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Jeff S

alternative heat: geothermal or outdoor wood burner

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Building a new house in the spring and am looking into alternative heat. Two that I'm investigating are geothermal and outdoor wood burners. Has anybody had experience with either of these? Looking for pluses and minuses to each.

Thanks for the help.

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I have a geothermal heat pump from Econar as my primary heating/cooling.

I use an open loop system. For those not familiar with it, I use well water to heat and cool the house. Yep, heat AND cool. Pretty amazing how it works really.

It cools the house like MAD!

Heating its good, not great. If I remember correct, the temp at the duct openings is 95 to 100 degrees, whereas a natural gas heater is 105+. Or something like that.

So what you have is a "cooler" heat, especially when its frigid out like now.

In the end, it heats the house just fine for me.

Best part is that it is very good on the pocket book for energy usage. For example, in the winter my electric bills are never over $200. My gas bill is never over $30 to $40.

Not bad for an overall energy bill every month in the heart of winter.

I love the heat pump.

A bonus is that I have a line thats underground going to the pond in my yard, so I just let the water from the heat pump go to my pond, so even when its dry as a bone out, my pond has water... laugh.gif

The fish in the pond enjoy that feature... grin.gif

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I have a florida heat pump which is also a heating and cooling system as BLB mentioned. Mine is also an open loop or a "pump and dump" system as I call it which would only work if you have the space and have a well system. If you live near people and don't have a pond to dump to, or you are on city water, you would need to go with a closed system.

I had people (who were going on hearsay) tell me I would regret going with a heat pump and I can honestly say that after 5 years, I would never have a house without one. Mine has been reliable and very efficient.

I don't have the problem with the cooler air though that BLB mentioned. (I did right after install but the company checked the compressor and upped the pressure and it has been fine since). It warms my house just fine, even on the coldest days. Since we've built our house, we had a few days in the -35 range and yes, it ran a lot more but did not have a problem heating the house.

A feature that mine has is an auxilary heat coil or plenum system incase you ever have a problem with the heat pump or well pump. I usually start it up once a year to burn off the dust and make sure it works but have never had to use it to assist the heating process as some told me I would have to do regularly. The idea is that if the heat pump fails, the plenum would keep the house from feezing up.

If you have a second heat source, such as a gas or wood fireplace, be sure to hook the heat pump up as a duel fuel on your electric. You save quite a bit more on the cost per kW on the electricity used to run the heat pump.

My only regret is going with a forced air system for the entire house. If I had to do it again I would go with the hybrid system of in floor heat for the basement and forced air for the upstairs (all off the same unit.)

One more thing. I also heat my water heater with the heat pump. It assists the residential water heating as a by-product which helps bring my water heating bill to about $5-$8 per month for all our hot water usage.

Good luck.

ccarlson

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Hi Jeff,

I put in an outside wood burning stove four years ago at a cost of around $6000.00. I was expecting payback to be around 6 to 7 years, but with the high cost of oil it has paid for itself already. I also use it to heat our electric hot water heater which also gives me quite a bit of a savings. I have an all electric farm house with an oil fired boiler and hot water baseboard heat. My electric bill is around $75.00 per month and my heating bill is virtually nonexistent. If you would like more information, please email me and I will try and answer any questions which you may have. As a side note, I am building a new garage and I am going to use the wood stove to heat the garage with an in-floor heating system.

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Great info!

How often do you have to service these systems? Have you had any problems getting people out to service the systems? Is the geothermal heat easy to use and operate? What kind of maintence is required?

I appreciate all info both positive and negative.

Thanks for the help.

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One thing to consider Jeff is how much more the geothermal system is going to cost. When we built our home back in 2002, the geothermal bids were running around 20k compared to a forced air gas furnace & air source heat pump(off peak) for 9k. I figured it would take too many years to recover the higher cost of the geothermal...especially on borrowed money.

With the mild winters we've been having lately, I've been very happy with the air source heat pump. It heats our house just fine down to about 10 degrees (outside temp) and doubles as an AC unit in the summer...all for .03 a kwh. Of course the geothermal does that too, regardless of the outside temp, but it will cost you more $$ up front.

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On the geothermal, as far as maintenance, I clean the air filter just like you would on a regular forced air furnace. Like I mentioned before, the air was coming out a little cool when I first got it so they serviced it for free and I have not touched it since.

When talking about the added cost, be sure to get real bids for the geothermal system. I was told it would be outrageous but here is what I paid:

One florida heat pump unit, all ductwork installed, all associated plumbing to the heat pump, air exchanger and install of air exchanger (as required by our building code no matter what kind of heating system you have) all installed in our house which is 1700 sq. feet on the main level plus a full basement of the same additional sq. footage for about $13,000.

That was about $5,000 more than a propane furnace and install at the time and that would not have included the central air conditioning which the geothermal also offers.

I have now recovered that cost within 5 years of running the geothermal. Everything from here out is savings.

If you go with a closed loop system, it would add significantly to the cost. The open pump and dump like i have is cheaper by far. The deer, my dogs and all kinds of wildlife love the always available water supply too.

The outside wood burner is a great choice too if you want to heat an additional detached garage like mentioned in one of the other posts.

ccarlson

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Thanks for the great info.

I've been doing a lot of reserch on the internet and have heard nothing but good things about the geothermal system. My next step will be getting bids from contractors.

Thanks again for your help.

