Shopper with Lots of Questions about Geothermal Heat Pumps

Discussion in 'Quotes and Proposals' started by amailmanyouknow, Aug 13, 2010.

  1. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    We have been talking to companies about getting Geothermal installed in our 200 year old, stone, 1500 sf home. (Currently have oil hot water radiators and a central air unit.)

    I have read the sticky threads but have not seen some of my questions answered. At this point, we hear some of the same things from everyone, yet some very different, and are not sure who to believe. We are Not "handy" so I need to make sure that I'm choosing the right people and right brand. I would not choose someone with less than 15 years experience with this, so that is not an issue.

    1) We have a large enough yard (1.3 acres all out back) to do horizontal, but the companies all want to do vertical. Of course, we know that is more expensive, but what would the benefit be of one over the other?

    2) Several have suggested a 3 ton system. One has suggested a 2 ton, which he says is really 2.75 tons, and that 3 tons are really 3.75 or thereabouts. Our central air is a 2 ton system (according to Mr. 2Ton geothermal) and cools our house well, even at higher temps. I have not seen much written about 2 ton systems so I wonder - should we do 2? Or 3? We are in southeastern PA, and last winter got several feet of snow. Some, on the other hand, we get none.

    BTW we keep our heat at about 57 degrees all winter, use a propane fireplace insert in the living room while we are in there. My January oil bill was $700. That's with the Oil Hog set at 57, 24/7.

    3) This *is* a 200 year old stone house w/cedar shake roof, stone basement, and there are some insulation issues. One said we are not a good candidate, others said we are. It's not our windows, they are tight. I do plan to put extra insulation into some of the floor areas, attic, etc. Would geothermal serve an old place like this?

    4) The basement holds the heat in really well over all seasons (thank you, oil burning hog)...will the geothermal unit also make it hot down there? You don't know how much wine we ruined when we first moved in - our last basement was COLD!

    5) One guy is trying to say we need a UV light. Something about mold in the A/C vents... We do have a major water filtration system, which includes 3-4 tanks and a UV light. Not sure how the extra UV light fits into the picture...How do we know what's a bogus add-on and what's not?

    One of the guys gave us an estimate and added all kinds of things at the end that were optional. Another *said* "well, this might be needed and that" - *after* giving us the estimate. We *know* we will need additional duct work in the kitchen and maybe 2 returns. I just am not sure of all the other stuff.

    6) When I asked about using the radiators instead of forced air, another guy said "well, you should have another Oil Burner as a backup." Huh? I thought I wanted to get rid of the oil bills.... Is it possible to use radiators without the oil heater? Or do we have to do the air vents?

    7) Any brands you would suggest staying away from? Any which are more highly recommended than others? ClimateMaster has been the one most of them use, also Carrier and Trane.

    8) And, how long of a warranty should we ask for, and for what?

    Sorry so many questions - I just want to head off problems before I sink so much money into something entirely new to us - thanks!!
  2. waterpirate

    waterpirate Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Did any of them do a manual j?
    I would assume that you are heating dominant not cooling, so your current ac unit has nothing to do with what size geothermal unit you may need. Get a real manual j and identify the heating load as well as the cooling load. Then decide what part of the heating load you want covered by geo and what part to be covered by stage 3 supplemental strip heat. As far as which exchanger is better horizontal or vertical, when you know how much pipe you need to cover the load in both instances you can compare cost to construct numbers and see which way makes sense for your home.
  3. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    I'm also in SE PA, with a "large enough" yard -- but the ground was far too rocky
    for horizontal loops. When there are many SUV-sized boulders near the surface,
    it's less expensive to go vertical.

    Yep, I remember that well. Before geo, I was burning 5-7 gallons/day of oil in
    cold weather. After replacing the oil hog with a 3-ton WaterFurnace (NDV038),
    our January electric bill was $190 -- including heat, hot water, lighting, etc.
    And that's with the thermostat set at 72F. With oil, it was 68F day / 65F night.

    Nope, I don't believe that will work. We had hot water baseboard, but had to
    retrofit forced air ducts. Geo heat pump output temperatures are too low for
    hot water radiators.

    The standard WaterFurnace warranty is 10 years parts -- plus some labor.
    My HVAC contractor included 100% labor as part of his installation package.
    The vertical loop is guaranteed for 55 years.

    BTW, our total electric bill for the past year (Aug 2009 - July 2010) was $1550,
    including heat, AC, hot water, lighting, cooking, TV, etc. Before geo, we were
    spending about $5000/yr for oil+electric -- and not living nearly as comfortably.
  4. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    >>Did any of them do a manual j?<<

    I have no idea what a "manual j" is.

    >>I would assume that you are heating dominant not cooling, so your current ac unit has nothing to do with what size geothermal unit you may need. <<

    What is "heating dominant"?

