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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 9/25/2008


I have researched geothermal for several years. I started out getting bids from contractors that were from $80K to $125K. At those prices, it didn't make sense to install it because it would take 10-15 years to recoup my initial investment. Then I found a company that does DIY kits. I have been doing quite a bit of research and am getting ready to start installation. The equipment and the radiant materials totaled $21K and I am hiring an excavator to dig the trenches for the geo lines. This should run roughly $2K. I wonder if anyone else has done this and how it went?
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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/26/2008


I haven't, but I plan to. Like you, I got some pretty high bids for a pro-install system. I've still got one local company I want to get a bid from - they do DX systems - but I'm not hopeful that I'll be able to afford them.

Are you using geothermaldiy.com? Just curious. I was really interested in them before Mark Ross left. That's nothing against Nick, just that Mark was the one I had developed confidence in. Mark is apparently getting his own business going, but his website and email are "under construction."

I'm anxious to hear how your project goes. Please post back here with your experiences.

There is a geothermal design book that seems pretty useful. A good GHP install is, I'm told, not a simple thing to accomplish. This book might help to avoid some of the pitfalls:

Geothermal Design Guide

Here's another site that offers GHP equipment and consulting help. They sell ECONAR heat pumps, which I like a little better than the TETCO pumps from geothermaldiy:

RadiantMax

Best of luck with the install!!

Jon


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By Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 9/26/2008


That is really expensive! I can understand why you are considering doing it yourself. Typical cost for geothermal here in Michigan for a 2,000 sq. ft. house would be approx. $16,000.

A friend of mine built a 2,700 sq. ft. ranch and had geo put in... his cost was around $25,000 complete w/dual electric water heaters. He had other estimates that were lower, but since his neighbor used the same company and highly recommended them, he decided to spend the extra money. His unit was WaterFurnace and he had additional zones put in.

My parents converted their house to geo this past winter. Attached is a picture of their field. The contractor uses 800' of tubing per ton and he loops the tubing to not only be able to get more tubing in a smaller space, but to slow down the fluid in the tubing the get the most energy from the ground. He claims this makes the system a lot more efficient.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 9/26/2008


Jon, I purchased my geothermal supplies from Ingram's Water and Air. They have a site online and I spoke with them many times over the phone to decide what materials I would need. I am familiar with the sites you mentioned also. I am using a 6-ton GeoComfort heat pump with six 600-foot loops that will connect to a custom-built manifold. The manifold will then go into a two-pump flow center and then that will attach to the heat pump. Because of the flow center, I will be able to use compression fittings rather than have to fuse-weld the geo lines. The flow center also purges air out of the lines. I will take a lot of photos and try and post info over the next few weeks.
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 9/26/2008


Jere, the $80K - $125K also did include running the radiant tubing throughout the home also. I plan on doing that myself as well. I bought my radiant and PEX plumbing supplies online from MountainView Supply. My home is 5,250 s.f. and I will have four zones. I am using 600 ft per ton and am also using the slinky-loop design. I do not have any carpeting going in my home -- most of my flooring is concrete and slate. The three bedrooms have hardwood flooring and I have three fireplaces. Are your parents happy with their system? Has it really saved them $$? I think because of the size of my home, I will recoup my investment pretty quickly. I am out in the country and my only options were electric or propane. I have ComEd, which is one of the most expensive electric rates in the country. Propane is just as costly.
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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 10/16/2008


Faye,

   Are you also using the geosource heat pump for air conditioning?  I'm just curious if the unit you're buying has a water-to-air heat exchanger in addition to the water-to-water heat exchanger you'll use for the radiant floor.

Thanks!

Jon   


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 10/18/2008


Jon,

My system has a reverse on it. In the summer -- you reduce the flow and as the water circulates, it picks up the heat from the building and dumps it back to the earth. The way the house is designed and the location/climate does not require a great deal of air conditioning. I currently have two window units and I used them five days in 2007 and 10 days this year. I don't think my system would be great for somewhere with extreme heat, but in my area, I believe it will be sufficient.
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 11/8/2008


Started the geothermal loop install today. I do not recommend doing this on a cold day in November, but it wasn't too terrible. Have four done and two more to go -- then backfill. Here's what it looks like.

