Geothermal well drillingThe drilling rig.
It was an exciting week on our little homestead, as the geothermal project we have been planning since before we bought the house was finally completed on Friday!

I've been promising an update for a while, so here is the scoop on our installation - though it's probably not as exciting for you. :-)   I did want to share our experience anyway, for those who may be considering a geothermal system for your own place. I did a LOT of research over the past year, and found some of the experiences that others had shared to be very helpful.

This is an old house - built in the 50's, and so it is a replacement for the old furnace - not a new build. This means the contractors had some fun challenges to deal with, like the 4' crawlspace the pipes had to be run through to get to the basement.  :-)
   But overall the project was actually pretty straightforward - the planning phase took the longest. The actual installation took about 2 weeks, and that was mostly because the company that drilled the wells couldn't fit us into their schedule right away.

Here's what happened (plus pictures!) - and our experience with the system so far (which has been about 48 hours). :-)

To start with, we had planned to put in a geothermal system before we even bought the house. The furnace (which we affectionately dubbed "The Beast") was about 30 years old, and was surrounded by a crazy Tim-Burton-inspired maze of giant ductwork. It also ran on fuel oil, which means we paid through the nose to heat the house last winter, and spent most of the winter bundled up in many layers, with the heat set around 65 or so, while The Beast lumbered away in the basement trying to keep us warm through an extra-cold Ohio winter. That said, it did the job, so we were appreciative, despite having to take a loan or two from my Bank On Yourself policy just to pay the fuel bills!
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"The Beast!"
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The best "Before" picture!
Our house did not have central air conditioning at all when we moved in. Luckily, it was an unusually cool summer, so we made it through with just a window unit, and a bit of sweating (and swearing - on the part of my husband).  :-)  We are blessed in the fact that our house has ceiling fans in almost every room, so that helped a lot too.

With those factors in mind, a geothermal system was almost a no-brainer in our case. Yes, it costs a lot up front. But considering just how much we spent in fuel costs last year, we figure it should pay for itself in about 10 years, and the systems are designed to last a good 25-30 years, with, from what I have read, relatively little maintenance. It's also such an eco-friendly choice, it's hard to beat if you're trying to live more sustainably.

We went with a WaterFurnace - one of the most well-known choices in geothermal systems right now, and I did a lot of research on the different options and found a lot of good feedback on these. We figured fall was a great time to get this project done, so we looked around for a local installer. We wanted to get a couple of quotes on a project this large, and I was very glad that we did.

The first company I found was recommended by Waterfurnace for our area, and I initially wanted to work with them. They have been working with geothermal systems for over 20 years, both commercial and residential, so I figured they knew these systems inside and out. We also requested a quote from a local HVAC company that has also been offering geothermal for the past 4-5 years, just to have a couple of different options.
Both companies sent someone out to check out the property, as well as requesting various pieces of information via email.

The first company was very thorough in answering all of our questions - in fact, almost too thorough. Every email was several pages long, and they kept asking for more detailed information about the house, so it took a couple of weeks just to get a quote. The owner also told me repeatedly that we would need to have a variety of different permits from the county in order to install a geothermal system, since we have a septic system on the property.

The second company was very straightforward, quickly answering all of our questions, and even doing research to find the answers for us if they didn't know it right off the bat. They sent us a quote 2 days after coming out to take a look around. They didn't mention anything about any permits, which my husband said was a red flag. When we asked about it, they said they had never heard of such a thing, so they called the county health department to check, and told us there was no such requirement. (My husband also called to double-check, and got the same answer.) 

By now I was starting to get a bit annoyed with the first company, but when we finally got the estimate, that sealed the deal. They came back over $10,000 higher - for the exact same system and options!!

We checked with some of the references the HVAC company gave us, and were satisfied that they would do a good job for us. We also decided to go with vertical wells instead of horizontal loops, although we had the space for horizontal. The vertical wells would mean less disturbance of the landscape, and they sounded like they may be a better option over time, as the 100-foot wells would have less chance of being affected by ground shift, etc.  The cost was surprisingly close anyway.

They warned us that the company they used to drill the vertical wells may take a couple of weeks to get us on their schedule, but their own contractors came out ahead of time to get the equipment installed in the basement. Bye-bye Beast!  :-)
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Out with the old...
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And in with the new!
The drilling rig arrived the second week, and looked exactly like, well, a drilling rig! These huge trucks pulled up on the lawn and quickly started drilling into our dense clay soil. Which apparently gives way to...well, more clay...and then shale. It was a big mess that evening - bigger than I had expected. I was glad we didn't do the horizontal loops, with as much mess as this made! They left huge piles of dirt over the trenches, but they said they should settle and flatten out over time.
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The drilling begins!
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The piles should settle over time.
The second day, the drilling company came back to run the piping from the wells to the house, through the foundation and crawl space, and into the basement so it could be hooked up to the geothermal unit.
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The black ones are the new geothermal pipes,
You can barely tell they're there unless you look!
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Some of the old duct work is still there, but it's a lot neater now!
The old furnace was gone the first day, but it took about 4 more days for the contractors to finish all the wiring, piping, insulation, and duct work updates, and install the supplemental water tank. We decided to add this option as it didn't add much to the cost at all, but will both decrease our cost for hot water, and double our hot water capacity. Family can now come visit and take all the hot showers they want!  :-)
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We doubled our hot water capacity.
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All hooked up and ready to roll!
Friday the contractors stopped back by to finish cleaning up and fire up the new system for the first time! It was just in the nick of time, as it's starting to get pretty chilly at night now....

Everything worked as it should, and I am enthralled with the new thermostat! Our old dial is replaced with this cool new digital model (which was actually free through a promotion from WaterFurnace this month), which can be programmed and controlled remotely via an app on our Smartphones! And - my favorite part - it shows stats for daily, weekly, and monthly energy usage - you can bet this girl will be obsessively checking that puppy out on a regular basis.  :-)
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You can easily see/set the temp, even in our dark hallway....
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And this baby has STATS!!
So far we are very happy with  our new geothermal system, although it may take some getting used to not having hot air blowing out of all the vents. How will I warm my slippers in the morning??  However, when it's super cold outside, the auxilary boost feature will kick on, which will then blow warm air as a normal furnace, so I guess on the coldest mornings when my toes really need it, it will be there. :-)  

I can definitely already see what people mean about this type of system eliminating uneven temperature spots - the whole house is basically the same temperature now at all times, so we can be comfortable wherever we are.  We will still probably get a small amount of propane to use for the fireplace though - that just makes things so cozy on cold winter nights. At least, until we get a wood stove - I'll update you on that project next year.  :-)

Until then, be happy, be healthy, be sustainably warm!
Rose.
 


Comments

01/20/2016 7:57am

Thank you for sharing this useful information. I work as a technician in Gaslicht.com(Dutch). It is very true that as fossil fuels are slowly depleting, we need to focus on renewable and not so contemporary energy sources.Geothermal power is actually very effective for heating households during bitter cold.

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