There has been a lot of press in Oak Park recently about geothermal. Good press. The new Walgreens has a geothermal system, and soon so will the 114-year old United Methodist Church, and Frank Lloyd Wright 1908 Unity Temple. Both these churches in Oak Park are putting in underground geothermal heating and cooling systems.
If you have been subject to any of my earlier alternative-energy rantings, you know I have a very pragmatic approach to alternative energy. I believe you should know the payback period and savings before deciding to invest. You may still decide to go ahead even if the savings never exceed the cost, knowing that it is primarily an environmental choice.
Geothermal systems take advantage of the fact that about 6 feet (often less) underground, the temperature is a consistent, relatively comfortable 55 degrees. That is 55 degrees if it is 100 degrees outside; and 55 degrees if it is 20 below outside. It can be installed in a new or existing home. The main system (pipes in the ground) last over 50 years and the periodic replacement costs are usually small (pumps and sensors). What great way to harness free energy. Over a 50+ year period it may be the best investment among the alternative energy options.
However because of the large cost (primarily of drilling the many holes in your yard that are required), geothermal often has one of the longest payback periods of all alternative energies. Government subsidies and other grants can help offset this cost, but it still could be in the 30 to 50 year range. It is an economical alternative for long-term organizations, schools and churches, etc. For the average homeowner, it should be considered only with the knowledge that you are installing it primarily for the environmental advantages.
In very simplistic terms,
If you are considering geothermal for your home, let me offer four must-haves:
1) Outside Space – You must have enough land outside your home to dig. For the more urban areas, that would be a large lot, or double lot. If you measure you property in acres, you have enough.
2) Efficient Home – You want your house to be the most efficient it can be before sizing the geothermal unit. Get an energy audit and follow the needed upgrades. Having your home use energy as efficiently as it can will help reduce the size (and cost) of the geothermal system needed, shorten your payback period and reduce the amount of holes needed.
3) Cash – You need to have a decent chunk of change available. Yes, there are attractive subsidies, rebates, and other grants available, but the outlay of cash will still be significant. It is highly dependent on your specific situation, but somewhere between $15,000 and $60,000 is probably required.
4) Time or Intensive Environmental Interest – If you are looking to make money beyond your investment, you will need to occupy the building for an extended period. Of course, in the meantime you will still be helping our environment each year you have geothermal in place.
So, if you have passed all four of these checkpoints, you very well may be a good candidate. Shop carefully and understand all that is involved before signing the contract. For help and guidance, give me a call.