Geothermal Pros & Cons: Is Geothermal Right For You?

Geothermal Energy Pros and Cons

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), also known as geothermal heat pumps, are a promising alternative to traditional heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Is geothermal a good option for you and your home?

In this blog post, we’ll give you a full picture of the advantages and disadvantages of geothermal heating and cooling, so you can make the best choice for your family.

What Are the Advantages of Geothermal Heating and Cooling?

Pro: Geothermal has a long lifespan and requires little maintenance

The longer you can get use out of an investment, the better. You’ll need to replace a conventional furnace every 15 to 20 years, and a conventional air conditioner every 10 to 15 years, not to mention all the maintenance each system requires along the way.

In comparison, the ground loops of a properly designed and installed geothermal system can last over 50 years, and little maintenance is required over the system’s lifespan. The only part of a geothermal system that will likely need to be replaced sooner than that is the heat pump itself, after 20 to 25 years. This heat pump can be replaced at a fraction of the cost of installing a full system, with a price tag of $1,500 to $2,500 per ton.

Furnaces and boilers require maintenance at least once or twice a year to prevent oil leaks or other malfunctions. Fixing these malfunctions gets expensive very quickly, but even if your system works perfectly, the base costs of maintenance still add up. 

The extended lifespan and minimal maintenance requirements of geothermal translates to a major advantage over conventional HVAC in terms of quality and performance.

Pro: Geothermal saves money in the long term

When you add up the costs of conventional ACs and furnaces, which will need replaced sooner than a geothermal system, the initial cost of geothermal is well worth it

Geothermal systems also come with extremely low operating costs, especially when compared to the cost of monthly shipments of fuel oil and propane that conventional heating systems require. This means that, after the initial upfront cost, you’ll still have electric bills, but you’ll spend less on heating overall

You’ll eventually pay yourself back in savings for installing geothermal because your maintenance costs will be low and because your heat source (the heat in your yard) is included in your property ownership. 

In contrast, operating conventional HVAC systems force you to repeatedly pay for your heat source and keep up with frequent maintenance on top of what you’ve already paid to purchase your HVAC equipment in the first place.

Pro: Geothermal adds to your home’s equity

Installing geothermal heating and cooling is a major improvement that can actually increase your home’s value.

Traditional HVAC investments can burn money as more of a liability than an investment. Though you might be able to use a newer furnace as a selling point, a furnace or AC unit depreciates in value over time while still draining money from your wallet every month to pay for heating fuel. 

The best way to increase your home’s value is to equip it with an HVAC system that pays for itself. This means no more endless payments to fuel oil companies and reduced electricity usage in the summer. 

Consider this: as a new homebuyer, would you rather choose a home with a limitless heating and cooling source in the yard, or a home that burns fossil fuels and costs you every time you adjust your thermostat?

Pro: No obtrusive HVAC equipment outside your home

Say goodbye to propane tanks, window AC units, and outdoor AC condensers making noise and taking up space in your yard. Even beyond the annoyance factor of HVAC equipment in your yard, there’s the money aspect as well. 

These components of conventional HVAC systems are perpetually exposed to and often at the mercy of harsh weather conditions, seasonal changes, and even neighborhood vandals. As you probably already know all too well, these damages add up to expensive maintenance, repair, and replacement costs over time. 

In contrast, geothermal is a quiet and inconspicuous way to heat and cool your home, and all of the equipment is out of sight. The geothermal ground loops are buried underground in your yard, and the geothermal heat pump is tucked inside your basement or garage. This heat pump is the only piece of HVAC equipment that you might regularly encounter, and this simply replaces your furnace indoors. 

Pro: Geothermal is renewable and environmentally friendly 

Geothermal pulls heat from the earth into your home or dumps heat from your home into the earth. It’s an abundant resource that significantly reduces carbon emissions and requires no fossil fuels of any kind to heat and cool your home. In fact, making the switch to geothermal can reduce your home greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 75%.

