With today’s economy and the push to “go green,” many homeowners are exploring alternative energy sources to heat and cool their homes that are environmentally friendly and budget conscious, one of which is geothermal energy.
Geothermal heat pumps are systems that use underground warmth, collected through a series of buried pipes, to assist in heating or cooling homes. The ground absorbs around 47 percent of solar energy that reaches the earth, and four to six feet below the earth’s surface, temperatures stay fairly consistent regardless of the temperature outside.
The fluid-filled pipes in a geothermal system absorb heat stored in the ground and carry it indoors, where it is heated further by compression and distributed throughout the home. For cooling purposes, the process is reversed, and the heat drawn from the house is deposited back into the ground.
“The temperature underground is usually around 55 degrees,” said Randall Scott, of Scott Brothers Heating and Air in Fleetwood. “The difference between a geothermal system and a conventional heat pump is that a heat pump is dealing with constantly changing temperatures between 0 and 90 degrees, and a geothermal system maintains a more constant temperature, so the system doesn’t have to work as hard, saving energy.”
Homeowners who opt for geothermal systems can expect a significant decrease in their energy costs. “Since heating and cooling systems are the number one energy user in a household, replacing a less efficient system with geothermal could save the average household up to 70 percent on their energy costs,” Scott said. Geothermal systems not only efficiently heat and cool homes, but some models can also use excess heat to assist hot water heaters.
Saving energy is not the only reason the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy has recognized geothermal systems as the most environmentally-friendly heating and cooling technology available today. Geothermal systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat and do not emit greenhouse gasses.
Unlike using other forms of “green” energy by putting photovoltaic cells or wind turbines on a parcel of land, geothermal energy does not alter the appearance or usefulness of the landscape and the underground structure will last for decades. Scott said, “Once this system (the buried pipes) is in, it’s there for good. The underground loops are made with segments of high-density polyethylene pipe connected by thermal fusion so the places where the pipes are connected are even stronger than the original pipe.”
“A geothermal system consists of indoor and outdoor components. The outside pipes have residual value, so even if the inside unit needs to be replaced, the homeowner is only paying a fraction of the initial cost. The inside units have an average life of 25 years, where a conventional heat pump’s average life is around 15 years,” said Scott.
Through 2016, the state and federal government are offering tax incentives on several types of alternative energy systems, making them more affordable for homeowners to utilize. “A geothermal system usually costs around 60 percent more to install than a conventional heat pump, but between the federal tax credit and North Carolina tax credit, people can get 65 percent of their installation cost back,” said Scott.
According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, the federal tax credit is 30 percent with no maximum amount for geothermal heat pumps placed in service after Dec. 31, 2008. North Carolina allows a tax incentive of 35 percent of total cost, up to $8,400.
“The only drawback is that people still have to come up with the upfront installation costs, but when they get that, they’ll get a good bit of it back, plus the continued savings on their energy costs. It’s a pretty quick payback,” said Scott.
“We’ve installed around 200 units in the past 20 years and our customers aren’t just happy, they’re overwhelmed. They are just blown away with the difference it makes. At first, they’re kind of nervous, thinking ‘Is this really going to save us money?’ then they see the results. We’ve had people tell us with the hot water assist option their yearly hot water cost was down to $118 when it was normally over $400.”
Investigating alternative energy systems for a new or existing home could save money and increase property values. For more information about tax incentives for renewable energy, visit www.dsireusa.org.