Q: We’re currently rebuilding an old Riverdale house and would like to go with geothermal heating. Any suggestions?
A: Anyone else hear “geothermal” and start flashing back to Journey To The Center Of The Earth? Who didn’t want to dig a hole to China as a kid and come across dinosaurs? But I digress.
You don’t actually have to drill to the earth’s fiery core to get access to all that sizzly energy. Plenty of communities tap into the scalding steam or water in pockets within 2 kilometres of the earth’s surface to heat their abodes. In fact, tapping into just five per cent of all that steamy potential in the U.S. could fuel the energy needs of 260 million Americans.
On a tiny scale, hot springs can keep a resort in Banff warm. But only about 20 countries have the capacity to actually generate electricity for the masses this way. Icelanders, for example, stay toasty thanks to a stark landscape full of steamy geysers. Well, that and the occasional schnapps.
We may not be as geologically blessed with this stuff as, say, Japan. But a 100- to 250-megawatt geothermal plant is in the works in BC.
What about humble homeowners living far from gushing geysers and steamy springs? Easy – all you have to do is dig a few metres under your daffodils (where the temperature’s always 10° to 15°C.) to keep your home warm in winter and chilled in summer.
Okay, burying a long loop of plastic pipes (made of non-leaching HDPE) in the ground where it’ll circulate ethanol to pick up on those stable temps a few feet down may not be the kind of thing you want to try doing yourself, Bob Vila-style, but it is the future.
With land at a premium in cities, your loop will have to be installed vertically in boreholes. Think of it as an oil well in your own yard, except yours ain’t climate-killing like the tar sands.
Note: this could get ugly. Mark which trees and shrubs you want saved. But fear not – you can easily plant over the narrow pipes. The alternative is to dig up your driveway, if you’ve got one, and bury the loop there.
Warning number two: tricky vertical digging does get pricey, because you have to dig deep (roughly 150 feet). You’re looking at about $30,000 for a 1,800 – square-foot house (compared to $20,000 for non-urbanites with more room to fan those loops out closer to the surface). Now don’t freak. Remember that you’re up for a whack of cash back, including a $3,500 grant from the feds, an additional $3,500 grant from the province, plus a PST rebate.
Not to mention a 70 per cent reduction in your heating and cooling bills. And did I mention that you can also use the system to heat your showers (filling up to 70 per cent of your hot-water-heating needs)? So, basically, you’re getting a furnace, AC unit and water heater all in one. Pretty damn cool (or hot, depending on what temp you want your house).
Pros will tell you there isn’t a big difference between products. Just make sure you choose a contractor who’s been professionally accredited and trained by the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition (www.geo-exchange.ca). And you want to pick one with experience digging on urban turf. NextEnergy is a Climate Master distributor with accredited dealers all across the country (www.nextenergysolutions.com). Waterfurnace.com is another big product manufacturer with national distribution.
Note that geothermal heat pumps still use a little power to run, so if you want to be totally off the grid you’ll have to invest in solar panels to keep the thing running.
And no matter what, you’ll want to ensure that your home is as draft-proof and well-insulated as possible so you’re not spilling all that hot or cool air like a leaky ship.
If you’re looking for more background info, the Natural Resource Canada peeps are a great resource. (Just look up Earth Energy on the www.canren.gc.ca site.)
Just think. Soon you’ll be able to sleep easy at night dreaming of how green your house is, now that it’s heated and cooled with a little TLE – tender, lovin’ earth.
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