An Awesome Alternative

Alright, last week we discussed the problem:  High propane gas prices.  Ridiculously high, so high in fact, it kept me awake at night more than determining my fantasy football draft order.  Really.

What were my choices, you ask?  The house is roughly 2300 sq ft, and my ductwork begins in the crawlspace and goes up to the attic, so there are no vents in the floor.  We have vaulted ceilings in most of the house.  The house is pretty well insulated, including the block that forms the foundation.  A few years ago I covered the large deck that faces West and that reduced the amount of cooling necessary as the sun no longer beats against the windows on that side of the house.  We currently have a 5 ton unit that cools with electricity and heats by burning gas.  It works pretty well, I set the thermostat at 78 in the summer, and 72 in the winter, and the variable speed fan motor doesn’t use as much juice to push air through the ducts.  Come to think of it, growing up in SoCal, my constant temperature outside ranged between 72 and 78 every single day.  (If only they had an NFL franchise)

Okay, so, my options were to leave the unit, and heat with an alternative source, such as a large wood burning stove situated outside that tied into our ducts.  That requires a great deal of cutting down trees, cutting and seasoning wood each year,  loading it at least once a day and probably more.  Cost:  8ooo-10,000 dollars, American.   Nah.

Another option was to replace the unit with an all electricity air source heat pump.  They work really well until you get beyond average temps.  In the winter, the outside air is so cold that the unit works harder to warm it, and there is precious little cool air in our summer months for it to draw.  Also, I expect electricity costs to rise every year and a spike isn’t out of the question.  Cost:  A 16 seer unit with a variable speed motor, around 10,000 bucks.  I passed.

The third option, and the best, in my opinion, (as well as the collective opinions of the United States Government, The Tennessee Valley Authority, and, well, virtually anyone who is a scientist, engineer, or environmental advocate) is to switch to “geothermal”.  Think of a heat pump, except that instead of removing the hot and cold air and dispelling back outside, it uses the ground’s relatively stable (56-58 degrees) temperature to dispel heat or draw it back into the house.  The unit is variable speed, and actually fits into the crawlspace, so there is no ugly unit sitting adjacent to the home.  It is very quiet, and very efficient with respect to using electricity.  In the summer, the warm air removed from the house is diverted to the water heater, thereby eliminating water heating bills in the warmer months.  You burn no fuel whatsoever.  Plus, by not burning fuel, the air going through the ducts is so much cleaner and not so drying…Cost:  around 20,000 dollars all in.  BUT!  Until 2016, there is a 30% tax credit available.  It is a credit, and can be spread out over two or more years.  That brings the cost down to around 12,500.  Then factor in the savings in both electricity and buy not buying propane!

I then set about finding a qualified HVAC company that knew something about installing these systems….more later.



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9 responses to “An Awesome Alternative

  1. Mack:

    You buy the likker and the pigmeat and me’nyou can put that puppy in with your back hoe and other cool yard toys.

    Seriously, it sounds like a great idea. The local college campus is doing a $200M dollar campus expansion and they are sinking a bunch of wells for geothermal heat exchange.

    It’s great that you have a big hunk of land to work with (although I assume you’re going with the trenching system as opposed to the deep well idea). My entire lot is about 3,400 square feet and the house’s footprint is close to 1,000. My only option would be deep wells and themtharthings get expensive to drill.

  2. Put that sucker in before all tax breaks go away.

  3. Jim, yup. I’m a little concerned that the 2016 deadline will get moved.

    Demo, come up this Fall and watch us install this thing! No need to do any work, and I may have a old bottle of spirits I can dust off for the occasion. Yes, going horizontal if at all possible, but if I have to, I’ll go ahead and drill vertically, and as long as the machine is out here, sink a well while I’m at it.

  4. Mack:

    Thanks for the invite, just find me a job that pays at least minimum wage so’s I can buy some gas!

    Are they doing a seismic survey to determine what’s under your lawn/pasture?

  5. Not for a 6 ft deep trench. I don’t think they even do that when they have to drill. They want to hit limestone, and chances are pretty good thats what would happen here.

  6. Hey, you got limestone? Why the hell ain’t you makin’ “shine” with that sweet, sweet water?

    Actually I was wondering if you had hardpan or something nasty like that. Finding limestone at 6′ would be a good thing.

  7. “pretty good”? More like impossible to miss.

  8. Mack, this article discusses geothermal heatpumps. It may not tell you anything you don’t already know, but I ran into it and wanted to let you know.

  9. Never mind. I read the whole thing and it’s looking at the relative values during construction of super insulating vs. ground-source heat pumps.

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