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Installing Your Geothermal HVAC System: An Interview with Larry Kaufman of Earth Comfort Natural Heating and Cooling

By Larry Kaufman

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Earth Comfort Natural Heating and Cooling is part of the Michigan Geothermal Energy Association which is a non-profit organization that was founded about 20 years ago to promote the use of Geothermal Heat Pump Technology in both home and business. We are made up of geothermal dealers, manufacturers, distributors, Public Utilities, Cooperative Utilities, energy efficiency contractors, and architects.

What components make up a geothermal HVAC system?

A geothermal system works exactly the same as your refrigerator. A geothermal heat pump looks very much like a regular furnace. One major difference is that this one unit provides heating, cooling, and hot water. This means that you do not have a noisy air conditioner outside ruining your deck parties. The second element of a geothermal system is the loop. Your refrigerator has a small coil on the bottom of it. A geothermal system has a big coil called a loop which is buried under the ground (or an open loop for homes with well water). This loop is made up of the same material as natural gas lines and is estimated to have a 1,000 year life. Once installed you will never see the loop.

What are the benefits of installing a geothermal HVAC system into one's home?

A geothermal system is about 5 times as efficient as a furnace and twice as efficient as an air conditioner. That results in huge savings on your energy bill. In this past 15 years, my average heating and cooling bill has been about $60 a month for a 2,700 square foot home plus a 1,200 square foot basement. (We keep our home at 71 degrees in winter and 73 in summer).

The second advantage is consistency. A geothermal unit will keep a home within one tenth of a degree of the setting. No more hot and cold cycles where you put the sweater on than take the sweater off.

The third advantage is that the heat isn't as dry in the winter as there is no open flame. The loop uses the heat in the ground which is constantly around 50 degrees to heat and cool the home through refrigerants and compression. This gives us the very high efficiency.

Forth, since there is no open flame there is no carbon monoxide and the unit can be placed anywhere since no venting is required.

Fifth, since the sun provides the heat in the ground geothermal can be considered a form of solar renewable energy Sixth- As a form of renewal energy the federal government has a 30% unlimited tax credit. On a $10,000 purchase that would be $3,000.

What are some ways homeowners can prepare for this process?

The best time to purchase a heating and cooling system is in the fall or spring when it is not an emergency. The worst time to buy is in January when your furnace breaks down on the coldest day of the year and you buy the first system who can install it regardless of cost. We trade in a car when we think we have gotten enough life out of it and it is no longer reliable. The same should be true of a furnace. The average age of a furnace is 15 years. If yours is older you are living on borrowed time. It takes about one week to install a loop and usually one day to install the actual unit.

What are the steps involved in installing a geothermal HVAC System?

I would recommend getting at least two quotes on any heating and cooling system. To find a geothermal contractor go to the website earthcomfort.com. If you put in your zip code, you will get all the dealers in your area. A second quote will give you a comparison on the bells and whistles and different options.

I strongly recommend against doing it yourself, or hiring a plumber or contractor who only does one or two geothermal installations a year. You wouldn't go to a doctor for surgery who only does one or two surgeries a year. You can expect to save 40% against natural gas and 70% against oil or propane. The payback with the federal tax credit is about 2 years vs oil or propane, and about 5 years vs natural gas. Many utilities have a special rate for geothermal. In new construction, the breakeven is the day you move into your house when the geothermal is part of your mortgage.

What are the advantages of hiring a professional to do this process?

To install geothermal you need to know both air and water. HVAC dealers know air. Plumbers know water. Only geothermal installers know both. Using Michigan Geothermal Energy Association dealers gives you the added protection of having an authorized dealer with the protection of the association behind you. All MGEA dealers are certified and stand behind their work.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your company?

Please can contact us through the web site earthcomfort.com or call me direct at 248-396-8231. There are over 1 million geothermal installations in the USA and probably 50,000 to 100,000 in Michigan. Recently Ann Arbor High School, Whitmore Lake High School, Lawrence Tech, IHM Motherhouse, McDonalds, Lansing Community College, Canfield Lofts, and many, many other commercial buildings have gone geothermal. You can reduce your carbon footprint, save money, and have more comfort with geothermal. We wouldn't consider any other form of heating and cooling.

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About The Author

Larry Kaufman is a popular energy expert for DTE Energy.

Phone: 248-396-8231

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