If you live in a city such as Chicago or New York, you’re probably used to seeing the “Free Heat” banner on many of the “vintage” apartment buildings. The advertisement is that your heat is included in your rent. One less utility bill to pay, that’s great but that’s not what I’m talking about. And it’s really not free now is it?
What I’m referring to is “geothermal” heating and cooling systems. It’s not a new idea. In fact, geothermal systems have been around for decades. So why should I waste my time writing about an old system? Well, let’s get back to the idea of “Free Heat.”
Obviously, no one is going to install a geothermal system in your home for free. To be honest, you may be shocked by the installation cost of such a system. They can run up to twice the cost of a comparable, “ordinary” heating and cooling system. BUT, like I often promote here on the Renovation Resources Blog, the payoff is in the life-cycle or operating costs. And, if stories like the one on the front page of the New York Times Friday morning are any indication, we could all use some relief from energy costs.
Ok, let’s get back to geothermal and how it works. Basically, geothermal systems use the relatively constant temperature of the ground to heat and cool your home. In the winter, the temperature under ground is warmer than the air so heat is extracted to heat your home. In the summer, the temperature under ground is cooler than the air so heat from your home is extracted and dissipated under ground. These transfers of heat are made through a series of “loops” of pipes underground. That may sound pretty complicated but the bottom line is it’s free, it’s renewable, it’s Green. For a more detailed explanation of the technology behind current geothermal systems, a good resource is a manufacturer called Waterfurnace.
So really, what about the true benefits of a geothermal system? The benefits of geothermal can be organized under the following 4 headings:
- Operating Cost – Even though geothermal systems do use some electricity, and an electric backup system is advisable in some climates, they are much more efficient than other heating and cooling systems. Some owners report up to a 70% savings over conventional units that they’ve replaced.
- Comfort – Because of the way they operate, geothermal systems deliver a more consistent temperature output whether in the heating or cooling cycle. In addition, the units reside inside your home rather than outside so they are designed to be “silent.”
- Reliability – Since geothermal units are installed indoors, they do not suffer the abuse of the elements like the air conditioning compressor that you currently have. And the design of the units has proven to have a life span of up to 10 years longer than traditional furnace and air conditioning systems.
- Environment – The Department of Energy and the EPA have deemed geothermal systems the most environmentally friendly way to heat and cool your home.
The final note on the geothermal topic is this: Whether you're Renovating or building new, installation of geothermal heating and cooling may be expensive, but at a cost savings of up to 70%, it's not difficult to see how quickly Mother Earth will pay you back. With that kind of return you may actually get free heat sooner than later.