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 11/15/2008


This week we did the radiant-tubing installation. We did 4,000 sf, and it took us two days. We had to do quite a bit of clearing out and cleanup, or it would probably have only taken a day. That was with just my husband and I working on it. Today we did the concrete pour. We had three laborers and two finishers. The grout is 2" thick on top of the floor decking. Now all that is left is to install the four manifolds, mixing valves, and pumps. We have hired a friend who is a plumber to take care of that part of the project and our electrician will do the wiring for the geo pump. So far everything has gone pretty smooth (knock on wood).
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 12/3/2008


Been working on the geothermal radiant manifold installs. Have a few more things to do, but I think it will be up and running next week. I took a few photos and thought I'd post them for some feedback. This was a complete DIY kit for both systems, and we had the help of a plumber friend and an electrician friend. We also had a great deal of tech support from our suppliers -- so please take that into account when criticizing! LOL.
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 1/9/2009


I have not looked into this very deeply myself, but am also considering making this a DIY project. We've talked to our excavator about the extra work to be done on his part to prep the site, and nothing about the system looks particularly scary to me to do ourselves. Our architect is designing the system now, and I'll probably be reviewing it next week. Our goal is to have the geothermal handle approximately 85% of the heating needs during the coldest parts of winter, and then let the masonry heater (roughly located in the center of the house) handle the rest when needed.

At the BuildBlock class earlier this week, Colleen met some folks who had done their geothermal system themselves and they said it wasn't very hard, so that's encouraging. The husband was particularly fond of the system--he said that while they'd installed it throughout the house, they had never turned on the basement portion other than as an initial experiment, since it got too hot in the house! Very good to hear...

I am very interested in how this works out for you. It sounds like precisely what we want to do.

Steve

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 1/10/2009


I am in the process of planning to build a VERY tight (ICF or comparable walls and SIP or comparable roof) passive-solar home with an ERV. I will have a basement with a concrete slab, and I'm considering making the first floor (or at least the south half of the first floor) over the basement suspended concrete, thereby making a tornado-safe basement apartment). The second floor and the third-floor attic will have studs, plywood subfloors, and bamboo flooring. The house has a rear southern orientation with a 10' deep x 60' long solarium across the south side of the first and second floors for passive solar gain in the winter. I'm going to use concrete or stone floors for solar mass to help "stabilize" the temperature from morning through night. The ICF walls will be on the exterior and interior of the solarium (which will be opened as a porch to shade the south side in the summer), which will hopefully further help with the solar mass (particularly if I decide to go with All Wall instead of traditional ICF blocks). I should have PLENTY of passive-solar gain for my northeast Alabama environment. I'm thinking supplemental heat will only be needed one or two months a year... if that much???

We can handle the labor ourselves to install the PEX tubing for a radiant-floor system. My big question is how much radiant floor will I REALLY need? My basement is under the whole house, including the 10' wraparound that is all the way around the house. That makes the basement slab roughly 60'x60'. I'm thinking that since heat rises, and I have designed a passive convective pathway for airflow through the house, [pathways on the south side for air to rise and on the north side for air to fall, with south to north and north to south pathways in the (to be) finished attic and the (to be) finished basement] that radiant heating of that giant basement will be more than able to provide the required supplemental heat for the whole house.

I'm just considering also putting PEX in the suspended-concrete first floor for fear that the basement just might not manage and "after the fact" addition of supplemental heat might not be inexpensive and certainly more energy consumptive. Do y'all think putting a radiant floor in the first floor would be overkill? I plan on putting supplemental heater/cooler systems into the ERV return air flow to be able to more precisely thermostat-control temps in the second and attic floors, but I want to limit their operation as much as possible, because electrical heating and cooling is much more expensive! Besides, in the future, I plan to add PV panels and turn this house into a Zero Energy house... Although it is WAAAAAYYYY too large to be a PassivHaus, I'm trying to accomplish comparable thermal stability within the home so that only the smallest amount of supplemental heating and cooling is needed. (Any suggestions on things I can do to help achieve this goal are welcome!)

