Markets

Geothermal Is the Key to Making Homes More Sustainable

Homes with renewable-energy installations sell for 4% more than traditional homes—7% more when they have geothermal heat pumps.
By Wyatt Roberts
April 24, 2023
Topics
Markets

Today’s homebuyers are more environmentally conscious than ever before. Buoyed by soaring energy costs, imminent climate change repercussions and geopolitical conflict, consumer sentiment has shifted profoundly toward environmentally friendly homes in general and geothermal heating and cooling solutions in particular.

At the same time, new regulations preventing new natural gas line installations have created fresh urgency to future-proof homes while increasing value and decreasing the cost of ownership. Consequently, geothermal is a natural choice for architects and homeowners alike, especially with utility, tax and overall financial incentives and benefits for green energy solutions providing significant financial inducements.

Homes with renewable energy installations sell for 4% more than traditional homes, and those outfitted with geothermal heat pumps raise sale prices by 7%. That’s why, whether developing new builds or upgrading existing homes, geothermal is key to meeting consumer demand.

THE CASE FOR GEOTHERMAL

Geothermal heating and cooling is not a new development, but it is receiving new attention as buyer sentiments demand new home construction standards.

Energy is expensive, and a home’s heating and cooling system uses a lot of it. These systems can consume up to one-third of a family’s monthly utility bill, a number that is expected to increase by an additional 30% in the near term. With ground source heat pumps, there is also a consistent and recurring savings versus fossil fuel-powered heating and cooling appliances to the tune of a 25-35% reduction in annual heating and cooling costs when switching from natural gas; and 60-70% reduction when switching from propane or oil.

Of course, the climate change implications of heating and cooling are enormous. Traditional home heating and cooling systems release 441 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. The use of geothermal heat pumps will reduce emissions associated with heating and cooling homes by 30-70% depending on how the electricity is produced.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agrees, noting, “Electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal and wind generally does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution since no fuels are combusted.”

And The Atlantic encourages, “Getting a heat pump is one of the easiest ways for homeowners to fight climate change.”

Additionally, the cost of installing and maintaining geothermal heat pumps has plunged. As the EPA explains, “geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost effective systems for heating and cooling buildings.”

With regulatory and utility support, geothermal heat pumps are now more accessible to more people, which is driving down costs, an important facet that can be further enhanced by public policy, tax incentives, utility rebates and more.

Even existing homeowners are reaping the benefits of this technology. For instance, Elaine Weir and Stephan Sherman, a retired couple living in Westchester County, NY, proclaim the improved air quality, eco-friendly priorities and aesthetic improvements were worth the investment.

Weir recalls the benefits she and Sherman noticed after implementing their geothermal technology.

“In the winter, we used to keep the house temperature on average 58 degrees since we were often not home. As soon as COVID-19 hit, we were home all the time. We kept our home at a comfortable temperature. Even after raising our average house temperature by 10 degrees, we did not incur higher energy costs.”

Collectively, there are several reasons to make geothermal heating and cooling a central part of new or existing construction. For new construction and major projects, changing building codes and standards requires companies to pivot their efforts away from natural gas systems and toward renewable energy alternatives. But it is the best way to future-proof a build as electrification becomes more prominent, fossil fuels become less available and geothermal becomes more accessible.

HOW TO BUILD, REMODEL OR RENOVATE WITH GEOTHERMAL

For residential contractors, remodelers or builders, beginning the process by completing a full heat loss calculation is imperative to ensure the geothermal system is sized properly.

Additionally, understanding the local area’s geology will provide critical insights into geothermal conductivity, ensuring the design process incorporates accurate ground loop design and heat pump size requirements. Public records provide this base information, which a qualified geothermal designer will use to make sure your ground loop is sized properly for local geology. This information is invaluable as accurate ground loop design is key to successful system installation and performance.

Equipped with the right site information, contractors can prepare to drill ground loops, which is the most expensive element of a geothermal system installation. Running a calculated drill design can homogenize costs and make them more predictable. Similarly, using standardized equipment to streamline installation can significantly reduce costs, further expanding geothermal accessibility.

Once ground loops are installed, the geothermal solution is similar to a traditional HVAC design, and installation costs are comparable. In many markets, rebates and tax incentives will largely offset the installation cost of the ground loop or even exceed it, thereby lowering installation costs even further.

The upfront work is well worth the results. As Weir and Sherman emphasize, “If you’re building a new house, it’s a no brainer. Why install anything else? However, for those who already have a house, they have more to consider. If your home turns out to be a suitable fit, I highly recommend switching to geothermal like we did.”

Ultimately, geothermal is one of the most efficient forms of heating and cooling that has ever been manmade. It is a solution that meets consumer demand and produces results that are worth the investment for builders and buyers alike.

by Wyatt Roberts

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