Finehomebuilding needs a few pointers - who's up for that?

Discussion in 'General Discussions' started by sunnyflies, May 10, 2010.

  1. sunnyflies

    sunnyflies Member Forum Leader

    Anyone seen this article "Heat Pump, Schmeat Pump" in's latest newsletter? Apparently, it's in the magazine as well.

    Heat Pump, Schmeat Pump - Fine Homebuilding Article

    Seems they need to get out of their cubicles and talk to more people in the field - installers and homeowners alike. From my experience, I've saved a bundle, over $4000, on my heating costs this past winter since my geothermal system was installed. That money translates into a whole lot of oil, not used.
    Plus, my house has been warmer than either an oil or a gas system ever made it.

    My six ton system cost $50,000, less $1000 rebate from my local electric company, so $49,000, then factor in the 30% Federal tax credit of $14,700, which brings it down to $34,300. I can tell you that I got a number of proposals for new fossil fuel systems for that price to heat and air condition my old house. Now subtract my first winter's savings on fuel (January - April $4000 +) and apply that to the cost and my out of pocket cost is down to $30,000.

    Going by what my cost has been so far, it looks like I will have a ROI of seven and a half years at today's oil prices. However, it will end up being much less since next year will be my first entire heating season using geothermal, as I didn't have it in October, November or December. If oil prices go up, my ROI will be far shorter.

    That doesn't include any savings on heating our water either, because I left my oil water heater running to use up the rest of the oil in our tank. It just ran out three weeks ago and I switched over to our new electric buffer tank. Interestingly, while the buffer gave us plenty of hot water just on its element alone, because the weather was so warm, the geo system didn't kick on. However, suddenly the temperature dropped and with the system going again, our hot water has noticably jumped up in temperature now that the desuperheater is finally turned on and contributing heat. The oil water heater is going to be replaced with a Marathon DHW heater shortly, and the buffer will be returned to its proper job of just sitting there, buffering for the new water heater.

    As a homeowner, am I delighted I decided to choose a geothermal system over an oil or gas one?
    Fine homebuilding, are you listening? YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 29, 2010
  2. Palace GeoThermal

    Palace GeoThermal Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader


    I nominate you. :D:D You are a consumer ( a well informed consumer at that), who has a wonderful story to tell.

    I would like to see you write to Mr Henry Gifford and tell him how far off base he is.

    I would do it, but he would call me biased.:(:(
  3. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    But the article isn't about operating cost...

    The article's focus is on energy, not cost savings to the consumer. Other than being pessimistic on his estimate of typical COPs I can't find fault with the author's general premise. In many cases a GSHP will ultimately cause more CO2, NOx, SOx, etc to be produced than a high efficiency fossil fuel furnace or boiler. It really comes down to a case-by-case basis depending on how your electricity is generated, the efficiency of your heat pump and the system it is replacing.

    In many cases the GSHP does indeed come out ahead, but it's not a no-brainer and it is disingenuous to say that a GSHP uses no fossil fuel. Unless your electric source is 100% wind, hydro, etc, you are still burning fossil fuel, just not in your house.

    I can only report first hand on my own system - I am enjoying similar cost savings to what you have reported. However, last time I ran the numbers, I am only reducing my overall "carbon footprint" by 20% or so and that is considering that I replaced a 60 year old extremely inefficient oil boiler. In my area a natural gas or propane boiler would have lower total emissions by a good margin. I could, of course pay the extra cost and get "green" electricity.
  4. sunnyflies

    sunnyflies Member Forum Leader

    Happy to do so. What would the best way be? Letter to Editor or a forum post? He certainly has me irritated.
  5. Palace GeoThermal

    Palace GeoThermal Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Since he is not brave enough to link his email to his article, I guess a letter to the editor is the next best shot.

    Please post your letter here for all to enjoy.:D:D
  6. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    Hi Sunny,

    Don't forget to beat up that hatchet-job's author for totally ignoring the
    A/C side of the picture. Even if his anecdotal heating guesstimations
    were correct (and they're not even close!) he completely ignored fossil
    fuel consumption (not to mention electrical generation / transmission
    capacity issues) for the cooling half of the energy equation.

    He also conveeeniently 'forgot' to mention the benefit of central electric
    generation (compared to in-home oil burners) in reducing fuel imports., how's that oil-fired window A/C unit workin' out for ya, Hank?

