October 23, 2014

Top 10 Myths About Geothermal Heating, Cooling

(with apologies to David Letterman)

10. Geothermal heat pumps can only be installed in rural areas. About 15 years ago, the first McDonalds (at Ford and Hix Road in Westland, MI) to have an energy efficient geothermal system was installed, and it made CNN news. Later, a geothermal system was installed at CanField Lofts in downtown Detroit. Both are very urban areas.

9. It is too cold in Michigan to use geothermal heat pumps. Geothermal heat pumps have been installed north of the arctic circle and 1 degree from the equator and everywhere in between (of course then, including Michigan).

8. You need a well to install geothermal. There are three types of geothermal systems—open, ground source, and closed loop. Closed loop geothermal systems do not use a well.

7. Geothermal units blow cold air (as opposed to me, who is full of hot air). Old, less-efficient furnaces blow very hot air at around 130 degrees, then shut off. The house gets hot and then cold, and then repeats that cycle. Geothermal units are designed to run more continuous (like cruise control), blowing air at around 100 degrees. This way, a house stays consistently far more comfortable. When compared with an old furnace it does feel a bit colder, but 100 degrees is more than enough to maintain a comfortable house.

6. Geothermal units have a bigger carbon footprint than gas or propane furnaces. A large engineering study done for the Michigan Public Service Commission showed that geothermal units either have the same carbon footprint as gas furnaces or a 5 percent less carbon footprint. Because geothermal units run on electricity that is generated from coal it is not as clean as natural gas, but they are so much more efficient that it balances out to a smaller carbon footprint.

5. Geothermal units are more expensive than other furnaces. The first cost of a geothermal unit is higher than a gas or propane unit. But when you add the operating cost over the geothermal unit’s lifetime, it will usually come out less expensive than gas, and significantly less than propane. Think about a car, for example. One costs $10,000 and gets 10 miles per gallon. The other costs $20,000 and gets 40 miles per gallon. When you calculate the total expense over the next 200,000 miles, the car that gets 40 miles per gallon is cheaper. Besides, the same geothermal unit can serve both as a furnace for heating and provide air conditioning in the summer, which helps same even more energy and money.

4. You must put a geothermal heat pump in the basement. A geothermal unit does not have a flame, therefore it requires no venting and can be placed anywhere.

3. A geothermal unit eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. A geothermal unit has no flame, so it produces no carbon dioxide. However, you may have other gas appliances, such as a gas dryer, fireplace, stove or gas water heater that could cause a gas leak.

2. I was elected executive director of the Michigan Geothermal Energy association because of my good looks and incredible intelligence. Anyone who knows me knows better.

1. You say you can’t afford a geothermal system. If you’re building a new home or looking to replace your existing heating and air conditioning system and plan on staying in your house more than five years, I say you can’t afford not to go with a geothermal system. Geothermal can provide a potential of 30 percent or more savings vs. gas, and 60 percent or more vs. propane.

Larry Kaufman is executive director of the Michigan Geothermal Energy Association.