Over the next few months I’ll reserve some blog entries for a project we’re planning to undertake this June – to switch our heating source from fuel oil to geothermal. When the installation takes place I’ll describe it, and then later blog about the efficacy and savings from the switch. Today I’ll describe our plans.
The work will be done in early June, and have two stages. First the well drillers will come and increase the depth of our current well. If the water flow doesn’t increase then the depth of the well, currently 360 feet, will have to be expanded to 800 feet. If water flow increases or they figure out a way to bleed the flow (in the coldest temperatures this would be about 10% of the water) the price and depth of the well might be a bit less. This kind of system works well in Maine, though in most of the country water tables are too deep for a standing column well to make sense (a slightly more expensive to operate loop system is used in those cases). The water will be pumped in to the heat exchange pump and then returned to the well. We will continue to receive our domestic water supply from the well.
Once the well drillers get their work done, the heating people come to install the unit. The heat pump will be in the basement near the current oil tank and well water entry point. The heat will be transferred up to the attic where all the fans and the ductwork will be located, ready to send heat to the house. The heat pump will be a five ton unit. Apparently unlike most forced air systems geothermal heat is low air flow, meaning that the temperature remains constant, but doesn’t rapidly decrease or increase on demand.
The total cost will be near $40,000, though after tax credits that should be just under $30,000. At today’s fuel prices that could pay for itself in less than ten years. Even if oil goes back down it will eventually save more than its cost — and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last oil price spike! Moreover, it will significantly cut down on our green house gas emissions.
The cost would have been less if the house had been designed with geothermal (it was completed in 2006). Currently it is a baseboard heating system and will require a retrofit to a forced air system. Our house has about 3400 square feet of heated space. It’s a ranch with a finished basement. The basement creates a problem for a retrofit because there isn’t room in the ceiling for duct work. Instead they’ll creatively work through closests to get a number of ducts sending heat to the basement in winter. It likely won’t do the whole job so on the coldest days we may burn some oil. Moreover, while it will help heat water (especially in summer) much of our domestic hot water will also come from our oil burner. Still, the cost savings should be significant. Moreover, it will give us air conditioning in the summer — we have no air conditioning system at this time (not even window units), so that’ll be nice. Maine doesn’t get too hot in summer, but there are always weeks where it gets intense, and it’s often too hot to cook indoors. It’ll be nice to have AC!
The decision to do this isn’t taken lightly. It is a major up front cost. Its a no brainer given tax credits to do this on new construction — but a retrofit is much more expensive (not to mention that in buying the houses we paid for the current system, now destined for back up duty). Moreover, we made this decision last November, when oil prices were low. My thinking was that oil prices were not going to stay low, and once they rose again when the world economy picked up, changing our system would be more expensive and there would be a longer wait (as it was our wait was simply to avoid having to have the well work done in the winter).
You see, I’ve had this knack of being right about trends. I argued back around 2000 that the dollar would end up significantly lower in value vis-a-vis the Euro, and wished I could buy a large chunk of Euros as an investment. I was right — but had no excess money to buy Euros. I was warning my classes about al qaeda in the 90s, and talking about the coming housing bubble recession by 2005. During the 1998 dot com boom I told classes “there hasn’t been so much optimism since 1998.” Yet I did nothing to personally profit from my predictive ability, except to shift my retirement account to safer investments.
Lately I’ve become convinced that large oil price increases are on the horizon. All that can prevent it is a mix of increased domestic oil drilling, a shift towards oil sands, and a large increase in alternative energy use. All of this will happen — reality and markets force change whether people like it or not — but it appears likely to be a very difficult transition which could see a sustained period of very expensive oil. While I doubt the absolute gloom and doom of the peak oil folk is right — I have a bit more faith in our ability to innovate, adapt and react — I also am skeptical of the ‘it’ll be a slow easy transition’ folk. So rather than risk being right again but having done nothing to prepare myself, I pushed hard for us to make the decision to take the economic plunge. I’m teaching overload courses to help pay for this, and unless something unexpected comes up, we’re going to do it.
It will feel good too to think I’m doing something about both foreign oil dependence and global warming. So if all goes according to plan, I’ll blog about this topic again in early June when the work is underway!