Anyone have experience with geothermal in Michigan?

Or someplace with winters like Michigan? (Dec. – March rarely gets above freezing; occasionally as cold as -10 or -20 overnight for as much as a week, though usually lows around 15-20. Summers are 75-90 degrees and somewhat to extremely humid.)

I’m curious – as are several of my other local readers – about the following questions about using closed-loop ground heat exchange systems in our climate.

  • How well does it work in our winters? I’ve heard that you need a backup heat source for anything under about 30 degrees.
  • How much electricity does it use per year?
  • How much electricity did you use before you installed the geothermal?
  • What backup do you use (electric? gas?) and how much energy does it use per year?
  • Does it do a good job with cooling?
  • Does it do a good job with water heating?
  • Overall, how much did your electric bill go up? How much did your other energy bills go down?
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16 Comments

  1. Rex said,

    June 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    You should talk to Matt Grocoff, he lives on Seventh and I believe he has installed geothermal heat in his home:

    http://www.michigandaily.com/content/na/drilling-heat-geothermal-a2

    http://www.concentratemedia.com/blogs/bloggers/MattGrocoff0099.aspx

    plus he’s a really nice guy, I’m sure he’d be excited to answer your questions.
    I’m not sure the best way to get ahold of him, but he’s at selma just about every time I go there.

    -Rex

  2. Jenn said,

    June 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I have a couple of friends who just installed a geothermal system for their house. I will see one of them tomorrow and show him your blog. We live in Lansing by the way. I do know that their electric bill skyrocketed and he is now looking at a way to produce their own electricity. I was there last weekend and their house was cold!

  3. El said,

    June 24, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Hi Emily. Actually, geothermal in principle is fairly straightforward but in application has 100 variables. So doing an apples-to-apples comparison like you’re asking (how much electricity do you use now, etc.) is not terribly helpful. Short story: it costs a lot of money to install such a system (which is the #1 reason all your neighbors aren’t installing them) and also, there are so many ways to transfer the heat from the 55* water coming out of your ground pipes into cooling or heating or converting your water to use for hot water that you would truly need an engineer to weigh the options for you.

    I don’t mean to shoot down geothermal. I’ve used it in a few of my houses, but what I am constructing is new houses for people with deep pockets who might (might) have save-the-earth leanings. It’s sometimes more effective in new construction too because you’re already scarring the land to dig the foundation. But retrofitting? Really, the only time that works is if you do a vertical system and the house already has ductwork and/or radiant floor piping. And vertical systems are the most expensive of all the ground layouts.

    • Emily said,

      June 24, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Can you plant a garden over horizontal pipes? Can you stack the pipes over a septic system?

    • mike said,

      December 1, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      How on earth are you going to heat your home with “55* water”?

  4. EdgeWiseInAnnArbor said,

    June 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

    In Matt Grocoff’s video he says:
    [backyard drilling for geothermal] I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I thought you couldn’t put geothermal into a historic house.” Well this house proves that wrong. We were able to put three 150-foot bore holes vertically into the back yard on a very small piece of property. Not only do we have a heating and cooling system that uses half the energy of our neighbors, we have a house that’s a whole lot more comfortable.
    http://www.oldhouseweb.com/green-guide/old-homes-can-be-the-greenest-homes.shtml

  5. EdgeWiseInAnnArbor said,

    June 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Another Matt Grocoff video is of his neighbor who used geothermal in a small lot:
    “we were able to do it in this downtown small lot because we used this technique called radial drilling. So there’s this one small spot where the drilling went in and all the wells radiate out from that spot in the ground. ”

    http://www.oldhouseweb.com/green-guide/small-ideas-150-year-old-LEED-certified-house.shtml

  6. GeoMom said,

    June 24, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    We have geothermal, and we live near AA. We have loops buried about 6 ft down (should have been deeper). We have a combo radiant heat/forced air system, and about 2200 sq ft. Our hot water is generated by a combination of the “waste” heat from the process, and electricity.

    We have a pretty energy efficient house (built with SIP’s). Several of our neighbors also have geothermal units (no natural gas in our neighborhood). From the few people who’ve mentioned how much they pay for their electricity (for geothermal), our bills our cheaper by about half in the winter–this could be due to the energy efficiency of our house–or because we keep the temp low.

    “How well does it work in our winters? I’ve heard that you need a backup heat source for anything under about 30 degrees. ”
    It has electric back-up, since we don’t have natural gas. We have no way of knowing when it kicks on and when it doesn’t. We keep the heat at a constant 64 all winter.