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I have a geothermal system in my house, I put it in last fall. I love the thing. We have a house that was built in 1876, it is about as efficient as a 454 engine running wide open. We have a closed loop system running through our backyard. we have 5 coils running approximately 150 ft each. We spent $4,000 last year heating the house. We didn't have central air. It cost us $21,000 to install the system. However, we had to upgrade our electricity from 100 amp, to 200 amp, which was $2000. We were able to get almost $3600 back in rebates from our electric company. We also get a discount on electricity/KwH after 100 hours. We will also get our $500 from the federal gov this tax season. We love the unit. It did very well this last cold spell and we had some -20's.

I know what you are talkiing about when you mention the cooler heat. Ours is definitely cooler than our old furnace, but it is a nice even heat. It does run alot but does a nice job heating an old BIG house.

I didn't go with corn or wood burners for two reasons. #1, I don't trust the price of corn, it could get expensive with the increase in methanol production. I don't like wood because its time consuming to cut and you still spend money on hauling, cutting etc. I also don't like having to fill the furnace with wood or corn. My Geo runs 24-7, when its cold, it heats the house, when its warm it cools the house.

The second reason is that we didn't have central air, so if we added the price of the corn burner, to the central air system, it wasn't really that much more. Good luck with your purchase. I hope you like it. I can't imagine how efficient that would be if I had a new house with proper insulation. It would be SOOOO cheap and easiy. It reall does pay for itself. In our case it will pay for itself very fast.

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I put in an outdoor wood burner this past spring. From Nov. on I have not spent one cent on fuel oil. I really love the system. I do however enjoy cutting/splitting wood and have direct access to all the wood that I need. I don't mind filling the stove either. I have my regular fuel oil furnance on a seperate thermostat for back up.

I'm not sure if a wood burner is for everyone's lifestyle but it fits mine!

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Wave, I'm gone to much, I teach and coach. I don't want my wife to have to worry about firing up the furnace outside if I am gone. I did give very serious thought into putting in a corn burner. Unfortunately, the grain bin is rusting so that idea fell through. I really like the ease of the geothermal, but I know a lot of people that have and love their outside corn/woodburners. Especially if they are heating more than one building.

Oh Yeah, its ethanol production from my previous post, not methanol. Thats the science teacher in me, it just slipped out. grin.gif

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Very understandable. Definately not a hands off operation. My father, a family friend and myself all put them in last year so between us we can cover one another. Plus I've got the Mrs. trained in and she doesn't mind at all doing it. Like I said, it fits MY lifestyle.

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I had a ground source heat pump (GSHP) installed in my new house when I built it. Fantastic payback, and CC hit it on the head about 5K more than traditional. IF your considering one here are some ideas and things to think about:

1-Get a Econar model if you live in MN. We are talking about Ground Source heat pumps, not air heat pumps. Econars are designed and HQ'd here in MN. They are designed to maximize heat output not cooling output. If I remember correctly others were 20%-30% less heating BTU for same size model. Therefore a better unit for the northern Midwest.

2-Consider a dual-tech unit. It means you have forced air heating/cooling on both floors and in floor heat in the winter downstairs or the garage floor.

3- If going with a closed loop system install 1 ton over sized loop field. This maximizes efficency of your unit and if you ever add on or decide to heat the garage at a later date and need an upgrade on size, you wont have to update the loop field too.

4-Consider a De-super heater option on your unit. For around $300 it preheats your water for domestic use to around 95 degrees. That options works whether your heating or cooling the house!

I never got a plenum heater, thought it was a waste since I already had a gas fireplace to meet my dual fuel rate on electricity, and I used it instead for a back-up. My house was designed so efficeint that my house only required a 24K BTU (2 ton) unit; smallest GSHP I could get was 36k BTU (3 ton), and I had a 4 ton loop field. Tubes in the ground were cheap and guaranteed for 100 years. My worst heat bill even with the preheat on the water never exceed $40/month with the house set at 70 degrees in Duluth! grin.gif I heated two floors of 1800 sq. feet each. And I never had to mess with corn, heating oil, LP, or wood. grin.gifgrin.gifgrin.gif

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My folks built a new home 22 years ago on a lake. Thay have geothermal open system for cooling and heating. It has been a very cost efficiant system with the only problem being service. They live in the sticks and finding a person knowledgeable with the unit has been a problem. Make sure you have someone who can service the unit in your area.

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My father in-law has a wood burning boiler. It is great! Free heat. Just need to load it once a day, twice a day if it is this cold. Free wood, he used to let a guy dump wood on his land that owned a tree cutting business. Has about 2 acres of wood scattered about. A good weekend of cutting and splitting wood will last a winter. We just split it, throw it in the tractor bucket as we go and keep pilling it next to the burner. He figures he has enough wood for about 5 more years. He has a propane backup furnace as a 3rd backup. His 2nd backup was just installed this year, an electric boiler. So if you do go away on weekends, the electric boiler will take over and if that doesn't work the propane furnace will. He also has a backup generator, big 23hp Kohler V-twin, that sets on the side of the house. It will go on within 30 seconds of the power going out and will power the entire home, even central air. He is covered on most ends for heating his home.

I would go with the wood burner with a backup system. With the price of the geo thermal systems you would save quite a bit if you have access to wood.

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Call down to Elk River to Econar. They'll give you a list of certifed dealers/contractors in your area. You might be suprised that alot of local heating and cooling contracters know all about these things now! grin.gif

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