Geothermal heating and cooling systems have been successfully implemented for at least 70 years in the United States, but for many homeowners, they are still a “new” option.  And when an energy efficient technology is new or more expensive, regardless of the benefits, it becomes a novelty of sorts for those with an adventurous spirit and plenty of money, leaving the rest of us paying our higher energy bills. (See related post: “10 Myths About Geothermal Heating and Cooling.”)

The US now has a corp of skilled geo-exchange engineers and tradesmen, thanks in part to the stimulus act of 2009, and homeowners now have more access to information about designing an energy-efficient home. Still, even with an impressive 30 percent tax credit implemented at the federal level, U.S. homeowners need to pay the up-front cost and find a trustworthy contractor to install a geothermal HVAC system.

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north report that nearly 40 percent of heating systems replaced are going geothermal, according the Canadian GeoExchange Organization; and Canada does not have a national incentive program like we do in the U.S.  Wondering why? Perhaps it could be in part because of services such as GeoTility that take on the burden of installing the underground loop or well system (which can serve an entire neighborhood), charging a one-time connection fee and then a predetermined monthly charge, significantly reducing first costs for both new homebuyers and those choosing to upgrade to geothermal heating and cooling.

Graphic courtesy Bosch TT

Graphic courtesy Bosch TT

Geothermal utility services like GeoTility have had limited availability in the U.S., but are now entering the picture for more of us because of new arrangements such as a recent agreement between Bosch ThermoTechnology and Orca Energy (a sister company to Canada-based GeoTility). In its announcement, Bosch said the agreement  “solves one of the most persistent challenges facing the geothermal industry: how to overcome builder and homeowner resistance to the initial capital cost barrier of installing the ground heat exchanger [or well]. “

Most of us would prefer to pay a monthly fee for an item that could be classified as utility infrastructure, such as the earth-coupled portion of a geothermal heating and cooling system.  (Brian Clark Howard and I allude to this in our guide to geothermal HVAC.) After all, geothermal loops provide very real energy that is fundamentally no different than electricity, except that it is already in the form of BTUs, ready for use by the geothermal heat pump for cooling or heating needs. Most of us have become accustomed to using municipality-supplied city water, sewer, and other utilities. Some of us might say, “Let someone else worry about what’s underground, and I’ll just pay the monthly fee.” (See related quiz: What You Don’t Know About Electricity.)

A first-of-its kind survey, which was conducted last fall by the National Association of Home Builders’ research subsidiary, showed that a majority of people who own certified green homes considered energy efficiency important in their decision-making, and are happy with the home’s energy performance after it is built. Within this group of green homebuyers, tax credits and other financial incentives played a relatively insignificant role in the decision to build a green home; but overwhelmingly, the respondents said they enjoyed lower utility bills, and either didn’t spend more up-front on their home or got benefits that outweighed any additional cost.

Geothermal heat pump and hot water heater (Photograph courtesy Jay Egg)

Geothermal heat pump and hot water heater (Photograph courtesy Jay Egg)

For new construction, then, the decision on whether or not to go geothermal may be just that straightforward.  For retrofits, it may take some diligence and creativity, but homeowners who want geothermal will be able to get it.

Tell the geothermal industry what you think. Would you like to see geothermal utility services come to a neighborhood near you?  We’re listening. (See related quiz: What You Don’t Know About Home Heating.)

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at jayegg.geo@gmail.com .

Comments

  1. Jay Egg
    April 15, 8:58 am

    Dick in Oregon,
    I’m in Salt Lake City this week speaking at a Geothermal Heating and Cooling Innovations workshop put on by the AGWT. This is one of many throughout the country this year. Geothermal Utility Funding is covered nicely in the series. Check for a spot close to you if you’d like to learn more: http://www.agwt.org/events

  2. Dick Peters, P.E./CM
    Dallas Oregon
    April 13, 10:40 am

    GEOTILITY ! This could/should be considered as part of any new multi-home building project. The trenches, access etc are all open and ready to add the loop. The loop could be laid so that it could take advantage of any heat source like waste water lines during winter months and reversed during summer months. The energy saved would dwarf original cost. Please keep me updated.

  3. Jay Egg
    April 11, 12:07 pm

    Kevin in Michigan,
    I am familiar with double U-bends and similar labor/cost saving improvements. Properly engineered, the technology does indeed decrease drilling and overall costs. Thank you for getting the word out; another great example in reduction of first cost, further promoting geothermal growth. Keep up the good work!

  4. Kevin
    Michigan
    April 10, 10:00 pm

    If you are about to install a geothermal vertical bored field, residential or commercial and I told you that you can eliminate 1/3rd of the drilling either in hole amounts or 1/3rd less depth/hole would you do it.. What if this was done at Hopes crossing and a 270 page document was written by Oak Ridge Laboratories to The Department of Energy stating just that. We have many, many jobs done this way..
    This has been going on in Europe for years.. Double ubends are not new. But finally getting exposed and gaining traction this will help millions of families afford the up front installation costs. Lots of people in the industry try to play this down, but they are the ones with something to loose with less drilling being done.. Bottom line is getting the installation costs down before the tax credits go away and kill the industry… We must be able adapt to change. If you are in the industry think about the many more jobs you will have with a lower up front cost to the customers.. Come and read more.. http://www.geothermalsureclip.com