    “How much electricity does it use per year? ”
    DTE provides a discounted rate for the geothermal, so we have a separate meter with just the geothermal unit and the water heaters on it. I made a nice little graph of our usage for the past 3.5 years, but I don’t see how I can attach it. It varies from about 400kwh in the summer to a high of 1700kwh in the winter. It uses a LOT of electricity, but we don’t know what portion of that is emergency back up in the furnace or the water heater

    “Does it do a good job with cooling? ”
    I think it’s way more efficient with the cooling than the heating

    “Does it do a good job with water heating?”
    Hard to tell.

    “Can you plant a garden over horizontal pipes? ”
    Definitely

    “Can you stack the pipes over a septic system?”
    The piping is much deeper than your septic system–so, no.

    We’ve thought about adding a solar hot water system to supplement the geothermal, but our roof is pretty shaded and we haven’t looked into it very seriously yet. We are putting in a wood-burning stove soon to supplement the heat, and provide a source of heat during power outages. I don’t know if geothermal is the most sustainable way to heat a house. And you’re really at the mercy of the contractor who installs it. I think it would be much more efficient if it was buried deeper. We would really like to have some control over the electric back-up.

    I have a friend who installed a geothermal unit at their house south of AA. They have a very inefficient house (5000 + sq ft, poor insulation). They had endless problems with it. Their loops were installed in a pond, and their back-up is natural gas, which kicked on constantly. I know they worked with the contractor for years to get the bugs worked out, but I haven’t talked to her recently to see if this last winter was any better.

    I have a co-worker who has a outdoor wood-boiler. They seem pretty happy with it–although it does require some tending. That might be another way to go.

    • Emily said,

      June 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Wow! Thanks for this detailed reply. 1700kwh a month in the winter is pretty steep…I see why you’re thinking of a different kind of backup heat.

      Those outdoor woodburners are pretty polluting, as I understand it…

  7. EdgeWiseInAnnArbor said,

    June 28, 2010 at 8:09 am

    It sounds like open loop systems (water recycled through a surface pond or river) are a bad idea for heating in Michigan. Closed loop systems where vertical or horizontal tubes are buried deep below the frost line can work fine as long as they are sized correctly for the house. I wish I knew which contractors did the jobs that people were not pleased with.

    • Cindy Owings said,

      June 29, 2010 at 8:48 am

      Our non-profit, Madison Farm to Fork, located in Ennis, MT, is embarking on a community project to capture the 180 degree water that is gushing from a natural spring one mile north of town. We will be installing a heat exchange system to bring heated fresh water thru pipes in the ground of 3 green houses. Our greenhouses will grow fresh produce for our school program & the community at large. This has been accomplished thru the harnessing of volunteer labor and the passion of folks to change our local foodshed. Stay tuned! I will follow the whole process thru my blog and on our website: http://www.madisonfarmtofork.com

  8. Bill Olmstead said,

    December 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

    As far as back upp heat is concerned the installing contractor utilizing the proper programs and information will know exactly how much aux heat is used should be very minimal. Any system that is that depent on aux heat is improperly designed. Have systems running all over michigan, not one complaint of high cost or problems with comfort.any contractor that doesnot have all the percise information on operational cost has not done their homework. This technology works anywhere provided it is engineered properly

    • Jason Fuhrman said,

      December 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      I live in Kalmazoo, MI. I have a pump and dump (4-ton Bard; probably around 10-15 years old). We have no backup, apart from the strip inside the unit, space heaters, and a propane fireplace insert. My home is 75% well insulated and air-sealed (I am working to bridge the gap). Our cost/KWH is .14 (not cheap). Our most recent bill (for Nov 22nd – December 22nd 2016) was over 2000 KWH. The house is not comfortable in the winter (when it is in the lower digits), and even when the unit runs for an hour or more at a time (at low temps) the house is still cold. I am considering replacing it with a so-called high efficiency propane furnace, but I am afraid that the cost to operate the propane unit will be even greater than the cost to run my current sysytem, although I presume the home will at least be more comfortable; which might be worth it. I am also afraid to do nothing because MI winters can be bruetely cold, and I dread coming home to a frozen home some day due to my 37 year-old well pump finally giving out.

      I am really not sure what to do, but I will have to make a decision before next winter (preferably sooner).

      Any help would be great.

      Thanks,

      Jason

      • Bill Olmstead said,

        February 3, 2017 at 12:47 pm

        Hey jason there are alot of questions that need answers how old is your unit ? What is controling the well when your unit is operating?Ive been in the industry for years, utilizing both well systems and closed loop what I do know is that sizing geothermal precisely is a requirement as well as proper duct sizing for distrbution. I will always tell my customers if your going to change to propane you will be shell shocked I recomend that you contact michigan energy services they are the best in the industry they can solve your issues and make your home comfortable. Geo is the best product in the market

        • Jason Fuhrman said,

          February 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm

          Hello Bill:

          The unit is between 10and 15 years old and a 37 year old well pump controls the well when the unit is running.


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