Just below our feet is one of the world's most renewable energy sources. All we have to do is tap into it.
As heating costs escalate, how can we stay warm and cozy without breaking the bank?
With the push to go green, isn’t there a more cost-effective and natural way to warm up? The answer: We’re walking on it!
Just below our feet is one of the world’s most renewable energy sources. All we have to do is tap into it. A geothermal heating system provides overall efficiency and is a real planet pleaser. But how does it work and what does it involve?
Back to basics
Geothermal heat is nothing new. Over 10,000 years ago Native Americans were benefiting from hot springs that erupted from the earth’s surface. The New Zealand Maoris once cooked via geothermal, and since the 1960s, France has been heating homes this way.
Access to this gift from Mother Earth is pretty basic. The fiery heat that originates in the earth’s core is conducted through the surrounding mantle, which melts to magma and produces heat, some of which makes its way to the earth’s crust. The earth also absorbs and stores warming solar energy.
This means that the temperature at 7 feet (2.1 m) below ground level remains at a constant 10 to 15 C (50 to 60 F) year-round. This zone acts as a natural reservoir for storing thermal energy.
To tap into this freebie fuel, you need loops of under-surface piping and one ?r more ground-source heat pumps. These units operate in a similar manner to the common refrigerator by transferring heat energy from one spot to another.
During winter, a geothermal system will collect heat from the earth and concentrate it inside the home. In the summer, the pump draws the heat from your home and transfers it into the cooler earth.
As well as providing environmentally friendly air conditioning, some heat pumps can also preheat your hot water and swimming pool, saving you up to 50 percent on your water heating bill.
What do the pros say?
Keith and Marg Tjosvold, owners of Markey Mechanical in Williams Lake, BC, have been in business for a quarter of a century. Over the past 18 years they’ve installed hundreds of geothermal units and feel it’s the efficient way to go.
“As fuel prices soar, so does the interest in geothermal,” Tjosvold states. “They’re 300 to 400 percent more efficient than most conventional systems, making them substantially less expensive to operate.”
Although the initial set-up is pricier than a typical furnace, it’ll pay off in the long run. The monthly cost is considerably less than natural gas, oil, or propane, and up to a third cheaper than electric heat.
According to the Earth Energy Society of Canada (earthenergy.ca), the initial expense is generally recouped within the first four to seven years, and from then on the geothermal resident cashes in on this unlimited energy supply.
Be aware, however, that in areas where the cost of electricity is high, it may take up to a decade or more to recover your installation costs.
“By decreasing the need to generate power, there’s no emission of greenhouse gases,” Tjosvold explains. And without the burning of fossil fuels, our lungs will breathe a sigh of relief. There’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, no concern about fire due to open flames, and no fluctuation of the thermostat.
Geothermal energy is the cleanest and greenest way to heat and cool your home, and it comes from a natural resource that’s right beneath your feet. Now, how down to earth is that?
How does it work?
There are four basic methods for transferring geothermal energy from source to structure.
Water is drawn from a drilled well and later released into a pond, stream, ditch, drainage tile, or lake. These systems must operate within existing environmental regulations.
Lake loops or pond loops
Installation occurs on the floor of a body of water, instead of in the ground. Heat is transferred through the water, rather than through soil.
Energy is drawn from piping buried at least 4 feet (1.2 m) beneath the ground. This is common in rural areas because of the land required for the large areas of pipe.
These are wells that are drilled into the earth, up to 200 feet (61 m) deep. Although this option requires less land mass than other methods, the rig and crew can be costly.
Cost of a geothermal heating system
There are many site-specific variables that affect the price of installing a geothermal energy system, so it is difficult to estimate how much one may cost. According to the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition, (geo-exchange.ca), a non-profit federal corporation, the cost to a typical homeowner may range between $10,000 to $20,000 for installation.
Some additional costs may include fees for electrical work, modifications to interior ductwork, and water hook-up or lawn restoration costs. Maintenance (for example, system purging or refreshing of antifreeze) may be included in the purchase price or may be an additional cost.
Can geothermal systems be installed anywhere?
While some experts claim that geothermal heating systems can be installed virtually anywhere in Canada, there are some important things to consider if you are contemplating going geo.
- Homes located on very small or rocky lots are not good candidates for these systems.
- Access to a large yard, bedrock-free ground, or deep body of water is necessary.
- Homes with some types of existing heating units, such as radiators, do not have the appropriate ductwork to make a geothermal heat pump possible without extensive renovation.
- A trained specialist is needed for proper installation; this is not a do-it-yourself project.
- A large amount of excavation will be needed to install the hundreds of feet of piping. This may cause damage to your existing landscape.