Goodbye, old furnace. Hello, Geothermal!

By Helen Triolo, last updated 3/12/13 11:38am

Photo credit Helen Triolo  

Three weeks ago, our 26 year old furnace died. The fan motor stopped working and we were told by the service people who came out (from United AirTemp, who responded very promptly) that it was not worth replacing and the unit itself was actually hazardous to keep operating because of the danger of carbon monoxide leaks through the rusted combustion chamber. Because we also have an even more ancient and overamping (ie, expensive to operate) air conditioner, we were suddenly faced with having to make a decision about replacement of the entire HVAC system.

We've been eyeing alternate energy systems like solar and geothermal for the past several years, visiting homes on the DC Solar Homes Tour, talking to our friends at Solair Systems and Maryland Goes Green, participating in discussions of green energy options at UUCR, and looking at what others are doing in Rockville (eg, the award-winning geothermal installation at Thomas Farm Community Center which Nic reported on last spring). Specifically, we wanted to find out details about installing a residential geothermal system (is it possible in Rockville? who else has done it? it is ridiculously expensive?), as well as info about installing solar panels and/or a solar water-heating system, and installing a home charging station for electric vehicles. We weren't expecting to have to make a decision about all this now, but there we were without a furnace in mid-February, and had to decide something.

With a combination of wood-burning stove in the family room (with all the doors closed around it, and towels shoved under doors to rooms we weren't using), an oil space heater which we lugged between the office in the day and bedroom at night, and kind friends and family who invited us to stay with them at times, we found out it is actually possible to get through a very cold February without a furnace. This gave us time to get estimates from several contractors, apply for a home equity loan, and find out the details about geothermal systems, which sounded increasingly appealing because of the efficiency of using the constant ground temperature to provide the base for heating in winter (instead of 100% reliance on fossil fuels like gas and oil), and cooling in summer (instead of applying freon to hot incoming air and then blasting more hot air outdoors). We'd like to especially thank Rich Maranto - who runs RAM Digital, organizes the Solar & Green Homes tour in Western Maryland every year, has both solar and geothermal installed in his own home, and can answer any question imagineable about renewable energy - for giving us great advice and also putting us in touch with the contractor we eventually selected for the job. If you need unbiased consultation about a green energy system, or a dynamic speaker for a renewable energy related event, Rich is your man.

The Maryland Clean Energy website has good info on the benefits and an explanation of how geothermal works, so we won't repeat that here. After taking into account the federal and state tax credits we'll receive at the end of the year, our geothermal system, which will be a split system with a furnace backup, will end up being about twice as expensive as a conventional one. Because we plan to stay in our home at least for several more years, and because it will improve the resale value of our house, and because it is just such a beautifully efficient way to heat and cool, we applied for a loan and are going ahead with it. The first step was the removal of our old furnace yesterday, and the installation of a new one, which will be the backup for the geothermal. The picture above is of our old furnace being removed. You can also see flags that were placed to mark the gas line running from the house.

We plan to keep blogging about the process here as we imagine others in Rockville will be interested to know what options are available in our area. Drilling is expected to start sometime later this month or next. For now, we are basking in the warm air that is flowing magically out of the wall on this snowy day and enjoying not having to haul firewood or a space heater around the house!

Part 2: Incentives, Permits and other Logistics

Filed under Tech & Science, Home & Garden, Renewable energy / energy saving

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