    Please remember, I am Not a handyman. I am not up on the HVAC jargon.

    >>Get a real manual j and identify the heating load as well as the cooling load.<<


    >> Then decide what part of the heating load you want covered by geo and what part to be covered by stage 3 supplemental strip heat. As far as which exchanger is better horizontal or vertical, when you know how much pipe you need to cover the load in both instances you can compare cost to construct numbers and see which way makes sense for your home.>>


    Sorry. I don't understand any of this.
  5. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    @Looby, Thanks for all the information.

    I hear you about the "rocks."

    (figured out the quote thingy...!)

    How much was your electric before geothermal? So I can get an idea of how much mine might go up/down, percentage-wise. Mine runs $225 average. Just got the new one, it's $350. I have no idea why it's so high (not now, it's A/C) - we have PECO. What about you? They say PP&L is cheaper, of course, they are about 1/2 mile away from us.

    Ah, I have you well beat. Probably 3500 (+) for electric, and then $7000 for oil....not counting the propane for the fireplace (maybe 7-800 total). This is all for a 1500 SF house, mind you. (sigh)
  6. engineer

    engineer Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    heating and cooling 101

    Manual J - refers to a series of measurements and determinations to find out how much energy it should take to heat and cool your home in average weather conditions. Once you know the energy needed, you can pick the right sized equipment to heat / cool your house and estimate its cost of annual operation.

    Heating dominated - refers to the condition, fairly likely in Penna, where it takes more energy to heat your home in January than it does to cool it in July

    Strip heat - in heating-dominant climates it rarely makes sense to size a geo system to be able to provide all needed heat on record cold days. Additional heating capacity in the form of electrical resistance elements (same principle as a hair dryer) can be added to a moderate sized geo system for as little as one hundredth the cost of upsizing the whole system. They cost much more to operate, but if they run only a few hours now and then during cold snaps, you come out way ahead.

    A system not grossly oversized for the cooling load will run more efficiently and comfortably in summer, another benefit of providing for some strip use.

    Your bills suggest you would benefit from an in-depth energy audit. Use it to identify and make improvements to reduce the energy load of your home THEN get a manual J load calculation done. The age of the house suggests a blower door test might be a good investment - it helps find air leaks

    Google whatever terms you read here that confuse you...then come back and 'see' us...
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
  7. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    Pre-geo average was about 5500 kWh/yr; at $0.15/kWh, that's $825/yr.
    BTW, that doesn't include hot water (it was oil-fired) -- it also does not
    include the luxurious thermostat settings we've been using with geo.

    Also PECO (a.k.a. Philadelphia Flicker & Flash). Be aware that PECO has
    a "residential heating rate" for geo -- it's about half of the normal kWh rate in
    winter (after the first 600 kWh/month).

    Ouch! Sounds like an energy audit, as recommended by engineer, would
    pay for itself in 20-30 milliseconds.
  8. zach

    zach Member Forum Leader


    If I may ask, how much was your July 10 electric bill?


  9. AMI Contracting

    AMI Contracting A nice Van Morrison song Industry Professional Forum Leader

    good luck,
  10. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    6/23 thru 7/23: 620 kWh, $102
    (average daily temp = 82F)

    For the 12 mo ending 7/23: 12200 kWh, $1550

    Range: 400 kWh in April to 2000 kWh in January

    ...geo is dirt cheap,

  11. zach

    zach Member Forum Leader


    Thanks for sharing. From 06/21 thru 07/21 I used 1193 kwh. This includes cooling and hot water generation for five. July was hot here, very hot. 3 ton Hydron Module combination unit.

    For the 12 months ending June 2010, we used 7900 kwh. This is w/o geo.

    How much of a break does PECO give you over the first 600 kwh? I wish National Grid did that up here in upstate NY.
  12. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader


    July was very hot here, too -- but I'm only making hot water for two.
    Of course, hot water generation cost rises steeply once you have
    exceeded the capacity of your DSH or buffer tank. Do you have a
    DSH buffer tank? big?

    Winter: 600 kWh @ $.155/kWh, over 600 @ $0.072. Summer: $0.16/kWh.

    My annual average rate works out to about $0.127 -- so, PECO's winter
    "residential heating" discount saves me about $375/year, compared to
    their normal residential rates.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2010
  13. zach

    zach Member Forum Leader


    No, I am not using a buffer tank. I'm using an 80 gallon tank made for a solar hot water system (picked it up as a scratch and dent from the supply house). It is a direct tank (no coil inside). It is plumbed to the DSH as well as to the dedicated hot water generation function of the Hydron GSHP. There is a sensor mounted on the hot water feed pipe(hot supply to the house) which tells a Tekmar 152 setpoint control when to have the heat pump make hot water. The tank has a back-up electric element but I have the 30a breaker in the off position.

