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Frequently Asked Questions
About Geothermal Heating and Cooling

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Q. Geothermal is only for new construction, right?

A. WRONG in many cases geothermal can be retrofitted in existing homes, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Geothermal does not match up well with hot water radiator and existing hot water baseboard systems.
  • The existing forced air ductwork in the home most likely is undersized and some of it may need reworked for the geothermal system to function as efficiently and quietly as possible.
  • Even the smallest bore hole installation still requires getting a 40ft long drill rig on the property and would need to avoid any overhead obstructions such as power lines.
Q. I have a 2,400 sq ft 2 story house, how big of a geothermal system do I need and how much is it going to cost?

A. Answer – We can’t tell you without ALL of the necessary information. There are so many factors that are involved that we need more information in order to give you an accurate estimate. However, if we have all the information we can provide you with a highly detailed and accurate estimate.

Q. What is a blower door test and how does it work?

A. A blower door test is a test that is done to measure the actual air changes per hour of a particular structure. Basically a large fan is put in a temporary door in one of the exterior doorways into the home. The fan is used to ‘depressurize’ the house, ideally to a -50 pascals. This ‘depressurization’ is like simulating having a 20- mile per hour wind hit all 4 sides of the home at the same time. This shows where there are ‘leaks’ in the insulation envelope of the home. This reading along with the dimensions of the home allow the infiltration rate of the home to be calculated.

Q. What is infiltration and why is it so important?

A. Infiltration is the measure of the amount of air leaking into or out of the home. It is measured in Air Changers per Hour (ACH). If a home has an infiltration rate of 1, then all of the conditioned air inside of the home is switched with unconditioned air that was outside of the home, once in an hour. An infiltration rate of .5 ACH means that ½ of the volume of conditioned air inside the home switches places with unconditioned air from outside the home. If you had a very small home, for example: a 10ft wide x 10ft long x 8 ft high and it had an air change of 1 ACH, then 10 x 10 = 100 x 8 = 800 cu ft or conditioned air would be leaving the home every hour and a new unconditioned 800 cu ft would be coming in and would need heated or cooled. Keep in mind that a basketball is roughly equivalent to 1 cu ft. Imagine if you have a 2,000 sq ft home with 8 ft ceilings now that 1 ACH is the equivalent of the throwing 16,000 basketballs of heat at the window and brining in 16,000 basketballs of cold. Air Infiltration is the SINGLE largest contributing factor to heat loss.

Q. What is a load study and what is involved in it?

A. A load study is the “Manual J” calculation that determines how large of a heating and cooling system needs to be installed in a building. It is based on a number of factors including: Square footage, Ceiling Heights, insulation properties, window properties, direction the building faces, how many stories, how much is below grade, how many bedrooms are in it, how many people are will live in it, how many kitchen’s, and most importantly how ‘air tight’ it is or is going to be built.

Q. Isn’t geothermal very expensive?

A. Geothermal has a much greater upfront cost than conventional systems, but also has a much lower operational cost. In reality if the price of a geothermal unit was compared to an absolute top of the line conventional system (95%+ efficient variable speed gas sealed combustion gas furnace coupled with a 18+ SEER Air source heat pump and the necessary connections between the two), there would not be much difference. The additional costs happen with the piping, pumping and primarily the loops in the ground. Without Tax Credits or rebates taken into account, a typical payback on a well built newly constructed home is about 5 – 7 years. On a retrofit, in comparison to replacing the existing conventional system, it is usually about 10-12 years.

In typical new construction, if the cost of the geothermal system is added to the mortgage on the home, the amount of money saved in utility bills is usually greater than the additional cost added to the mortgage. The real question is not "Can I afford to do geothermal system?" it is "Can I afford NOT to do it ?"

Q. Can’t geothermal make my ‘domestic’ hot water?

A. While there are a few geothermal units that are designed to make domestic hot water ‘on demand’ the most common form of creating hot water is called a ‘hot water assist generator’ or a ‘desuperheater’ This is an additional coil that is installed in the geothermal unit and is used to ‘supplement’ the hot water in the standard hot water tank. It is ONLY functional when the geothermal unit’s compressor is running. Typically, it is more effective when the geothermal unit is running in cooling mode than when it is running in heating mode.

Q. Can I use my existing well for the geothermal system?

A. Possibly, but we don’t recommend it. In order to use a well for a geothermal system two very important criteria must be met – 1. Extremely clean and pure water – not easy to find in Western Pa. and 2. A LOT of WATER – flow rates for open loop systems need to be 1.5 gallons per minute per ton of system, so a 4-ton system would need a well to produce 6 gallons per minute 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, even when the laundry and dishwasher are both running in the middle of an August afternoon.
 

 
 

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Western Pennsylvania Geothermal Heating and Cooling, Inc.
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Phone: 724.352.3113     Fax: 724.352.0302
E-mail: Info@wpghci.com