Note: I will also have a soapstone stove in the second floor master bedroom, and fireplaces in the basement, the breakfast nook on the first floor, and the large master bath on the second floor. If I can be convinced that an open fire box won't cause too much leakage through the flue, then I will use efficient radiant-heat "Rumford-style" fireplaces. If "tightness" concerns override the fireplace-efficiency issues, then I will use a gasketed box with supply air lines into the fireplaces and a blower to distribute heated air, and just lose out on the more-efficient radiant-heat distribution of the Rumford fireplace... 

At any rate, the supplemental heat on the ERVs and the radiant floors are intended to be the primary-heating source, because I don't have the time or the energy to keep a fire burning routinely... Fireplaces will be for EXTREME supplemental needs and for mere ambiance. I'll probably use a pellet-fuel system in the soapstone stove in the MBR, and it will be used relatively frequently over cold nights.

So what are your thoughts? Is it worth AT LEAST spending the money to put the radiant PEX into the suspended-concrete first floor, "just in case?" Or am I just being way too overkill and wasting money if I do? If "zones" never get turned on anyway, then what is the point?

With the passive-solar gain combined with the rising heat from the 3,600-sq-ft radiant basement floor (I'll have adjustable zones so that I can ensure the proper passive convective airflow down into the north side of the basement and across to the south side before rising with the additional help of the passive solar gain), do you think it will be enough heat to circulate and fully warm up the whole house (~8,000 sf conditioned space in the winter including basement, solariums, and attic) without overheating the basement? [Note: I am considering a concrete wall up the north-side foyer and from east to west across the middle of the house to function as thermal mass to help stabilize temps throughout the house.]

Note: The walkout basement will not have any air-conditioning ducts. I might circulate cool water through the radiant floor in the summer as needed. (This also might help pull heat from the house in the summer.) The passive air flow is designed so that the rising warm air on the south side will passively pull cool air up from the basement. The north side of the house can be isolated from the south side (by walls and closing doors) except for the convective airflow loop across the attic and basement. The foyer opens all the way to the attic on the north side and has a stairwell dropping down to the basement that can be left open to complete the passive-airflow loop. Warm air will rise to the attic and "push" the coolest of the warm air back down the foyer and into the basement where it can be passively cooled, and supplementally cooled by cool water in the radiant floor.

Additional cooling will be accomplished by supplemental cooling in the ERV return vents with thermostat controls to better "zone" temperature preferences in each room. 

The ERV will suck air from the bathrooms and return air into bedroom closets (to keep air from becoming stagnant and to buffer fan noise). The kitchen and laundry ventilation will have return air close by to avoid depressurizing these rooms with the high-volume vents required. Jumper ducts will be between all rooms and the central hall and foyer passages to help prevent excessive pressure differentials between rooms. I'll be extra careful to ensure the bathrooms get plenty of make-up air through connecting ducts and vents as needed.

My wife is scared to death of my "out there" experimental design (she never seems to trust that I know what I'm talking about), and thinks we should install a forced-air geothermal heat pump and be done with it. But do I really need forced air and all of the extra ducts that come therewith with how I have designed the house for passive airflow? I think a radiant-floor geothermal system in the basement and PERHAPS in the first floor will be able to control the temperature of the whole house with minor (energy efficient) supplementation from the ERV system. The ERV system can supply make-up air, and should be capable of helping keep the house slightly positive pressurized, right? 

