It Doesn’t Get Any Greener Than This

By David Buss

Homeowners and business owners searching for an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient home heating system are turning with increasing frequency to geothermal systems to meet their comfort needs, responsibly and affordably. And for good reason. Geothermal comfort systems are proving to be the world’s greenest heating and cooling systems.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency named geothermal heat pumps as the most efficient heating and cooling system when compared to other types of space-conditioning equipment, including high efficiency gas furnaces and air conditioners – as much as 70% more efficient. Research by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reaches similar conclusions as do the findings of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory and numerous government agencies and consumer and industry groups. And consumers who value the Energy Star label in their search for energy-efficient products, will find many approved geothermal products that carry the Energy Star label.

A geothermal system taps into the constant heat energy stored just below the earth’s surface. A series of pipes (an earth loop) buried in the ground circulates an environmentally friendly mixture of alcohol and water. The earth loop transfers heat into the home from the ground during the winter, and removes heat from the home during the summer, releasing it back into the ground. The system can also generate heat for hot water, all without using fossil fuel or emitting any carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.

Because geothermal energy is available underground virtually anywhere on Earth, homeowners across the United States are enjoying the savings that a geothermal home heating and cooling system offers while reducing their carbon footprint. And, as the DOE website points out, because geothermal energy is homegrown, using geothermal energy reduces the country’s dependence on foreign oil, creates jobs in the United States and more favorably balances the nation’s global trade deficit.

There are a large number of Geothermal installations throughout the Chicago area that many people may not be aware of. One high profile job is the Marine Safety Station just south of Navy Pier. It is a Homeland Security project done by the City of Chicago in 2005 when they remodeled the old Chicago Coast Guard station. At that time they included a WaterFurnace geothermal system to heat and cool the facility. This geothermal installation uses a heat exchanger placed in the lake to provide the heat source and heat sink for the geothermal system.

Another project that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year is the Chicago Center for Green Technology located at 445 N. Sacramento Blvd. This project, which was the first rehabilitated municipal building in the nation to receive the LEED platinum rating, was built on an old stone dump site as part of a major cleanup and restoration of the site. The installation there uses a vertically installed loop field to provide the earth connection for the geothermal heating and cooling system.

A privately funded project that also showcases geothermal technology is the Wheaton Christian Grammar School located in Winfield, IL. That installation, done in 2010 uses a horizontally bored loop system that provides 256 tons of capacity for the heating and cooling needs of the entire school building. Savings in energy there are approximately $34,000 per year.

The significant cost savings inherent in a geothermal system translate to a positive return on investment for homeowners and business owners alike. Add the benefit of the Federal tax credits and rebates offered by some states and utility companies, and homeowners see an even faster return on their investment.

WaterFurnace International, Inc. is the leading manufacturer of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional geothermal and water source heat pumps. Products from WaterFurnace include energy-efficient and environmentally friendly geothermal comfort systems, indoor air quality products and pool heaters. WaterFurnace Renewable Energy, Inc. (TSX: WFI) was founded in 1983, and the company is headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind. For additional information, please visit or call 1-800 GEO SAVE.

Image courtesy Monika Thorpe

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