LET'S FACE IT, WE ARE CREATURES OF HABIT, and when we get used to paying a certain amount for utilities, and become accustomed to replacing our air-conditioners every 10 or 15 years, why mess with the status quo? Want proof? Consider the metric system. It seems that in the US, it takes a couple of generations of adaptation, and then significant arm twisting to pull us out of our habitual comfort zones.
Many of us may remember the poor air quality in the cities during the 1970’s, before catalytic converters were required on cars. There were precious few that would spend the extra thousand dollars to install one. Cities in the US and beyond would have even worse air quality now if not for the laws requiring catalytic converters on cars.
There are some beneficial things that seem too expensive, difficult or even impractical, such as digging and drilling in a yard to put in a new heating and air conditioning system. And because it’s going to cost more up front, it becomes an impossible obstacle for many when compared to sticking with the old standard.
New York City (NYC) and many other governments have passed laws requiring reductions in combustion heating to reduce CO2 emissions (much like the catalytic converter scenario). This ultimately necessitates the use of geothermal heat pumps (GHPs), the only way to heat in cold climates without burning fossil fuels (reducing carbon emissions). Spare real estate on which to install geothermal loops is limited in the City, so they commissioned a study. From that study came the realization that there are multiple ways to do geothermal in tight spots, so they passed a law requiring geothermal to be considered in every change out and new construction project in the City.
This (link) article states that 900,000 buildings in the city should and probably will be heated and cooled with geothermal by 2050. Take a look at the Trevor Day School; they’ve placed geothermal loops in the building’s pilings. At Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (pictured in the first article linked in this paragraph), they will be installing standing column wells (SCW).
Geothermal neighborhoods are becoming more common, like the Serenbe Development outside of Atlanta. We have no idea how much equipment noise we actually live with in a common neighborhood until we walk the streets of a geothermal community and hear what’s missing. You notice something is different, but a takes a little while to figure it out. It was explained this way in National Geographic Energy:
“Imagine a home in which the temperature is always comfortable, yet the heating and cooling system is out of sight. That system performs efficiently but doesn’t require extensive maintenance or knowledge on the part of the owners.
The air smells fresh; you can hear the birds chirping and the wind rustling lazily through the trees. The home shares energy with the earth similar to the way the roots of the trees exchange the essentials of life to their leaves and branches. Sounds comfortable, doesn’t it?”
We are fortunate indeed that GHPs have taken hold in the US and most of the world. They are changing our lives for the better. We will look back one day in the future at our old cooling towers and outdoor air conditioners, probably in some exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum and say, “I remember those things!”
Many of our neighbors are energy pioneers, expending the effort to put stand-alone geothermal loops into the earth. New York is working on using water mains as the heat source and sink for GHPs. The trial project is an elementary school in Valley Stream, New York that has tied into the water lines to heat and cool the 40,000 square foot educational facility. Once the testing is complete, others will be standing in line to do the same. New York is also talking to the natural gas utilities about turning their gas pipelines in geothermal lines.
Geothermal provides much more than energy savings and emissions reductions. With GHPs, the life of the system is increased, because it’s all indoors. That reduces maintenance and noise. When it does come time to upgrade the heat pump, the infrastructure is remains, kind of like when you replace a clothes washer. The technician hooks back into the water, or the geothermal pipes.
Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Images: © Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects, PixyJack Press and EggGeothermal