If I don't use forced air, I recognize that the ERV will also need a humidistat and be able to control the humidity throughout the house. I'm not sure if this means I'll need to put ERV vents in the basement as well to control the humidity in the basement??? What I'd really like to see happen is commercialization of the University of Maryland's Liquid Dessicant waterfall that they showcased at the Solar Home competition in DC. I'd place at least one in the basement and another on the first floor to control humidity in the house.

An additional option I am considering is to also tie the radiant-floor system into the planned solar water heaters... The solar water heaters can supply significant heat during the winter days, further reducing the energy consumption of the geothermal heat pump. But in Alabama, I'm going to have a much harder time cooling my house in the summers than heating my house in the winters (particularly, with the excellent passive-solar thermal gain we should achieve with the solariums), so the geothermal heat pump is going to have to be sized for the required cooling loads, and will be overkill for my heating loads anyway... 

Obviously, I've got lots of questions that probably need "professional" answers. I'd love to hear your opinions, but I'd also welcome "pointers" to experts that could prospectively be hired to help me to properly design my system for Alabama's hot, humid climate... When I get closer to building, I am probably going to get advice and referrals from Southface in Georgia... I just want to understand as much as I can myself, BEFORE going to the "experts" so that I can better assist in getting EXACTLY what "I" want and not just what the "experts" already know and like to sell <grin>.

Regards,

Grant


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 1/10/2009


[Grant] - I am in the process of planning to build a VERY tight (ICF or comparable walls and SIP or comparable roof) passive-solar home with an ERV. I will have a basement with a concrete slab, and I'm considering making the first floor (or at least the south half of the first floor) over the basement suspended concrete, thereby making a tornado-safe basement apartment). The second floor and the third-floor attic will have studs, plywood subfloors, and bamboo flooring. The house has a rear southern orientation with a 10' deep x 60' long solarium across the south side of the first and second floors for passive solar gain in the winter. I'm going to use concrete or stone floors for solar mass to help "stabilize" the temperature from morning through night. The ICF walls will be on the exterior and interior of the solarium (which will be opened as a porch to shade the south side in the summer), which will hopefully further help with the solar mass (particularly if I decide to go with All Wall instead of traditional ICF blocks). I should have PLENTY of passive solar gain for my northeast Alabama environment. I'm thinking supplemental heat will only be needed one or two months a year... if that much??

[Steve] - Sounds like a great design; I'll have to take a closer gander at your blog to visualize it better, though. My home will be similar in gross respects (all ICF and SIP, very large rooms running some 24'x60' or so, wood/tile flooring, oversized studs) with radiant heat buried in the flooring. I don't have as much southern exposure as you probably do (deep pine forest) so I elected to minimize exposure to the prevailing wind as much as possible and make the house very "tight", as you say.

[Grant] - We can handle the labor ourselves to install the PEX tubing for a radiant-floor system. My big question is how much radiant floor will I REALLY need? My basement is under the whole house including the 10' wraparound that is all the way around the house. That makes the basement slab roughly 60'x60'. I'm thinking that since heat rises and I have designed a passive convective pathway for airflow through the house [pathways on the south side for air to rise and on the north side for air to fall, with south to north and north to south pathways in the (to be) finished attic and the (to be) finished basement that radiant heating of that giant basement will be more than able to provide the required supplemental heat for the whole house.

[Steve] - We plan to do all of the PEX tubing for the radiant system ourselves as well, and I'm in full approval of your planned approach. Radiant will be based on (I think the architect said) 600-foot-long loops with roughly 6 or 7 zones in total (including an optional system I can switch on/off servicing the garage and the outer apron outside the garage). Apartment will have its own radiant-heat zone so folks there can crank it if they want and not roast me out of the main house! All of the first-floor radiant will be embedded in the concrete above the slab; the second-floor radiant will be run through the INSUL-DECK (I like it better than Lite-Deck) in most spots and installed under the lifted areas with back-mounted reflective "dishes". The computer room at the top of the house will have its own radiant-heat zone, and will be serviced by the spiral staircase that will act as a natural "funnel" for air rising up from the main house.