  7. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    If you still have an issue with the article I'd be careful about a letter to the editor. If it gets printed they generally also give the author space to reply, and he will effectively have the last word.

    I'm sticking to my opinion above (I am also cnygeo2, somehow got confused and ended up with duelling accounts) that the only issue he is wrong on is the seasonal COP of 2. I agree that COP claims are inflated compared to typical installations and that scientifically rigorous, unbiased studies are hard to find. However, there's lots of data out there that shows higher COPs - he must not have tried very hard. Dewayne gets very good seasonal COPs. Even my own system which I consider sub-optimal in many ways still gets near 3 averaged over the season including ALL pumping power in a heating only application - worst case for ground temperature drop.
  8. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    That's a good point that I handn't considered - for cooling you're using electricity to start with so any performance improvement is beneficial.
    I don't think this is such a big deal - outside the northeast oil isn't used much for heating anymore. Oil also gets imported to run power plants, though with (domestic) coal being more prevalant I guess you could argue you're reducing imported fuel use slightly.
  9. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    Hmm, somewhere I got the impression that the northeast accounted for a
    rather sizeable proportion of the energy budget.

    Anyhoo, since US oil production capacity is far less than domestic demand,
    any marginal change in US oil consumption is pretty much directly reflected
    as an increase or decrease in oil imports. Central electrical generation is less
    closely coupled to oil; it also uses domestic coal, natural gas, nook-ular, etc.
  10. sunnyflies

    sunnyflies Member Forum Leader

    You are correct that " it is disingenuous to say that a GSHP uses no fossil fuel", but no one I have ever spoken to has made that claim. No one could be so foolish as to think a mechanical system could run itself on nothing. Or, if they do, there is someone looking to sell them a bridge in Brooklyn very cheaply.

    What is disingenuous is that the article, which presumably will be read by thousands as gospel, is far from balanced and measured and could do tremendous damage. It reads like a mediocre high school science project - all know-it-all puffery and short on facts.

    As far as oil being used for heat, it's primary in my area. Electric is too costly and gas is not always available. And, a good part of the reason I wanted to switch to geo was to help get my country away from it's dependence on middle eastern oil as much as I, as one consumer, am able. In addition, my husband just got a Prius and is averaging 70 miles per gallon with up to almost 85 on the highway. (And, yes, he's heard the one about "How many state troopers does it need to be stopped." His answer is " about as many as is needed to help put in the $7 - 9 which is all that's needed to fill up the gas tank every three weeks.) His pickup needed a twice a week fill up at $60+ a pop, so he's easily saving about $470 a month :)

    So using less fossil fuel is a moral issue also, not just a green one. But green and moral are intertwined.
    Last edited: May 10, 2010
  11. Bergy

    Bergy Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    I wonder why the author has failed to account for the total costs of fuel delivery? Does it flow freely to each home as needed with ZERO carbon footprint?


  12. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    OK, you've got me there - my faulty memory led me to think the northeast used far more oil for power generation than they do. The current number is less than a third of what it was 10 years ago, I assume due to plants being converted to natural gas when oil prioces went sky-high. Nationwide, it's only 2-3 percent now. For all practical purposes, then, a GSHP replacing an oil-fired system will eliminate that amount of oil consumption, and as you say, reduce our imports by that much.

    I never said I wasn't in favor of GSHPs. They make sense both from an environmental and cost standpoint in a lot of situations. I made an informed diecision to go that route myself, though cost was my primary consideration. I'm just trying to point out that a GSHP is NOT always the "greenest" option for heating, particularly in heating dominated areas that have relatively "dirty" power (i.e. a lot of coal).

    sunny - It's great that you haven't experienced the more ignorant marketing claims that GSHPs eliminate fossil fuel use, but I see websites and comments like that all the time. Not everyone is as informed as you and I think there IS a sense among a lot of people that you are getting 100% free heat from the ground. The industry still has a long way to go in terms of educating consumers. I wish you were right about people understanding that you can't get something for nothing, but sadly that just isn't the case. Look at how successful some of these perpetual motion type scams are (hydrogen generators for cars, gas pills, "amish" space heaters, etc).

    Bergy - There is indeed an energy cost for delivering oil, propane, etc as well as electricity to run oil burners that the author seems to ignore. This can be included relatively easily in an analysis and it is a pretty small percentage of the total. The EIA has great databases for this sort of thing - you can find energy and CO2 numbers from "well to boiler" as well as all the required electricity generation figures there.

