We have a 23 year old central air heating and cooling system in a small semi-rural town in Massachusetts.  My cooling system is pretty much on its last leg, but the oil-burning furnace could probably last another 5-10 years.  We do not have any natural gas lines in our neighborhood.  Our home is 4000 square feet.  The insane oil and electric prices circa 2007-2008 led me to research and think seriously about putting in a Geothermal Heat Exchange system in our home.  I decided to pull the trigger in the Fall of 2012.  Now today, they’ve started drilling, so I thought I’d start blogging about it.  You can find a lot of information online about Geothermal HVAC systems, but I could only really find partial descriptions of installs and costs for these systems from actual home-owners.  So, maybe this detailed beginning to end description of the whole process might be useful to somebody.

Why do I want Geothermal?

  • I have to replace my existing, ancient, heating and cooling system anyways
  • Overall energy cost savings.  The install expense over traditional A/C and oil will be paid back over time with the lower cost in energy to run the system.  How long does it take for the system to pay for itself?  Seems pretty variable. 5-15 years depending on the location, size of home, and quality of install.  I’ll get back to you all a year from now to compare the savings from my original system.
  • Improved air quality in home
  • No more worries of carbon monoxide as I wouldn’t be burning anything anymore.
  • Maybe help resell value.  At least make my house more interesting when trying to sell it if I ever move.
  • Quieter
  • I get to be a good Democrat and help save the planet ;)
  • The technology is just cool.

Finding a Contractor

I had been procrastinating on pulling the trigger on a Geo system since 2008.  We use a well for the water to our home.  Last summer, the underground pump for our well failed and had to be replaced.  We called up the original drillers of our well, Skillings and Sons, to help us out and they were here for a day installing the new pump.  I got to talking with one of the drillers asking if they had ever done a Geo system in an existing home.  The driller I talked to was awesome.  I wish I could remember his name.  He went into tons of detail with me on what was involved, what type of system (open vs. closed loop) I should get.  How much area they usually needed to dig.  What the install would look like.  How a Geo system worked, etc.  The guy basically sold me.  So, I decided to start the process going.

I must say, it was kind of hard finding a contractor to do this.  Maybe it was the time of year (August, September).  I also think that most homeowners are ignorant of the significant install costs of a Geo system and contractors might be a little reluctant to put time into a detailed quote because the homeowner might balk.  I got the names of a few local guys from Skillings.  I pinged my company’s internal mail list, and one Red Hatter gave me the name of a guy that did a geo system for her home in New Hampshire.  I’ll list them here:

  • Redmond HVAC.  Recommended by Skillings & Sons.
  • Energy Smart Alernatives.  Found them on the Internet.  They have a great website and had a nice Facebook with detailed pictures of their jobs.
  • Bill Wenzel Heatng and Cooling.  He did a system for another Red Hatter in New Hampshire.  His name came up a lot in web searches too.  Seemed to have the most geothermal experience out of all the contractors.

I pinged two other contractors, but never could get a response from them.  For Bill Wenzel I had a hard time getting him to answer an email or phone call.  We talked  a little bit over the phone, got some rough cost estimates, even faxed him a layout of our home so he could do a detailed quote, but I never heard back from him.  Too bad, because he got a really good recommendation from a co-worker of mine.  Energy Smart Alternatives came out to our home to do an estimate.  They were professional enough, but I ended up picking Tim Redmond of Redmond HVAC.  Both had done systems locally, but Redmond HVAC had a significantly lower price than Energy Smart Alternatives and costs in line with the rough cost estimates I talked over with Bill Wenzel and research I had done over the Internet.  Honestly, I think if I had had a similar quote from all three, I would have picked Tim because of his Skillings & Sons recommendation and the amount of care and time he took answering questions and putting together the estimate.  I’m writing this blog as the system is being install, so I’ll write some overall opinions at the end.

So, if you already have a well for water, I suggest pinging your driller to see if a) They do Geothermal installs (they probably do) and b) can they recommend somebody local.  At least when I did an internet search, a ton of people came up in Massachusetts, but it was hard to figure out who was reputable or not.

The quote

4000 square foot home.  Closed loop. 2,  4 ton Comfort Aire units.  A little duct work, but almost all of it would be reused.  Removal of furnace, A/C, and oil tank.  3, 375ft. vertical bore holes.  One 15 ft from house, 2 others 15 feet from each other.  Cost?  A little under $50k before the tax credit of 30%. Honestly, would not have done this job without the federal tax credit of 30% which ends in 2016.

Closed Loop vs. Open Loop

Both Tim Redmond and Skillings recommended a closed loop system.  You might be able to save a little bit more with an open loop system, but there are some issues with them.  My opinion is that closed loop is the best because any future maintenance on the system is done entirely in your home.  You dig the hole, put in the HDPE pipe, bury it, then forget about it.  Should last long after I’m dead.  Open loop has all the same issues as a regular well.  The pumps can fail, and then you have to deal with going in ground to get them.  Here is a good article on other problems you can have.

Can your home do Geothermal?

Another core issue with Geothermal is, can you install within your existing home?  Do you have the acreage for it?  Can you re-use the duct work?  Are there any utilities that would impede drilling?  Those are just some of the questions you’ll need to get answered by any contractor you pick.

What’s next?

So today they finished 2 of the 3 vertical bore holes.  My next blog I’ll describe the whole drilling process and post a bunch of pictures of what they had to do.