The truth about geothermal heating

People often ask us about geothermal heating, as there are many fantastical claims out there about how efficient it is, and how much money it can save you in utility expenses. The truth, in this case, comes in multiple parts.

Indeed, geothermal heating system – installed correctly – can give you the most efficient heating arrangement that you can possibly get. Geothermal heating works, but it usually works by installing a network of pipes under the ground, thereby absorbing the heat under the ground, and bringing that heat inside, or doing the reverse when it’s in the cooling mode.

Geothermal efficiency explained

The reason why it can be so efficient is this: the air-source heat pump exchanges the heat with the air outside, and the air could go down to a freezing level. However, underground remains relatively even in temperature, somewhere in the mid-50s Fahrenheit. So, there’s a lot more heat that you can extract out of the ground than you can pull out of other sources.

Downside of Geothermal

  1. The challenges, however, come in multiple forms. The first and the most problematic issue is that it is significantly more expensive to install a ground-source geothermal system as opposed to an air-source system. If you think about it, an air-source air conditioner just needs to be put next to a house, the piping connected to the furnace, a coil installed properly, some electrical wiring done, and the system is ready to go. A ground-source system can take weeks to install, might involve a reconstruction of your entire property, including drilling of wells in the ground and many other major activities.The problem here is that geothermal heating systems drive up the installation and material costs to a very high level, which, unless you’re planning on being in the house for 40 or more years, makes it hardly a cost-effective solution; most probably you will never recoup the money that you spend in the process.
  2. Another negative aspect of geothermal heating, in our opinion, is the relatively minuscule number of people that know how to work on them. From my experience, I would estimate that for every 1000 technicians that can work on conventional heating or cooling systems, there may be 1 person who is qualified to work on a geothermal system. If you’ve ever had an issue at home that required fixing, you know how long you have to wait until the repair person shows up. Imagine the same situation, but there are 1000 times less specialists available. We’ve had to go in many times and disable a geothermal system, and put in a conventional system instead, because the clients were so frustrated with not having it working how they thought it was going to function.

Prediction

I think geothermal heating does have a bright future, but it is going to require the systems to be streamlined and simplified, and manufactured by the largest manufacturers in the world to drastically expand how many people service them, install them and work on them. It is a heating source of the future, but it will take many years until it becomes an economically feasible solution.

Is Duct Cleaning Worth It?

Something homeowners often ask us is whether they should bother getting duct cleaning done on their ventilation systems.

Our history with duct cleaning goes back a number of years. One of the first systems that we used was called a “negative air system”. Doing so brings a big pipe through the front door, down to the furnace, and sucks air back to a duct cleaning truck sitting in the driveway. Additional pressurized air is then sent down each vent and, theoretically, all the dust is sucked out of the house.

Alternative duct cleaning systems can be as simple as sending a hose down a vent line from the top, essentially like a shop VAC with a longer hose. Another system we’ve used in the past is called a “rotating brush system”, where it literally scrubs the ducts out. What we’ve found is, no matter what system you are actually using, it is virtually impossible to get the ducts completely clean on the inside, if that is what you are trying to accomplish.

If your primary goal is just to take the dust that could possibly end up in your house to come out of your ducts, that’s a more realistic goal. But if you want to clean the ducts to the point where there’s shiny metal on the inside of the ventilation system, in our opinion, that’s not going to happen.

Another thing people are often disappointed about with duct cleaning is that they think it should drastically reduce dust in the house. It often does not considerably reduce dust in the house. In our opinion, the best way to think about duct cleaning is this: if your ducting system is very dirty, and there’s visible dust sitting in the return area or supply areas of the house, it may be worth doing it. However, if you have done it in the last five to seven years, I don’t think you’re going to get much benefit out of it.

If you insist on getting a duct cleaning company to come out to your place, I would suggest that you get someone who can prove (with photographic evidence), that it’s been cleaned to your satisfaction. We’ve had homeowners in the past who are quite diligent about getting their ducts cleaned, and they’ve gone to the extent of removing them in an unfinished basement, disassembling them, and scrubbing them out.

Duct cleaning, or having clean ducts, can be important in more extreme circumstances where there is a serious dust allergy, or a variety of other dust-related issues. But, if you don’t have that, my suggestion is you can probably do half the work yourself just by sending a shop VAC or a vacuum hose down individual ducts.

The Truth About Air Filtration

There are so many choices out there for air filtration for your house. The ones that we’ll be referencing in this article pertain to whole home air filtration. The basic concept of whole home air filtration is the air filter gets installed next to your home furnace. Then you can set your fan to run as long as 24 hours per day, bringing the air in from various parts of the house and returning it through your duct system, thereby filtering all of the air in your house. On average, it will create two air exchanges per day, meaning all of the air in your entire house will be taken through the filter and put back in your house, oftentimes significantly reducing dust, pollen, allergens, and so forth.

The challenge and confusion comes from all the various products available on the market. On the higher end, you have air filtrations similar to the American standard Acuclean. These work amazingly, we suggest that unless you have asthma or allergy specifically, a product like this is probably overkill.

Another option is UV lights. UV Lights are more of a supplement to air filtration. However, in our opinion, they are not terribly purposeful, unless you have a wet environment like a heat pump or an air conditioner.

The next choice is electronic air filters. Their problem is that some of them make a cracking, snapping sound, similar to a bug zapper.

Then you have your basic wide, pleated filters. Baring specific issues like very small particle size related to lung or health problems, I’d suggest going with just a basic, disposable filter. The problem with cleanable filters is that nobody ever cleans them. Disposables are a great solution because you can just throw them out when you’re not using them.

If you go with a big, wide, 5-inch filter, you’ll find that you only need to throw it out once per year because there’s much more surface area on the filter, and it can go much longer intervals without getting plugged up. If you have a regular filter and it plugs up, fuel efficiency goes in the toilet, so you end up having to change it much more often that otherwise necessary.