    I went back and re-read the offending article in more detail, and the analysis is pretty sloppy. He's drawing some of the right conclusions, but using entirely the wrong data and methodology. I agree that he should be called out for those reasons alone, but I think it would be better to show a well-reasoned arguement with data to back it up rather than just complaining about his bias. His reaction to that will likely be to point out that all this criticism is coming from an "industry" website.
    Last edited: May 10, 2010
  13. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    I agree. That's a fair criticism of the "something for nothing" hyperbole that's
    sometimes used to hawk geo -- as well as wind, solar, ethanol, <whatever>.

    Of course, it's no surprise to find intentionally slanted techno-babble factoids
    in the marketplace -- but it's disappointing to see such transparent hit-pieces
    in publications like Fine Homebuilding.
  14. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    I assume the author is this Henry Gifford:

    Henry Gifford's Personal Website (

    I'm a little surprised that his "analysis" is so bad, because his claim to fame is a paper debunking the supposed energy savings in LEED buildings that I thought was pretty well reasoned and made the GBC end up looking pretty bad IMO. Hopefully he would be receptive to data showing that GSHPs can indeed have energy benefits in the right situation.
  15. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    Google around a bit more. It appears that Henry is a well-intentioned,
    but somewhat eccentric fire-worshiper. He's emotionally attached to
    boilers, and sees geo heat pumps as a threat to his cast iron darlings.

    ...there's no fuel like an old fuel,

  16. Forum Admin

    Forum Admin Administrator Staff Member Forum Leader

    LOL That one made my day!
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2010
  17. Palace GeoThermal

    Palace GeoThermal Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Which is why sunny should be the one to reply to him.

    If she does reply and uses her real name, I don't see how the author can tie her to an "industry' website
  18. docjenser

    docjenser Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Now you have a very nice way to monitor the energy efficiency of the systems. Just look at all the Welservers put there, they monitor COP. By digging a bit deeper and making the loops a bit oversized, you can make the systems even more efficient than the COP by the manufacturer indicates. For examples that COP is at 32F EWT, most of the systems we are monitoring do not get down to 32 degrees, even at the end of the heating season. So most of the time they operate with higher COP than specs, sometimes the COP is over 6 at the beginning of the season. In addition, by keeping load temps low (e.g. 1st stage, low temps for in floor heat).
    There are a few things I agree with. First, the accumulation of anecdotes is not data. We need more controlled studies!
    Number two, the efficiency of the grid is not high enough and needs to improve. Why do we pay 2 times as much for the delivery and for taxes than for the actual electricity.
    While it is sometimes tough to compete with natural gas in dollar terms, geo systems can do wonders for people who do not have access to natural gas and only have propane and oil as an option.
    While I also agree that an energy efficient house is very desirable, there is a limit how energy efficient one can make an existing house without tearing it down. So the more energy an old house uses, the more desirable it is to use more efficient energy systems and invest into the efficient technologies. We simple cannot all build new houses in the next year.
    At the end of the day the costs drive behavior. People getting more educated and doing the math themselve. I have designed and installed many systems, both conventional and geo. I have obviously have many customers who switched from fossil fuel to geo. I yet have to find a customers who had a geosystem and replaced it with a fossil fuel one....
    But obviously I am bias!
  19. MartinHolladay

    MartinHolladay New Member

    "I've saved a bundle, over $4000, on my heating costs this past winter since my geothermal system was installed. ... my first winter's savings on fuel (January - April $4000 +)."

    SunnyFlies, let me get this straight. Your current heating bill is now $1,000 per month less than your former heating bill.

    So, if you're saving 33% on your old bill — I'm just guessing — then you used to be spending $3,000 a month? That means you were spending $12,000 for 4 months of heating bills?

    So either your house is huge -- or very badly insulated and air sealed. Maybe you should have invested some of that $50,000 in air sealing and insulation work.
  20. cnygeo

    cnygeo New Member

    I'm sure Sunny will reply, but I'm guessing the savings were a lot more than 33%. In my case I went from burning 1200-1400 gallons of oil to using about 10,000kWh of electricity per year. This year my annual savings was about $3k, or 75%. Last year it was even greater when oil prices were north of $3.

    If you have an old oil burner and relatively cheap electric, Geo is hard to beat.

Share This Page