04 Jan Installing Geothermal Utilities In Your Next Norton Commons Home
Greg: Jason, we’re back. It’s 2016. Happy New Year.
Jason: Happy New Year to you, as well. It was a great 2015, but I am so looking forward to 2016 to see what this year has to offer.
Greg: It sounds like you have quite a few projects going on. We’ve already talked about a couple of them, the showcase homes in the Homearama. That’s actually going to be this year. That’s quite exciting.
Jason: The countdown is near, so we got to kick it up a notch. We’ll be ready. It always seems to come down to the last minute with those show houses.
Greg: I have no doubt. This is a topic that’s a throwback to one of our earlier podcast episodes. You had mentioned, when we were talking about Norton Commons in particular, that the newer section was all going to be geothermal … I don’t even know what you call it. Is it utilities? Geothermal what? What’s the right word?
Jason: Geothermal heating and cooling.
Greg: Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that. What does that mean to a buyer? What does it mean to a builder? What does it mean to the community? What do we need to know?
Jason: It’s a very green approach to heating and cooling the house. Norton Commons was brave enough to mandate that their North Village, which is going to be, gosh, 1,000 plus homes, and construction on that just started this past fall, every house that is built in the North Village is required to have a geothermal heating and cooling system.
Greg: You said it’s mandated. Is it because, unless it were mandated, builders would not do this on their own? Is it a little cost prohibitive, compared to a home that’s not geothermal?
Jason: There is. There’s a little bit more upfront cost with geothermal, but the payback is probably exponential over the life of a home. You may spend a little bit more upfront, but your monthly ongoing utility bills are, gosh, probably less than half of what traditional forced air would be. You don’t have to worry about the fluctuation of gas prices. You’re using the earth’s constant temperature, basically, to heat and cool the house.
We’ve done probably 20, or so, houses with geothermal, just because people understand it, and like it, and are environmentally friendly. It’s not new to us. It’s a good thing for the customer. Actually, through the end of 2016, there’s a 30% tax credit back to the end buyer of the home on the geothermal heating and cooling system. It depends on the size of the house, that can be anywhere from $5,000 or $6,000 to $20,000 or $30,000, depending on how many units you have. You can offset a lot of that cost pretty early on upfront-
Jason: -by taking advantage of buying now and closing by the end of 2016. There hasn’t been any word yet if they’re going to extend that tax credit. Hopefully they do.
Greg: That would be nice.
Greg: You mentioned forced air heat and using the earth’s constant temperature. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what it actually is. You don’t have to get way in the weeds about the details, but give me an overall view of what geothermal really is.
Jason: A traditional house, you would run a gas line that you purchase from LG&E, and they’d run it in, and you’re paying for the natural gas. Geothermal, we come in and we drill a series of loops. In Norton Commons, the North Village that we’re doing, the standard lot would have two loops that would be drilled 350 feet deep into the earth, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. We run a series of pipes in these loops. Basically, we’re using the constant temperature of the earth, which is around 55 degrees, to run liquid through the earth’s temperature. It will use that constant temperature to come up. We’ll bring those loops into the house. That liquid running over the pipes will actually be used to heat and cool the house. Once you bring it into the house, it comes into a traditional forced air furnace. You don’t have that gas. You’re using the earth’s temperature to heat and cool the house. Depending on if it’s hot or cold outside, you can reverse the system in the winter and summer.
Greg: The liquid you’re talking about, that doesn’t actually … That’s not natural gas, or anything like that. That’s more a cooling liquid that does the temperature control of the unit?
Jason: That’s right. It’s a closed loop system. It all stays within the loops. The temperature of the liquid running through is what produces the heat and cooling.
Greg: Instead of taking cold air … It’s winter, right, so instead of trying to cool the 10-degree air outside to 70 degrees inside, you’re saying you just have to go from the 55 that the earth is, because you have this looping liquid. You only have 15 degrees, basically, to warm it up. That’s the big difference.
Jason: That’s right. Another huge advantage to the geothermal system is all the equipment is housed in the basement. With a traditional system, you’d have the furnace in the basement and then you’d have the air compressor sitting outside. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a friend’s house or out on the patio and suddenly the neighbor’s air conditioning unit kicks on. You’re like, oh my gosh.
Greg: I don’t have to go to someone else’s house to hear that. I can hear that outside my house.
Jason: That’s right. The benefit of the geothermal system is you have none of that. All of your heating and cooling equipment is placed in the basement. Your outdoor enjoyment of the space is much higher without having to deal with your neighbor’s air compressor.
Greg: You don’t need the air compressor at all anymore?
