Here are six common misperceptions about geothermal:
Q) If the ground temp is around 50 degrees, doesn't a geothermal system blow 50 degree air into the house and a supplemental system has to heat the air from there?
A) In fact a geothermal system is taking heat energy from the ground, compressing it and adding it to the air temp already in the house. On average a system can add between 15 to 25 degrees to the air already in the house. That means on a 70 degree thermostat setting, the air coming out of your registers is between 85 to 95 degrees without any help from supplemental heat.
Q) I heard that geothermal systems blow cold air out of the registers?
A) As mentioned above, the air temp is a lot cooler than the old furnace that you are used to. Even a newer gas furnace has cooler air temps than you are used to because of trying to increase the efficiencies. With a geothermal system, this cooler air temp is what helps keep a more even temp throughout the house and maintain a higher comfort level. You do not experience the temperature highs and lows you have with a conventional heating system. With a properly designed duct system you will find that you don't even notice the temp at the registers. You will only notice how much more comfortable you are compared to your old heating system.
Q) If geothermal system runs a lot more, doesn't that cost more?
A) Part of the design is for them to run more. A geothermal system does not make heat. It moves it from point A to point B, in this case, from your backyard to your house. Your better geothermal systems will have a two stage compressor which allows the unit to tailor its output to the needs of your house. This leads to greater comfort and lower utility bills compared to a single stage unit.
Q) I was told that geothermal systems make your electricity bill go up?
A) A geothermal system runs on electricity, so yes, in the winter your electric bill will go up. The amount that it goes up will be drastically less that the amount your fuel bill drops. Since you will no longer have a need for natural gas, LP, or fuel oil, your new electric bill will be lower than your combined electric and fuel bills were before. In the summer your electric bill will go down. Since a geothermal system is about 40 percent more efficient that your air conditioner, you will notice a drop in your summer electric bill. A geothermal system can supply supplemental heat to your domestic water heater as well. In some rare cases, the reduced water heating costs have been able to offset the additional electric costs to run the geothermal system in heating mode. I know of one house that this is indeed the case.
Q) I have an older house. Isn't geothermal only for new construction?
A) A geothermal system can be retrofitted in most any home. With the wide variety of loop options available, if a loop system can fit on the property, geothermal is a viable option. If you have adequate space, a horizontal closed loop system can be utilized. Pipes are installed horizontally with an excavator, trencher, or boring machine (ideal for existing homes). If space is limited or rock is an issue, a vertical closed loop system can be installed. A small drill rig bores holes to depths of 150 – 200 feet deep. If each style of loop system is designed and installed properly there should be little or no difference in system performance. Loop style choice should be made based on lot and price considerations.
A geothermal system can operate with the existing duct work in the building. The duct may or may not need to be modified to account for proper air flow. Hot water heat systems, such as radiators and baseboard heat, would require duct work be added to the house if not already there. In all cases you will have a system that is more energy efficient and more comfortable than the previous system.
Q) There is only so much money in my budget. How can I afford to install a geothermal system?
A) The question should be "How can I afford NOT to install a geothermal system?" If you are looking at an existing home and trying to retrofit a geothermal system, you will be able to see huge operating cost savings immediately. For most people that is enough encouragement to help overcome the initial investment. Currently, until Dec. 31, 2016, the government is offering a 30 percent federal tax credit as encouragement to install a geothermal system. The 30 percent tax credit has no cap and also has the ability to carry over to a second year. That means that whether the geothermal install is $15,000 or $45,000, the home owner can take 30 percent of the cost off of what they owe Uncle Sam at the end of the year. If they can't use all of the credit the first year, they can carry the remainder over. In some areas the utility companies also offer rebates for geothermal.
If you are building a new house and taking out a mortgage, it will cost you more to not install a geothermal system than it will to install one. The additional monthly cost to your mortgage payment plus your utility bills with a geothermal system will be less than your mortgage payment and utility bills with a conventional system. This is before any utility company rebates and/or tax credits you would be eligible for. With that money you can pay down your mortgage, pay for home furnishing, landscape the yard, anything you want. You wind up with lower out of pocket monthly expenses and a nice amount of cash back!
This expert insight is by Doug Schuster, owner of Schuster Heating & Geothermal & Pump Co., and an Enertech Global LLC geothermal dealer.
Doug Schuster started helping his father when he was in high school. In 1984, he helped install his first residential geothermal system. In 1996, Doug took over as owner of his dad's company. Since then he has been responsible for the design and installation of hundreds of geothermal systems. In 2001, Doug won a Project of the Year award from Enertech Global for an 80,000 sq.ft. retirement home. Doug has served on the board of the Iowa Geothermal Association and was president in 2009.