Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Going geothermal: Day One

The noises coming out of my basement this morning were horrendous.

Going geothermal: Day One

On the way out!  By the time I left for work this morning, most of this heater was in pieces, piled in the yard outside our basement. (Photo by Sandy Bauers)
On the way out! By the time I left for work this morning, most of this heater was in pieces, piled in the yard outside our basement. (Photo by Sandy Bauers)

The noises coming out of my basement this morning were horrendous.

Bang!  Slam! This was the sound of metal parts being disassembled.

I was elated. (Except for the part when one of the workers said, “Uh-oh, that’s not good.”)

My house is going fossil fuel-free.

The old oil burner is on the way out, and a geothermal heat pump system is on the way in. Since I buy Pennsylvania wind for my electricity, I won’t be using electricity from coal, oil or natural gas.

For my husband and me, this was all but a no-brainer. Our semi-ancient oil furnace has somehow gotten a hole in the firebox. We’ve been told we’re not going to die of carbon monoxide or anything, but still, this can’t continue.

Our central air-conditioner is 14 years old and even if it weren’t going to die soon, it’s hardly a model of efficiency.

So replace them with similar technologies? Or get a geothermal system, save bundles on our energy bills, and get a 30 percent federal tax rebate? Easy choice!

We read books and talked to friends who had had systems installed. We contacted three companies for advice and estimates.

This choice was easy, too. The big company’s representatives were prompt, eager, responsive, thorough and more. When we balked at the price, based on similar systems our friends had, they reduced it.

Another company waited three weeks to get back to us and didn’t design the system the way we wanted it. The third company didn’t get back to us at all.

So on my my birthday recently — what a great present! — we signed the contracts and made the downpayments.

Things since then haven’t been quite smooth since then, but no huge problems.

When the heat pump guy came out for the final planning, there was confusion about how to hook a part of it up. Sometimes the unit generates excess heat, and we had read this could be used to pre-heat the water going into our water heater. They were going to just let it dissipate.

A few phone calls got that settled.

Instead of vertical wells, we’re getting a horizontal system, which involves digging long trenches three feet wide and six feet deep. A bigger mess, apparently, but cheaper. Plus, our property is soggy, so we’ll get good heat exchange.

The plan, we were told, was to start the digging first, since that will take a while. Then they’d take out our old heater and put in the new heat pump unit.

The trench-digging guys were supposed to come last Friday. They didn’t.

So, okay, they would come today.

They didn’t. Some pump emergency came up, they said.

But the heat pump guys did come out. They told us they were uncomfortable taking out our heater if the trenches weren’t being dug yet.

Then they changed their minds. If it gets really cold, they’ll have the back-up electric heating element hooked up, they say.

Am I the only one to note the irony in this? The whole idea is to move to a more efficient system, and they want us to heat our house with an electric coil?

Oh well, it’s only for a few days. We hope. And either way, we have a wood stove insert in our fireplace, so our teeth won’t be chattering without a heater.

The trench-digging guys will be there first thing tomorrow morning, we’re told.

So the banging commenced. To me, this is the sound of progress.

The cats are locked in an upstairs bedroom, no doubt freaking.

But they’ll love the new heat, I’m sure.

We’re told that before the end of the week, the new system will be up and running.

 

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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