[Grant] - My wife is scared to death of my "out there" experimental design (she never seems to trust that I know what I'm talking about), and thinks we should install a forced-air geothermal heat pump and be done with it. But do I really need forced air and all of the extra ducts that come therewith with how I have designed the house for passive air flow? I think a radiant-floor geothermal system in the basement and PERHAPS in the first floor will be able to control the temperature of the whole house with minor (energy-efficient) supplementation from the ERV system. The ERV system can supply make-up air, and should be capable of helping keep the house slightly positive pressurized, right?

[Steve] - Heh--I can understand the "scared to death" feelings, but it sounds to me like you've done a ton of research and know your design fairly well. Our architect was similarly pleased that I understood geothermal systems and was very interested in going that route (particularly after he showed me the propane usage estimates!). We'll have no HVAC or forced-air systems at all, supplementing the geothermal instead with a masonry heater that's centrally located in the house to handle additional heating when needed during the colder periods. I have a lot of forest at my disposal.

[Steve] - Thanks for making such a detailed and relevant post, Grant. I'll be following your progress with interest!

Steve

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By Mark in APO, AE on 1/31/2010


Grant - I like many of your ideas. You mentioned something about "opening" the solarium in the summer to help keep the house from getting too hot. How do you plan to do that? I've been thinking about maybe using some of the outdoor venetian blinds. That way the sun doesn't beat on the windows in the summer.
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 1/31/2010


Well, we've been in the house almost a month now with outdoor temps being between 0 degrees and 40 degrees most of the time. We also have two wood-burning fireplaces and one gas fireplace. On some of the REALLY cold days, we used the fireplaces to supplement the heat. I am anxiously awaiting my electric bill and will update you all when I get it.
 

For those of you who don't remember - I  did a DIY install of a geothermal hydronic radiant-heat system. Some of the things I love are no vents to have to work furniture placement around. No drafts and cold spots. Much less dust and cleaner air in my home. Warm floors when I step out of the shower!

While all of these things are wonderful, the main goal was to save on our utility bills. The home is a single-story 6,000 sf home with an indoor swimming pool. It is primarily electric, with propane for the kitchen range and one fireplace only. If I can keep my electric bill under $550 a month during the winter and $150 during the summer, I will be very happy. So far - so good. I'll get back to you on the bill.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2010


Under $550/month!?!?! Wow, my electric this month was $112. Granted, I use natural-gas heat, but for that I was still under $100 this month (1,300+ heating degree days). OK, passive solar helps too. I am quite a bit smaller; (4,000 sf in the envelope).

I guess this (and coupled with the post about building costs in CA in another thread) just has me shaking my head this morning. Do you get reduced rates or separate metering for the heat pump?


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/1/2010


That just about fits the estimates I've been seeing in terms of electrical usage.

I've found it extremely hard to get actual electrical usage numbers from the radiant-heat folks, mostly because I think they look terrible. At my local plumber shop (they're helping me with the radiant-heat installation), they have a reference that showed that a typical 5-ton ground-source heat pump would need roughly 8kW/hour.

Yes, that's per hour.

Another source on the Web from (I think) a British green site said that one ton == 1kW/hour... similar to the first number, probably more indicative of different brands and whatnot.

I love ground-source heat pumps, but for an off-grid home such as mine, (run entirely on solar PV unless there's a problem) they're just not practical--they use way too much power in most circumstances. It's a pity that the technology is so immature that it takes such a huge chunk of electricity to work, since they would be perfect for off-grid homes if their power requirements were more reasonable.

Are there off-grid homes that have heat pumps? Sure, probably--but I'll wager not many.

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/1/2010


Yeah, heat pumps use a lot of power--that's one reason why it's so hard to find those numbers.

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/1/2010


Well, I live in Illinois on a wooded 10-acre lot. We do not have access to natural gas, so our only options are electric and propane, and propane is NOT cheap. We have Commonwealth Edison, and they have some of the highest electric rates in the country.
 

