

Thinking about geothermal? Give us a call…