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5 Geothermal Homes, From the City to the Country (And In Between)

6/17/2011 7:47:32 PM

Tags: geothermal heating and cooling, geothermal homes, , Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailThe percentage of homes in the United States with geothermal heating and cooling systems, which rely on the earth’s constant underground temperature of 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to provide comfortable indoor climates, is small but growing fast. Geothermal systems are installed in about 50,000 new homes each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared geothermal the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective space conditioning system available.

Geothermal systems use an underground network of pipes filled with water or refrigerant and a heat exchanger to pull heat from the ground and transfer it to the house in winter, then reversing the process and depositing heat from the house into the ground in summer. Natural Home & Garden featured a number of homes equipped with geothermal systems over the years, and I visited them in all seasons. They really are more comfortable than homes with mechanical blowers. And every one of the homeowners told me, as  they showed off their systems, that they had seen pay-off in reduced electricity and gas needs.

Here’s a range of homes. This technology works in any size or style of home, in nearly any setting on earth.

 Manhattan Transfer  


Photo by Paul Warchol/Natural Home & Garden 

John Petrarca, a pioneer who brought geothermal and many other green building elements to lower Manhattan, died in spring of 2003. Earlier that year, we featured the five-story, 6,000-square-foot home and office space that he and his wife, Sarah Bartlett, built in New York’s historic Tribeca neighborhood. The home, along with five others that John built in the neighborhood, had the first geothermal system in Manhattan. John’s application for an oil and gas well (required to drill the 8-inch hole for his pipes) caught the EPA’s attention, which proved to be a blessing. That agency enthusiastically supported John’s experiment and pushed through the application to get his wells approved. A noisy drilling rig with specialized steerable bits bored through 100 feet of dirt, then 1,100 feet of Manhattan schist before it hit its mark. John endured his neighbors’ wrath during the 28 days it took to drill a well for each of the five houses.


Carbon Neutral in the Windy City  


Photo by Barry Rustin/Natural Home & Garden 

Michael and Beth Yerke’s house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park has a cutting-edge energy infrastructure that earned it stripes as Chicago’s first entirely carbon-neutral, all-renewable-power home. David Dwyer, founder of American Renewable Energy, used multiple renewable energy sources and energy-efficient strategies to build the 4,500-square-foot home to Energy Star standards. A geothermal energy system with 22 loops of pipes that reach 80 feet into the earth, complemented by a solar thermal array, provides the home with forced-air space heating, radiant in-floor heating, air conditioning and hot water. The Yerkes expect the system to pay for itself within four to six years.

Easy, Breezy Greenies  


 Photo by Stephen Ang/Natural Home & Garden 

Paul and Rabia Nagin’s 6,800-square-foot Energy Star-certified home northwest of Manhattan is heated and cooled by a geothermal system that relies on the near-constant 55 degree temperature. “It costs around $4 a day to heat this house, and it’s roughly three times the volume of the average house,” Paul says. He expects to recoup the geothermal system’s costs in four or five years.

Heirloom Home  

heirloom home 

Photo by Susan Sully/Natural Home & Garden 

John and Sue Porretto’s timber frame home enclosed with structural insulated panels has a closed-loop geothermal heating and air conditioning system, in keeping with the light-on-the-land covenants in Dewees Island, South Carolina.

A Tiny Home  

edge house 

Photo By Dan Hoffman /Natural Home & Garden 

Not all geothermal homes are as big and grand as the previous four. The 360-square-foot Experimental Dwelling for a Greener Environment in Bayfield, Wisconsin—Revelations Architects/Builders’s “pure vision of simple living”—also boasts geothermal heating and cooling. “We wanted to show that Americans could live well with less,” says Bill Yudchitz, Revelations Architects/Builders president. Only the necessities are included in this minimalist, energy-efficient home, and geothermal just made sense.

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3/17/2016 6:12:35 AM
I am building my retirement home and want to do geothermal with solar panels. I have a wooded lot in southern NH any help would be appreciated Please contact me. thank you Anthony DeRosa

Robyn Griggs Lawrence
6/27/2011 1:25:46 PM
Hi. Cost varies, depending on the system's size and load requirements, but geothermal systems do--definitely--have a higher upfront cost than traditional heating and cooling systems. Installation costs can be several times higher than comparable conventional systems, according to "A Guide to the Basics of Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems" in Natural Home & Garden: The article also states that savings in operating costs usually mean the systems pay for themselves in less than a decade. Most systems carry a 50-year warranty and operate at 50 to 70 percent higher efficiency than most other heating systems.

6/25/2011 10:26:29 PM
The ground-source heat pump units referred to as "geothermal" is misleading and false. The energy source is still the electrical generation plant. The ground just makes the unit more efficient than using air for energy as the air becomes a liability around freezing temperatures and below. In addition, a heat pump is little more than an air conditioning unit with the heat exchangers mechanically switched resulting in poor design issues. If you doubt the geothermal aspect, disconnect the electricity and see how much ground heat you get out of it. Zero.

6/25/2011 3:18:58 PM
I forgot to mention we are in New Jersey :)

6/25/2011 3:15:00 PM
@ Hsanborn....I have had an open loop geothermal put into my house when I had it built 2 years ago. Being an open loop, the wells cost me 8k. (The main well is 5k and the return well is 3k.) Where I am at I need well and septic, so that was only an "extra" 3k for me. The install of the unit itself cost us 22k. This included all duct work and a larger unit (with an eye towards future expansion of our home). The upgrade to a 3 ton unit (from 2 ton) was a difference of 2k. I figure all of the duct work to be about 4k of that price. My home is currently 1700 sq. ft., finishing the upstairs would be an additional 600 sq. ft. It costs us $250 a year for the installing company to make 2 visits to check the unit. A box of filters, roughly enough for a year and a half, cost us $90. The unit has a 10 yr. parts and labor warranty through Carrier. Last winter we had a $350 repair to the valve just outside the unit. All in all we are happy with the geothermal system. My house is currently all electric i.e: hot water, geothermal unit, dryer, etc. My peak summer/winter electric bills average $250. In the spring and fall when we go long periods without using the heat or air we drop below $200. Figure the unit is running $2-$3 a day to use. I forgot to mention excess heat from transfer in unit is discharged to the hot water heater to help heat our hot water. Overall it has been a great system for 2+ years and I would definitely do it again.

6/25/2011 3:14:24 PM
We had an estimate done on our 2 story -2800 Sq ft house last fall . We live in Nebraska. The bid came in at around $20,000.They do have a 30% tax rebate, that ends December 31, 2016. We are still deciding if it's worth doing and trying to get a real life estimate of payoff time. ( The $20,000 was the price before the rebate)

Heather Berry Sanborn
6/24/2011 8:17:38 PM
This system seems fantastic but I cannot find anywhere even a ballpark figure of about how muchit is toinstall a geothermal system. Is it that expensive that no one wants to talk price?

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