My home is far from the "typical " 4,000 sf home. My home has the following electrical appliances, etc.:

Indoor heated swimming pool - heated by a tankless pool heater
80-gallon water heater 
sauna
convection oven
2 dishwashers 
2 commercial freezers
2 refrigerators 
warming drawer
2 sets of washers and dryers
Various TV's, DVD players, TiVos and stereos
9  hard-wired fire alarms
9 ceiling fans
built-in Gaggenau deep fryer 
48" 1,200-cfm range hood

Actually, my electrician was just here the other day checking the heat pump (it had a loose wire) and it drew 25 amps on start-up, and after it began running, only used 5 amps. It is a 6-ton unit. I had electric baseboard heat at my last (2,000 sf) house and it was $500 a month in the months of January and February. When you consider my bill will be around $125-$160 in the warmer months, $500 per month with no gas bill is just fine. Solar is not even an option for me. I sold several homes (as a Realtor) that were built in the 70's with solar systems that were installed and only used for a couple of years, because they did not work very well in our climate, and the owners felt they had been a huge waste of money. So solar is kind of a running joke in Illinois.

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/1/2010


Howdy Faye:


Yep, nice house you've got there! I like the swimming pool touch; I've always kinda wanted one, but realize that I really don't have the slightest idea what I'd really do with one, per se... so it's not going into the new house.

I'm surprised solar's not popular up there in Illinois. Out here in Colorado it's been a big price discriminator, as off-grid or partially grid-tied homes (probably 90% with solar PV) are extremely sought after. I've never heard of a system breaking down, though unfortunately there are a couple of wind turbines (which weren't properly maintained, I suspect) in the region that didn't last long.

Up until about three weeks ago, I was planning on a ground-source heat-pump system for the new house, until I started to put together some power-utilization numbers. I think they're fantastic, but either their power requirements have to come down, or off-grid production has to get better.

Given the numbers you outlined, I'd guess $500/month is about right for what you're using.


Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/1/2010


Actually, Steven, I just opened my electric bill for the past month. I used 3,027 kWh and my bill was $316.53. Solar is not popular, because your ROI is horrible. After the initial craze in the 70's, people figured that out. There is simply not enough sunlight to amount to any significant savings. That's why I have an indoor pool. My neighbor spent $40K building an outdoor pool and was only able to use it for 10 days in June because of rainstorms, etc. She had a natural-gas pool heater, and her gas bills in the summer went up $200 per month. Because of health limitations, swimming is the only exercise I am allowed to do, and we do not have any indoor pools within a 30-mile radius. Besides, the kids and grandkids love it.
 

Considering I have no gas bill and no water bill (private well), I am very happy with $320 for electric in January. Given the size and features of my house - I would say 3,027 kWh is amazing.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/2/2010


Real data vs. estimate is nice (especially as $316 vs. $550 for one month is a substantial difference). Basic division would show you are at $.1046/kWh; although some of this will be broken into customer charge, license fees, sales tax, graduated pricing, etc. (Sidebar: I pay $.1015/kWh not accounting for these other fees, so while not an apples-to-apples comparison, we aren’t paying very different electric rates). Now then, I also compared climate data from my regional airport to Chicago Midway (MDW), and for this same month, we are within one heating-degree day (1,373 vs. 1,374) – I will call that a wash climate-wise.

 

Back to comparison's sake, I converted my gas usage to therms, then to BTUs, and then to kWh using electric resistance heat strips (100% efficient, yet very expensive to operate, and if I had air-source heat pumps, I would be on back-up resistance power). Because this is a back of envelope calculation that took a minimum amount of time and made a lot of assumptions, I won’t share numbers so much as conclusions:

1)     Natural gas is cheap, if you have this option. Finding a better ROI on anything else if this is available is an uphill battle.