Geothermal heating and cooling produces 75% to 85% less carbon dioxide emissions than gas and oil produces. For example, a 1,500 square foot house in Westchester, NY heated with oil burns 750 gallons per year, which equates to an output of about 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. The same house heated with geothermal technology uses 7200-kilowatt hours of energy, equivalent to roughly 4,500 pounds of carbon dioxide.  That’s a yearly reduction of 12,500 pounds of Co2, the equivalent to removing one car off the road for an entire year!

Both on an individual level and on a global level, making the switch from heating with fuel oil, natural gas, or propane to heating with geothermal makes a big difference. By doing so, you’re cutting back significantly on carbon emissions and contributing to a cause bigger than yourself.  

Pro: Geothermal is effective in almost all regions, weather conditions, and climates 

Renewable energies like solar and wind are largely dependent upon local weather conditions and climates. Solar panels are ineffective at night and in climates with higher precipitation, and wind turbines are ineffective in climates with little to no wind. 

Geothermal heat pumps, however, work anytime and almost anywhere in the world! Through rain or shine above ground, the temperature underground, below the frost line, remains consistent year-round. This means that geothermal is always a good option for heating and cooling your home, whether it’s 95 degrees or 15 degrees outside

Pro: Geothermal is suitable for almost all homes and businesses

It’s a myth that geothermal installation requires acres of yard space. Geothermal is viable for many homes and businesses, even those located in cities and suburbs. For these buildings, vertical ground loops are the perfect solution. 

Some geothermal installers are able to install homes that are heated by radiators or radiant heat, but Dandelion exclusively installs in homes with ductwork for central AC and/or forced air heating. Find out if your home is compatible with Dandelion Geothermal

Pro: Geothermal provides comfortable and safe heating 

Conventional heating systems like furnaces inevitably produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion. According to the CDC, carbon monoxide poisoning “kills hundreds every year and makes thousands more sick.” A geothermal system doesn’t produce carbon monoxide, so it eliminates the risk of poisonous gases leaking from your furnace. 

Carbon monoxide is not the only toxic byproduct homeowners need to watch out for. Burning gas and oil for home heating pollutes the air with soot (particulate matter), oxides from nitrogen (NO2), hydrocarbons, and other hazardous waste. These not only contribute to the formation of acid rain but have been linked to a higher incidence of heart and lung diseases. These pollutants also make existing respiratory diseases like asthma worse. According to the EPA, nationwide, these fine particles cause roughly 15,000 premature deaths every year.

Geothermal heat pumps do not use combustion at all, so there is no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, poor indoor air quality, or other health concerns.

Pro: Getting off the grid

You can take control of energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint by harvesting an energy source you already own: your own yard. It’s a reliable source that is not subject to price fluctuations and politics like fossil fuels are.

To get completely off the grid, try pairing geothermal in your yard with solar on your roof. Your solar panels will supply a clean source of electricity, and your geothermal heat pump will keep your home a comfortable temperature — all without fossil fuels. 

Pro: Access to geothermal incentives

On a local, state, and federal level, there are many ways to save even more money on geothermal heating and cooling. Government agencies and utilities companies offer financial incentives for adopting renewable energy. 

For example, if you’re a homeowner in New York who upgrades to geothermal, you may be eligible for the federal tax credit, the state incentive, and any other local utilities incentives.

What Are the Disadvantages of Geothermal Heating and Cooling?

Con: Higher upfront cost for geothermal

The initial costs of buying a geothermal system exceed those of a single conventional furnace, boiler, or air conditioning unit. Buying a new furnace could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 upfront. This is based on furnace type, efficiency, size, and installation cost. A new air conditioning system can cost around $3,400 to $6,000, depending on similar parameters.

Geothermal, including drilling and installation, costs between $30,000 and $50,000, sometimes more. Dandelion Geothermal is an exception. The Dandelion Air system comes with both heating and cooling and only costs around $20,000 after incentives are applied, though the total cost can increase with complexity or if multiple systems are needed. 

This investment can be alleviated further with Dandelion’s financing options as well, which starts as low as $0 down and $150/month. 

