Geothermal power for your home

Written by adam

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Malcolm Gladwell tells us that geothermal energy isn’t as exotic as we think. His own father recently started using geothermal energy to heat and cool his home. The conversion allowed him to throw away his old oil-fueled furnace — despite living in chilly Ontario.

Like Gladwell, I had assumed that geothermal was useful only in unusual circumstances. Say, if you happened to live in a volcanically active region, or near a body of water with a steep thermocline. It turns out all you need is a decently sized back yard.

Six feet down, the earth stays a constant and comfortable temperature — between 50° and 60° all year round. By burying some water pipes and then running the fluid through a heat exchanger, you can produce ambient air that warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Because humans like it around 70° in the winter, a compressor is needed to bring the temperature of the air up a bit. But the net energy and cost savings are still considerable.

And the system has ancillary benefits. The Gladwells had never had air conditioning before, even though Ontario can suffer through the same summer heat waves as the rest of the North America. And the air quality in the house has improved, because the furnace is no longer sucking up oxygen.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is how simple it is tap geothermal energy:

I think it is also worth noting how absurdly low-tech the system is. It is pvc pipes and a compressor. My father lives in Ontario, where the winters can be vicious, and has thrown out his furnace! …One of the frustrating things about the current discussion over our dependence on imported oil is the persistent notion that real solutions will require some future technological breakthrough. I think we have a lot of the answers. We just haven’t made consumers and public officials aware of them.

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10 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Yes another disatified Pennsylavania resident. Govenor Rendell needs to go he is NO friend of the environment. He is only a mouthpiece for the media we need real change in Pa. We should be leading the nation but no he does not care. We can corner the industry up here and manufacture geo systems and install them in the Northeast but NO Govenor Rendell does not give a darn

  2. Steve G

    I owe a plumbing,heating & airconditioning company and am building a 15,000 sq ft. house with inside pool. I am looking for a experienced geohermal designer of a custom house with heat pumps for hot water heating. Thanks Much

  3. Sara Kerby

    I am super interested in this geothermal thing. How can we kick start it in our city (I live in Wilmington DE) and are programs for promoting this in states or cities out there? I need information on benefits, pros and cons of it, and stats on what kind of savings we are looking at. Thank you for anything you can send me on this topic.

  4. Valerie Pasco

    If you want to know more about it, you can look on this website how it works and what is done in Europe. Just for information, I don’t have any interest in this company. I just like it because the system is very well explained.
    http://www.geothermie.net/geothermie/default_gb.html

  5. Darlene

    I feel that if the Government is sincere in wanting to help the public with energy, they would put geothermal energy in homes for free if people want them so there is less burden on the usage of oil for home heating. Even if out government were to give a person a grant to install one, we would certainly put one in our home….we would love to help keep the glaciers from melting but can’t afford the up front cost of the unit and our income is so low we really can’t afford payments on one either. Being over 60 I don’t know as if a geothermal unit would pay for itself by the time we died. Any advice? We live in Northern Wisconsin and it gets very cold here and gas and fuel are staggering, even with energy assistance we have to practiaclly freeze to keep the cost down…..thanks for this opportunity to learn more about thermo energy…

  6. Anonymous

    i live in nova scotia canada
    installed geothermal closed loop
    system in our home 150+yrs old 4100
    sq ft current temp 2 pm jan 16th /09 the house is a balmy 70F
    last night temp was close to -40 expected overnight for tonight & sat -41 temp remains steady at 70f

  7. dave in kentucky

    Geo (closed loop or open using the aquafier) is probably going to be way more used than the sluggish hvac contractor base will like. Paybacks are better than over complicated conventional configurations. Sure they’re not for every situation, but it will surprise people how many applications are possible. Location can be a killer but not always. Maybe the public is not aware that Obama signed the stimulus and the fall bailout included renewable portions that now have a 30% credit off of your fed tax bill- not adjusting your income- money back- it rolls over- match that- it’s unlimited, too.
    Steve G. keep looking for your contractor, every year more of us are seeing the light.
    Anyone with a geo system and his house is 55 degrees, is silly, gullible or doing business with a hypnotic snake. The pipes are in the opposite temperature mode of operation- they dispel heat to the ground to cool the house and vice-versa, cool the pipes while they are absorbing heat to put into the house. The compressor uses electricity to move this heat, hence the COP
    (coefficient of performance) of up to 5! Try to get that out of any other systems. We use mostly closed loop, with a few open loops that put the water back after use, without any chemicals etc or other contamination. Look at the whole energy consumption picture and buildings houses etc are real real big. We need to work on this segment as much as cars. Reduce generating needs, buy geo if you can. Your car circulates water and anti-freeze, so what’s new about that? There have been water, gas, electric and many other pipes underground for a long time, why were they not a big deal?

  8. Mark

    Thinking of some additions to our former cottage turned home…we have a 6 inch 400 foot deep well that is now our drinking water source….would it just be simpler to put the pipe (closed loop) inside it. Dual purpose well would provide drinking water/hot water/heat. It is my understanding a closed loop system can do this. Has anybody in Canada done this and what was the cost..I am relying on info from Bassfeld Technology Transfer website page 7 Geothermal Power Generation sq footage of home with addition is just 1100 sq feet.

  9. dave in kentucky

    Mark, I tried one alot of years ago and did not have near enough well capacity. Some rules of thumb that we see in Kentucky: closed loop- 175-200′ per ton ( 3/4″ drop pipe), 250-300’1.5-2 tons ( 1″ drop pipe),
    350-400’+ probably 3-4 tons ( I say probably because most designs with deep wells are commercial and they always run software with some soil/rock input, and sometimes even a test well for thermal conductivity and diffusivity. One 400′ well would be low for the 1,000 sq.ft. heat load. Also, you would lose the volume of the 1.25″ drop pipe associated with a 400′ deep geo closed loop application. Good Luck.
    Dave

  10. Kevin Meadows

    Would you please send me the information or a link as to converting to Geo for my personal home? And anything else that you think I should read or educate myself on.
    I am building a new home and I want to use every material and install every known piece of equipment possible to make my home 100% energy efficient and self reliant.
    -Kevin