Jason: That’s right. That was one of the reasons, again, we’ve done geothermal in our luxury homes outside of Norton Commons and we’ve done it inside Norton Commons. With the smaller lots at Norton Commons, it just became such a problem with the neighbors and where the air conditioners were. We went through several different scenarios of where we made the neighboring builder place the air conditioner. It was a debacle and a disaster. We’re like, “You know what? We’re going to try geothermal, and we won’t have to deal with the neighbors not being happy with where the air compressors are going.”
Greg: Inside the house, you’re talking about listening to compressors, and things like that. Does it sound different inside the house?
Jason: No. It’s going to be almost identical on the inside. It’s still a very, very quiet system. It’s just like your furnace runs when it kicks on, it will be the exact same sound that you have. It’s fairly quiet, as a traditional system is. It’s highly efficient. A traditional forced air gas furnace might be 90%, 95% efficient. These geothermal systems are 400%, 500% efficient. It’s pretty impressive.
Greg: That sounds very impressive.
Jason: You can get them in what’s called a variable stage or a dual stage to where most of the time it’s going to be running in low stage. You’re not even going to hear when the furnace kicks on and when the air’s blowing, which is a nice option.
Greg: There are different kinds of heat. I know some people feel heat differently. The old apartments with radiators, and I guess some old homes with radiators, that heat feels very different from, say, a modern forced heat. Some people say they can tell the difference between an electric heat and a gas heat. Is there something here?
Jason: I can attest to this. I’ve had geothermal in my house for the last three or four years, and it’s been probably the most comfortable house I’ve ever had. The heating and cooling has been totally fine. Even when you get down to sub-30-degree temperatures, it heats just as well as the traditional gas furnace does.
Jason: That’s not an issue with geothermal.
Greg: We’re coming up on the end of time, but I’m curious. I know a lot of people with wood floors sometimes dread the winter because the floors act up a little bit, and sometimes you’ve got to add a humidifier to the system. Do you still want to use a humidifier with a geothermal, or is there a different issue with flooring?
Jason: You can still use a humidifier with geothermal. Again, some of that is going to depend on how tight your house is built. It may not necessarily be … It’s all related, but a lot of it is going to depend on how you insulated your house and what type of flooring you have.
Greg: But there’s no downside to the geothermal to your belongings? Inside your house isn’t going to dry out and shock everything you touch?
Jason: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You can run it, and you’ll know after being in the house if you need to add a humidifier or not. You can absolutely add one to a geothermal system.
Greg: In the very beginning of this, before I let you go, we got to talk numbers a little bit. I understand every house is different. You build some big houses and some modest-sized houses, as well. What are we looking at, as far as utility bills? Again, I guess this is a hard question, because it really depends on how well a house is insulated. If I talk old homes in the highlands, some of those monthly bills are $300, $400.
Jason: We use a third party that does an energy evaluation of the house for us prior to starting, and then we do a blower door test after the house is complete just to verify that we’ve built it to exceed our standards. We run an energy model. Say, on a 2,200 square foot ranch that I happen to be building right now, the utility bills are probably going to average less than $100 a month throughout the year-
Greg: That’s amazing.
Jason: -on new construction.
Greg: Wow. Then, last question, when you run these tests, is that something you share with the client, or is that just something that’s on your checklist to make sure that the house is up to snuff, and that it is an Artisan Signature Homes and it’s passed all the tests that you set out for it?
Jason: Absolutely. We’ll provide them, it’s called a HERS rating. It will show how efficient their house is built compared to, say, a normal house build. We’ll go through the model and show them why we exceeded what is, I guess, the regular Building Code and how much more efficient their house is going to be.
Greg: I lied to you. I’m going to ask one more question. This can go on forever. One more question. The homes coming up on your showcase in the Homearama, are those going to be geothermal?
Jason: Yeah. The Homearama houses, we have two Homearama houses in the North Village. Both of those are in the geothermal section and will have geothermal heating and cooling.
Greg: Will there be something that people can see?
Jason: Yeah. We’ll probably open up the furnace room so you can see. We bring the loops in. Usually we’ll drill them under the garage slab. A lot of people have worried about the warranty with those, but it’s a 50-year warranty. You’re not going to have issues with the loops at all. The equipment carries another great warranty with it, as well. Anyway, we bring those loops in through the foundation wall under the garage slab. You can see in the furnace room the actual equipment. We’ll invite folks down, and come in and actually see the system we use. ClimateMaster is the vendor we like to use for geothermal. You can check out that equipment in person.
Greg: Wow. Once again, an education. I love it. Thanks for having me out.
Jason: Thanks, Greg. Take care.