One of the big decisions (and big budget items) for our our new house is heating and cooling. And since we’ve been knee-deep in making these decisions (and writing painfully large checks), I thought I could share some of the process with you.
Our captive audience – lucky you.
When we began designing our home, Ryan had his heart set on a masonry heater in the house – a centrally-placed wood burning stove that stores an enormous amount of heat. These heaters store a large amount of heat in the masonry (brick) which radiates into the home over a long period of time.
We both loved our wood burning fireplace insert in our last house, but I had a few concerns about using masonry heat as our primary heat source:
- It can be labor-intensive – chopping and bringing in wood regularly.
- We’d still need to figure out a cooling system.
- When Ryan traveled for work in the winter (or if, God forbid, something were to happen to him), I’d be responsible for chopping wood, stoking a stove, and keeping it going. (Also known as: My version of hell.)
So, because I’m no Laura Ingalls, we began thinking about installing a backup furnace and A/C system.
But then a funny thing happened, and Ryan changed course and began researching geothermal.
Note: I had actually asked Ryan about installing geothermal over a year ago (after talking to our friends Nate and Michelle at Decor and the Dog about the geothermal in their home). Ryan told me that it was too expensive and we weren’t doing it.
But then he changed his mind – likely after talking to Nate and other friends himself. And it became his idea and WHAM! Geothermal.
So now we are planning to install a geothermal system in our new house, so we’ve been getting quotes and making decisions (Ryan) and pulling our hair out (me).
So today, we’re sharing a few things we’ve learned so far.
(As an aside and disclaimer: We aren’t experts in geothermal HVAC systems. We have learned a lot and done quite a bit of research, but we recommend you do the same if you are interested in installing a geothermal system in your home. We also aren’t tax accountants, so what we’re sharing about tax credits and rebates are only based on what we’ve learned from our research and discussions with our accountant and contractors. Finally, Kim wrote this post, which means it’s like the blind leading the blind. Luckily, Ryan edited and improved the information to be less like “hook up a doo-hicky here” and more specific. But as always, please remember that we are human and are always learning.)
Geothermal systems get energy from the earth.
The earth is the best energy source available. While the air temperature may fluctuate greatly, the temperature even 5 feet below ground stays relatively stable. So geothermal systems allow you to tap into these temperatures inside the earth. A geothermal system uses heat pumps to provide heating, cooling and hot water for our home.
We’ll be installing a horizontal loop system, where closed loops are buried in the ground in horizontal trenches about 5-7 feet deep. Then, water is circulated through plastic PEX pipes and brought into our home.
- In the winter, the water is warmed by the earth and run through a heat pump to heat the home.
- In the summer, the process is reversed and heat is removed from air inside the house and transferred to the ground through the pipes. Then the heat pump uses excess heat from the warm air pulled out of the house to provide hot water.
There are a variety of incentives offered for using geothermal energy.
Geothermal can be a lot more expensive out of the box, which can come with some sticker shock. But we found that the combination of our energy company rebate and tax credits (30 percent credit until 2016) makes it very affordable (and very comparable in price to a high-efficiency furnace).
So, to give you an idea, in 2011 we paid about $12,000 for a brand new high efficiency furnace and central air (including all new duct work) in our last house, which was converted from a boiler system.
Our quotes for geothermal for our new house were anywhere from $20,000-$30,000 (variance based on different contractors, addition of in-floor heat, other options, etc.). But with a 30 percent tax credit and a $3,100 tax rebate, the bottom line is between $11,000 and $18,000 (depending on options). In other words, it’s not totally out-of-line when compared to a gas furnace and air conditioning.
Many states also offer additional tax credits. But we live in Illinois and that doesn’t apply. (Fist shaking at the state of Illinois.) You can search for any of your state’s incentives on Geothermal Genius.
The best part about the tax credit is that it’s applicable for the entire system – including labor. Plus, there are a variety of long-term benefits – like efficiency and cost savings over time.
Geothermal comes with low operating costs.
Because geothermal is so efficient, it’s also less expensive to operate. A system like this means lower costs to operate than even the most efficient gas furnace.
Geothermal is comfortable.
And outside of cost, there are benefits to using geothermal energy. Folks who use it for heating and cooling say it provides even temperatures which remain more stable overall.
Another benefit I’m pretty excited about is geothermal in-floor (radiant) heating. This means that PEX tubing will be installed under the floor, allowing water to circulate and warm the floor and room. Our contractor will install coils in the basement and garage flooring before we pour the concrete.
So, that’s our little lesson on geothermal. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more in the process of installing the system.