One technology that is spreading is geothermal heating and cooling. In most parts of the world, the top 10 feet of the Earth's surface maintains a constant temperature between 50° and 60° F. A geothermal system circulates water through a continuous loop of pipes with wells buried below the frost line. A heat exchanger extracts the thermal energy to heat or cool the home through conventional ducts. In the summer, the heat removed from the indoor air can also be used to heat water for the home. Industrial systems can access heat from deeper underground and power turbines to generate electricity.
|Geothermal radiant heat floor being installed|
The US Department of Energy estimates that about 50,000 geothermal systems are installed in the US each year, and most of those are in the western states, Alaska and Hawaii. The average savings over a conventional air conditioning system result in a return on investment in about 5 years. For more information on geothermal technology, visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website.
I found a ball park savings calculator here, and after digging out some old utility bills I went through the couple dozen questions about my home and yearly energy usage. While it's only an estimate, it seems that it would take about 30 years for me to recoup my investment. Keep in mind, though, that I have a small home and we've worked to keep our energy consumption down. It's also cooled by evaporative cooling, and there isn't a field to enter that factor, so I don't know how much of an effect that would have. There is a 30% federal tax credit for installing one of these systems, however, which may not be around forever, so it might be worthwhile for you to take a few minutes with the calculator to see if geothermal would benefit your home.
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