Video Tour: Geothermal Heats Up the HVAC Market

We know geothermal is energy efficient, but below the surface there’s a lot more to this HVAC system.

While on the outside it seems like a more expensive option, what’s inside will give your clients a return on that investment within five to ten years.

“It’s using far less electricity cost-wise than what you’d be spending in oil or propane to burn fuel, because we’re actually stealing that heat from the ground with the heat pump,” says Chris Nowak, senior project engineer at ConecoEnergy.

Exterior of home at Wayside Farms.
Exterior of home at Wayside Farms.

Geothermal systems designer and installer Nowak is currently installing WaterFurnace Series 3 units at a development in East Bridgewater, a suburb south of Boston, where single-family units are priced from $350,000 to $405,000.

“Places like Wayside Farms, where they’re doing an overall green neighborhood, that’s number one for efficiency in the house is the heating and cooling system,” says Nowak.

PART ONE: Geothermal Breaks Ground in New England

The community uses a closed loop geothermal system, which circulates an antifreeze solution. The particular home, where TecHome Builder got an exclusive tour, uses three types of loops. First, there’s the ground loop buried inside a trench outside.

“They just dig a big trench and run a bunch of pipes anywhere from five to ten feet below grade,” says Nowak. “They can do them in a spiral or just a simple back and forth line and bedding the trench with pipe.”

Wayside Farms uses a closed loop system, with a ground loop, refrigeration loop and air loop.
Wayside Farms uses a closed loop system, with a ground loop, refrigeration loop and air loop.

Then a refrigeration loop, which is the actual heat pump installed inside a basement cabinet, either pulls the heat out of the ground or dumps heat from the house back into the ground. This depends on whether it’s heating or cooling.

Finally, there’s the air loop that pulls the heating and air conditioning through the entire house.

“You’ll find that when you’re heating the house, it actually heats up the house a lot slower and uses a much more consistent temperature to hold the temperature for the house versus trying to do a quick recovery,” says Nowak. That’s what makes geothermal so energy efficient.

But before you rush to install it in your clients’ homes, know there’s a catch. Geothermal is not that compatible with those smart thermostats that are so popular today. Homebuyers can still benefit from smart phone connectivity, but because geothermal heats and cools so slowly, those functions that stop and restart the system based on behavior aren’t as effective.

“Every smart feature that you’re paying for in the Nest thermostat, you want to disable when you’re using geothermal,” warns Nowak.

But that sacrifice might be worth it for this energy efficient solution that typically lasts half a century.

About The Author

Michael Black is a staff writer and content coordinator at TecHome Builder. He has a particular interest in new solar developments and smart energy systems and is always looking for the next smart home trend to cover. As the youngest member of the TecHome team, Michael brings a passion that keeps the team energized. He also is instrumental in leading our social media efforts.

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1 Comment

  1. Gene LaNois

    This is Gene LaNois, I’m the General Manager of the professional channel business @ Nest Labs.

    Geo-thermals do operate differently from traditional heat pumps and fossil fuel systems, but your comment on Nest specifically is not correct. Unless you are using a Geo HP that requires a specific communicating protocol thermostat to operate a variable speed compressor and/or fan, the Nest Thermostat can do just as good of a job as any other thermostat. In fact, it will likely do even better thanks to Nest’s learning technology. In the setup of the Nest Thermostat you can decide what the setbacks should be — just like with any other programmable thermostat. The idea that keeping your house at the same occupied temperature, say at 71 degrees while you are at work as an example, would cost the same as keeping your home at 69 is wrong. Even the 2 degree setback offers an opportunity for savings. Nest would also learn and adapt to understand how the the geo system heat and cools the home based on outdoor temperature just by receiving the information over the internet. Nest learns more everyday and operates your systems with better performance as it continues to learn.


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