Diary of a Geothermal Heat Pump Installation
J & D’s Geothermal Diary
The facts – we currently have a failing, air-source heat pump. There are two components to an air-source heat pump: the outside compressor and the inside air handler. Our house is 19 years old. The compressor was replaced ten years ago when the system was 9 years old for about $3500. The air handler is original, and has been leaking and making a terrible racket for several years. We’ve spent over $1500 in the last five years trying to keep the air handler limping along until the compressor failed. At 10-years-old, the compressor is now failing.
The primary reason for doing this diary is because when I was researching geothermal heat pumps, I couldn’t find any information as to what to expect during the whole process – from start to finish. I was warned that getting a geothermal was messy, very messy. I thought I was prepared.
Hopefully, when others decide to go green, after reading this diary, they’ll understand this whole process better, and find it as fascinating as I have.
** Links are included to the companies we thought did an especially good job.
Called the HVAC guys to come look at our heat pump. The coils inside the air handler were icing over. Needed 3 lbs R-22 freon. That’s not a good sign. Asked for estimates on both an air-source heat pump and a geothermal, ground-source heat pump.
June 12 – June 26:
Asked numerous friends and associates for recommendations for other HVAC companies dealing with either traditional or geothermal heat pumps. I didn’t want to go through the yellow book and take a chance. I wanted companies that others have dealt with and knew to be reputable. Called the six companies that were recommended most often.
During this time, we also did as much research as possible on the costs and benefits of both systems. We discovered that the life expectancy of the ground-source was twice that of the air-source. The ground-source heat pump has an EER of 30, while the most efficient & reliable air-source has an SEER of 16. (There are higher rated SEER air-source heat pumps, but the cost savings in energy are minimal over a 16 SEER, and there is a higher failure rate and consequential maintenance cost associated with them.)
As important as the cost factor was in our choice, we also wanted to examine the environmental factor. By choosing to go with a ground-source system, our environmental footprint would be cut in half. With the rising cost of energy and the increased demand for energy, we felt a pressing need to be more responsible in our energy consumption.
Some of our cost crunching included:
- An online energy audit to estimate our actual electric bill. Compared the two systems with our current electric bills.
- Air-source estimates: $1017.97/yr projected heating/air-conditioning/hot water
- Ground-source estimates: $529.89/yr projected heating/air-conditioning/hot water
- Air-source has a 10-year life expectancy
- Ground-source has a +20-year life expectancy
- Ground-source provides 75% of hot water needs free
- Ground-source has half the environmental foot-print
- As the cost of electricity climbs, the savings from geothermal would be even more significant
- Air-source maintenance costs are moderate
- Ground-source maintenance costs are low
- Discovered that it would take approximately 7 years for the geothermal system to begin paying for itself. That’s +13 years of projected, drastically reduced electric bills!
We decided on Geothermal. Specifically a Water Furnace Envision Series. We decided to go with Love’s Heating & Air, because John Love took the time and effort to really explain every facet of both the traditional and the geothermal heating systems. John’s friendly professionalism and his competitive pricing won our respect and our trust.
Started shopping for a home equity loan.
June 30 – July 4:
Received and compared home equity loan info from three different banks. Because we were out-of-town the majority of this week, and because of it being the 4th of July, this was sort of a lost week
Made an appointment with K.E.B. Duct Cleaning for July 22nd to have our ductwork cleaned. We don’t want to put in a new system only to have years and years of old dust gumming it up.
Met with John Love of Love’s Heating & Air, and Buddy Winslow of Winslow Pump and Well in our home to sign a contract for the purchase of our geothermal heat pump system. Buddy made some preliminary estimates of where the wells will be located.
Buddy Winslow called to let me know that they had hand-carried our request for permits over to the county. Now we wait for Miss Utility to mark all underground utilities.
Miss Utility – Electric and phone were marked today.
Buddy and Stu came by after all of the utilities were marked to more accurately mark and measure the placement of the wells. Buddy Winslow … Very knowledgeable, very thorough and very personable.
TThe flags mark where the wells will go. We need three wells. One for each ton in our 3-ton system.he wells will be straight across our back yard. Each well is 15′ from the other.
Now we wait for the permits from the county.
Because of previous plans, we informed Buddy that it would be best for us if installation began after June 28th.
Check arrived from bank. Deposited check and contacted Love’s Heating & Air to let them know.
K.E.B. Duct Cleaning came today and cleaned out our ducts. Chris Richards did a wonderful job; another company I’ll be recommending.
John Love called to let us know that our equipment is in!
The permits are in! Winslow Pump and Well will be here on Thursday to start digging.
I awoke to three big trucks in the cul-de-sac, and a very large drilling rig in the back yard. I suppose I should mention now that our house sits on a lot that is about .15 acre.
