Tag: hvac

Geothermal Phase 1

We have heat! Well, we’ve had heat – when we were house shopping, fireplaces were a big thing to some people. Kind of a ‘whatever’ to me – not like I’d refuse to consider a house because of a fireplace, but I didn’t care if there was no fireplace either. The house we purchased has this Lopi Freedom Bay wood burning insert. More of a curiosity to me when we were house shopping, but it’s allowed us to make non-hasty decisions about HVAC equipment twice now. We got a super high end (and super expensive) air exchange heat pump in November of last year. It didn’t work well for us — 20kW of heat strips kicking in for a few months gets expensive. The service from the company that installed it, however, was right abysmal. Things we reported in November of 2015 were still unresolved during the summer of 2016. And, yeah, we could have been ringing them every day to force some action … but few of the issues were worth that level of effort. The thermostat software locks & the system is in the state is was at lockup (i.e. you wake up shivering in mid-summer because the AC has been running full-blast for hours). It reboots and works for another month or two. The air handler leaked. Until they patched it and our lower level got ten degrees warmer, I didn’t realize how MUCH it leaked. The list goes on. We’d bother them every month or two, sometimes get some action and sometimes not. The installer, though, had a one year 100% satisfaction guarantee. Without a bunch of fine print or conditions. Which, really, is why I was OK getting an air exchange heat pump from them.

On several levels, we were not satisfied. The company tried adding some conditions to their written guarantee after-the-fact, but they eventually relented and removed the system from our house and refunded the full contract price. They were not, however, able to restore us to the original condition … not that I wanted an old gas Trane with a cracked heat exchanger … but the circuit breakers and copper wire they pulled would have been nice. They were willing to leave the NEW circuit breakers and wiring in for the > 900$ line item from their bill. But, seriously, 200$ of stuff from Home Depot is not something for which I’m keen on paying near a grand.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how much more a geothermal system would cost … until we got some quotes and discovered that we could get a fully variable geothermal system for 500$ less than we payed for the air exchange heat pump. WOW! The configuration we chose ended up being 100$ more – we added an additional 200′ bore. Because it is going to take about three weeks before the drilling can commence, they installed the HVAC equipment without connecting it to the earth loops & set it up to run in emergency heat mode — which is essentially a really expensive 20kW electric heater. But it keeps us from freezing when the fire goes out overnight 🙂


The heat exchanger on our old propane furnace is cracked. And propane is an expensive way to heat a home. Here, it is trucked in and pumped – so in the worst of winter, we’ve got to manage to clear the driveway so the delivery truck can get here safely. All in all, not sad to see it go. We’re comparing air-exchange heat pumps with geothermal heat pumps.

Obviously the air-exchange sales guy has a lot of terror stories about loop fields going bad, digging up the whole yard, and incurring tens of thousands in repair expenses. Our neighbor has a geothermal system and says he’s constantly using emergency heat so it’s really a super-expensive propane furnace.

I spent some time searching for the down sides to geothermal. Found a news article republished in quite a few small town news sites with a study claiming a town had so many geothermal installations that they caused their own localized warming. Suck heat from earth, pump to house to heat, lose heat through exterior walls … town heats up. Except all other heating sources extract an energy source from elsewhere, heat the house with it, and lose heat through exterior walls too. It’s not like we rip out our exterior insulation to get geothermal. If they’d wanted say the Earth’s temp lowered locally, it would at least pass a prima facie logic test. But they wanted to scare off the global warming types, so they went with “you’re causing global warming!!!”. And ended up with a completely illogical argument. If they wanted to talk about older, undersized, systems that created hyper-local problems caused the system to run on emergency heat … well, don’t undersize your system.

The only down side I’ve found is the installation cost and potential cost of emergency heat. We’re going to get the air exchange heat pump – the infinitely variable pump is supposed to operate in sub-freezing temperatures, and it’s a quick install instead of taking a month or two.