    At some point I'll use this for radiant floor warming (just to take the chill off) as well as DHW. The tank has two inputs and two outputs.

    I have an 18 year old who likes to take long showers. She'll be off on her own soon so I do not battle with she and my wife over this. A long story.

    Our rate here is .156 per kWh year round. Getting electric half price over the winter above 600 kWh would be helpful.

    I did set four poles for future solar PV when I did the excavation. Projections show I could generate about 9600 kWh per year with a four pole system. That is not in the budget right now plus I want to have a year with geo to see where the electric usage ends up. With this knowledge I can make a decison about solar PV.

    On another note, about 20 years ago I was the chef at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club. You near there?

  14. Looby

    Looby Member Forum Leader

    Not anymore. We're now 40-50 miles west of there -- about half way
    between Philly and Lancaster. But I know the area well; my wife's
    family home was less than two miles from HVCC.

  15. zach

    zach Member Forum Leader

    I enjoyed the nearly two years I spent in the Willow Grove area. But, I am glad I left the restaurant business for law enforcement. I ate many a good meal at the Willow Inn.

    I may make some calls to the NYS Public Service Commission (they govern untilities in NYS) to inquire as to why there is not some break in winter electric rates for geothermal users. What you have with PECO would help me here in NYS.

  16. geome

    geome Member Forum Leader

    Small world. I grew up near Welsh & Pine Rds. Wife from Willow Grove. :)
  17. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    Wow, thanks for all the responses.

    We have a propane insert in our fireplace that puts out 30000 btu. Heats two of the floors of the house easily, even the third floor if we leave the door open. Would that suffice?

    We definitely plan to. I am not sure exactly what, but I have a feeling that come October this place is going to be hopping....

    Kitchen was an addition (albeit a 100+yo one) and is underinsulated, we had to rip it out and have not replaced it all yet due to some plumbing work being done. Half sits right on stone, with some open space below we need to insulate more. Unfortunately we can't insulate the stone (sigh). When the kitchen is cold, the bedroom above it is cold, so we are thinking about radiant heat in the kitchen. We're replacing the floor anyway...would that be worth the cost? 14x14 kitchen, they have to put a return duct in it.

    Well, the oil burner is *at least* 30 years old. Looks like a major mad scientist's contraption. Thing goes on every so often, all year round, to keep itself from drying out. :confused: At least that is what I'm told. It's not efficient, and there isn't enough room in the basement for both it and the geothermal unit. So if we have to get rid of it, wouldn't it make sense to get rid of the radiators, too?

    I know you weren't talking to me just then, but I have to ask, what is a DSH? Googled it, and all I get are technical questions *about* one. :/

    And, as for hot water, we'd like to run one off it. We presently have an 80 gal tank (yeah, I know) and could go down to 50. Also have an 18 yo who takes long showers, but we have another year with him lol. Enjoy turning on the dishwasher while he's in there, he doesn't get burned. So we've really liked having the water available whenever, and not running out.

    Not one guy has been able to explain quite right (to me, anyway) how the hot water tank works if it's running off the geothermal unit -

    BTW I have no idea what you are talking about, PECO's "residential heating discounts" - we don't have this....PECO is like Comcrap, the monopoly that just keeps on taking. I am not excited about what's to come in January.

    I think you are very close to where I am, as well. I am also about halfway between Philly and Lancaster. Wife from Northeast Philly....
  18. geome

    geome Member Forum Leader

    My 2 cents. If you have a thermostatically controlled fireplace, would you want it to fire up when you are away should the geothermal unit lock out (stop operating to prevent damaging itself in the event of a fault)? Also, would you want the fireplace to engage while you are sleeping should the geothermal system not be able to maintain the desired thermostat setting? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, I suppose you could make due without electric heat strips.

    I'm not comfortable with our fireplace going on unattended, so we installed the heat strips to play it safe. Not very expensive to install (unless you need to upgrade your electrical service.) While expensive to run, nothing says you can't disable them (if installed with this in mind) while you are home and use the fireplace for auxiliary heat when needed. Our propane fireplace is much cheaper to operate than electric backup heat.

    DSH = desuperheater = hot water generator = hot water assist
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2010
  19. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    I see what you are saying. But, what are electric heat strips? How do they work?

    I told you guys, I know Nothing. And none of the people who have been in have suggested these to me at all.
  20. amailmanyouknow

    amailmanyouknow New Member

    p.s. Lest y'all think I'm not looking, I already googled "electric heat strips" and "what are electric heat strips" and all I get is either shopping, or people talking about bad ones....nothing tells me what they *are* or how they work.


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