Geothermal is a good option if you’re tired of paying for fossil fuels or if it’s already time to replace your existing HVAC equipment. It would only be a marginal increase in cost, but with a significant increase in value — and it eliminates all monthly oil or gas expenses.

Con: Geothermal requires skilled installers and designers

In general, having your house inspected by a professional is always advisable before a big home improvement project. However, in some cases, you might be able to swing a new furnace purchase on your own, or by hiring a handy friend or neighbor to install your new AC unit.

A geothermal system install is definitely not this kind of DIY project. For geothermal heating and cooling that will pay you back in dividends as a highly efficient system, you need to make sure that it’s designed and installed correctly by qualified technicians, who are few and far between.

Con: Geothermal heat pumps still use electricity

Unfortunately, just because a geothermal heat pump is an incredibly efficient system doesn’t mean that it can generate heat from nothing at all. A geothermal system still requires electricity to function, which means that you’ll continue paying bills to your local utilities company — though you’ll ultimately be spending less than before. 

Other HVAC solutions also use electricity, so this isn’t all that unique, but a geothermal system does use more electricity. However, geothermal can be powered by solar or wind energy, making it even more sustainable and cost-effective.

Con: Geothermal heat pumps are site-dependent 

Other forms of residential renewables, such as solar energy, can easily be adapted from site to site with only minor modifications. Solar panels are modular, so they can simply be scaled up or down based on the size of the home. They can be attached to virtually anything — from RVs to handheld calculators, and everything in between. 

Unfortunately, geothermal doesn’t work in the same way. Geothermal heat pumps need to be uniquely designed, sized, and installed in each home. Dandelion is able to serve most homes, including those with limited yard space, by using vertical ground loops. However, some homes simply aren’t suited for geothermal installation due to factors such as space constraints for drilling. 

What does not preclude your home from a geothermal upgrade is the land that your home is built on. It is a common misconception that variation in site geology can affect geothermal installation. In fact, Dandelion installers regularly drill through all different types of soil, bedrock, underground water, and more irregular features.

Con: Geothermal ground loop installation may disturb your landscaping 

No matter how compact the drilling process is, and no matter how far geothermal technology advances in the next decades, using a drill rig to install ground loops is an unavoidable component of installing vertical geothermal systems. 

A drill rig is a piece of heavy duty construction equipment whose sole purpose is to break into the ground in your yard. Unfortunately, an inevitable side effect of breaking into the ground in your yard is that your landscaping will suffer some temporary disturbance. 

In the long term, you might find that the temporary disturbance was worthwhile. After geothermal installation, you’ll no longer need any loud and intrusive AC units in your yard. Geothermal will give you your lawn back, so you’ll have more space to find your green thumb and plant a garden. 

Con: Geothermal heat pumps aren’t always carbon-neutral 

A geothermal heat pump is technically a renewable HVAC system, so what does it mean when people say geothermal isn’t completely carbon-neutral? 

It all comes down to where your local source of electricity comes from. Geothermal still requires electricity to function, which means that you’ll still be dependent on your local utilities company for it. Sadly, fossil fuels like natural gas, petroleum, and coal are still the primary source of electricity in the US today

What this means is that your geothermal heat pump may still be indirectly using fossil fuels to heat and cool your home if your local utilities company is reliant on fossil fuels. Thankfully, NY state allows consumers to choose how their electricity is produced, so you can still opt into community solar programs or install solar penls on-site. 

However, regardless of what your local electricity source is, how much electricity you actually use is well within your control. With geothermal, you’ll ultimately be using more electricity than before, but you’ll reduce your carbon footprint overall.

Con: Renewable energy incentives won’t last forever

All good things must come to an end. Currently, the federal government, many state governments, and many local utilities are offering financial incentives to motivate homeowners to make more sustainable decisions. 

The federal 26% tax credit for geothermal will only be available at its full value for the remainder of 2020. With each year, the size of the tax credit will decrease before it disappears entirely. 

If geothermal is already on your mind, it’s in your best interest to act quickly. A geothermal system installed this summer versus next winter makes a big difference for your wallet, so why wait? 

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