In addition to the truck with the drilling rig, one of the trucks had all of the equipment, one had a water tank and one towed a trailer with a backhoe.
Jay, Rob, and Eric were the young men who did all of the work. I really was quite impressed with their knowledge of the entire process, and with their expertise in maneuvering around our small yard with so much equipment.
Breaking ground … Right away Jay began to dig a small trench next to where the first well would go. Connecting to that trench, and and accessible to all of the wells, he dug a very large pit. Water was pumped into this pit for the purpose of pumping it down into the wells as they were being dug. In addition to being a bit of a lubricant for the whole drilling process, the water also facilitates the removal of dirt, rock, clay, etc. up and out of the drilled hole. For the geothermal piping/tubing to have adequate surface area to either absorb or release heat, each of our three wells has to be 200′ deep. In a vertical loop, each ton in the geothermal system equals one 200′ well. We’re getting a three-ton system installed, hence the three wells.
I found the entire drilling process fascinating. There’s probably been something on the Discovery Channel showing how it’s done, but seeing it happen in your own back yard is definitely more realistic than even HDTV. If you take a look at the photos, I hope they capture a bit of what it looked like. (I’ll get the videos online soon.)
Jay, Rob, and Eric finished digging all three of the wells today.
JULY 31st VIDEOS
(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
The initial scoops out of the backyard 25 sec
Nifty video of the drilling process 3:08 min
Shorter video of the drilling – clay 18 sec
Drilling the second well 11 sec
Geothermal tubing goes into the well 3:53 min
Mixing up the QuikGrout 1:26 min
The guys from Winslow arrived today, but didn’t stay long. They scooped some of the clay from the trenches down into the wells, unstuck the well rig and then left.
They’re back! Jay and Rob started bright and early digging the connecting trench today, but the track on their backhoe went kerfluey. See you tomorrow morning!
They’re back … again … with another backhoe. Today they dug the trench connecting everything and brought the pipes into the house.
The photos show what the geothermal pipe looks like. How deep the trenches are. What the loop at the bottom of the well looks like. The diameter of the wells. How they insert the pipe down into the well. The grout mixture that backfills the wells once the loop is inserted. The trench connecting the wells to each other and then to the house. I tried to show how they heat-fused the pieces of piping together. What the fused pipe looked like laying in the trench. Pressure testing the pipe for integrity. And finally, the backfilling of my yard.
By looking at all of the photos, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what you’ll be facing when you decide to go green. When I look at my yard, I cringe right now. However, I know that a year from now I’ll never even be able to tell anything was done. I keep reminding myself that this is a process with a beginning and an end. The end will be more than worth any of the inconvenience we’re experiencing now in the beginning.
AUGUST 5th VIDEOS
(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
Heat fusing the tubing 1:22 sec
Heat fusing the tubing down in the trench 33 sec
Trenching the front 34 sec
Drilling through the laundry room wall 57 sec
Pressure testing 1:09 min
Backfilling 30 sec
Suzanne and Mike from Mike’s Works, LLC stopped by this evening. Mike and Suzanne will be the ones returning our now brown yard back to green.
John Love called and we scheduled installation of our geothermal WaterFurnace for next Tuesday!
John Love, Greg and Mike knocked on my door ready to begin on the next and final phase of our geothermal installation – installing and connecting the geothermal tubing inside, removing the old air-source heat pump, installing a new hot water heater and hot water storage tank, and installing the new WaterFurnace geothermal heat pump.
Before I go any further, I want to thank the entire team at Love’s Heating and Air. The installation in my finished laundry room was a tight fit. John measured, figured, re-configured, and went to a LOT of extra effort to make sure that my laundry room remained as functional as it was prior to the installation. All the while maintaining a positive, friendly manner. I really appreciate that. Really.
Today was the configuring exactly the best way to fit everything into the space, hooking up the tubing, mounting the flow center, and filling the tubing with Environal 2000.
AUGUST 12th & 13th VIDEOS
(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
Drilling to the drywall 8 sec
Heat fusing in the laundry room 29 sec
The new furnace! 36 sec
John has a team of five today. Greg and Mike are back, in addition to Lindy the plumber and Brent the electrician.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated with us. The temperatures stayed in the low 80s all day which was excellent, because the air had to be turned off while the old air handler was removed and the new WaterFurnace geothermal heat pump was installed.
All of that work for this … our new furnace!
Our first all geo electric bill came in the mail today! Today’s electric bill ….. $158!!!! Wahoo!!!Remember the $280 electric bill that arrived before the geothermal install?
We waited two months for the ground to settle over the trenches. A few really good soaking rains seemed to get everything all settled in. Time to think about restoring our lawn. Mike Latham of Mike’s Works, LLC and his helper, Richard, arrived this morning with a tractor, rakes and some bales of hay. A new yard?!?!