2)     Geothermal capital cost is expen$ive. Your contractor-bid price at $80K equates to $430 principal and interest on a 30-year mortgage at 5%. Now if this capital cost puts you into a jumbo loan, the cost is obviously much greater. Granted, some of this bid was for in-floor radiant, but you don’t indicate how much. $430/month buys A LOT of electricity, and a boatload of BTUs of natural gas. OK, you have to have HVAC, and you really should include only the delta between your base unit and geothermal, so I agree that $430 is an inflated monthly cost.

3)     Now then, your DIY price of $23K (materials plus trenching) equates to $124/month PI on that same loan – I daresay you saved double that and then some this month on your electric bill ;-). Granted you need to have a year of data and not just one month, but I reckon that works out to a fine investment.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/2/2010


Ken,


I actually had four bids for geothermal that ranged from $40K to $80K. The $40K did not include the tubing install, but that was the easiest part of the whole DIY project. I also had bids for a traditional gas forced-air system. That system was going to cost $21K. I wasn't trying to predict what my bill would be - I just meant that anything under $550 on a home this size with these features would be acceptable to me. I have a friend who built a home three yrs. ago and it has a gas forced-air system supplied with propane. It is a two-story home, approx. 3,000 sf. Last year he filled his tank in October at a cost of $3,500. All of that fuel was gone by the end of February. 

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/2/2010


I love the fact that you're sharing some actual data. Faye; thank you!

I don't quite understand what you're saying about your electric, though... is the 3,027 kWh the total bill or a separate line item for the heat pump? Either way, that's a far better number than anything I'm seeing in the references - what model heat pump do you have?

I think you may have misunderstood me--I think ground-source heat pumps are awesome, and wish I could install one. I just don't see how I can drive it with a PV array, if the numbers others have given me are accurate. If YOUR numbers are more representative, however (~3 kWh/month?) then that's worth another rethink, to be sure!

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/2/2010


Yes, the 3,027 kWh is the total bill for everything electric in my home. I do have a gas range and a gas fireplace. I have a 6-ton water-to-water Serenity Series GeoComfort heat pump.

I put my loops 7' in the ground, because I have seen several Illinois winters where the frost went 6' deep. I have 3,600' of ground loop. It is a closed-loop system. I have 6 zones, and installed 4,500' of PEX tubing on top of my subfloor, and then poured 2" of concrete on top of that. I have no carpeting in my home. I also used enough blown-in insulation in my attic to give me R-40 value.

A great deal depends on your floor coverings when working with radiant floor heat. I am anxious to see how well the system will cool my home this summer. Last summer, the house stayed pretty cool without any air conditioning, except for one week it was in the 90's. Even then, the house only got to the high 70's. I am sure it will cool the house, but I am concerned about condensation - so we will see how it goes.
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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 2/3/2010


We recently got a geothermal bid for $65,000. Ugh. NOT going to happen. On top of that figure was the radiant heating at $32,000 (4,000 SF). We are going with radiant heating with a 95% efficient boiler with propane. The house will have SIP walls and roof, so it will be extremely tight. Geothermal was totally out of our price range here in the California Sierras.
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/3/2010


Pat,


When you say radiant heating - are you talking about the PEX tubing and the manifolds? I can't believe that someone would bid $32,000 for a 4,000-sf house. I bought modular manifold systems, and put each of my manifolds together in an hour and a half. My husband and I installed 4,500 lf of PEX tubing and our manifolds in roughly 4-5 days. We were also doing PEX plumbing; that is why I'm not sure if it was 4 or 5 days. It is just shocking to me that subs would even have the nerve to turn in a bid like that - but then, I'm constantly surprised.
 
If you have the time and energy - you may want to consider doing the PEX layout yourself. It was probably the easiest job of the whole build for us. I'll post some photos of the PEX.

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By Mary in PA on 2/3/2010


Faye,

In your DIY, after you laid (in-floor) or ran (plumbing) PEX, what happened then? I mean, did a plumber come out and hook it up? How about the big-ticket items like the boiler... how did you acquire it? Did you buy it yourself or from the plumber? I'm not sure where the line is between DIY and getting a professional. And I've read on some other sites where professionals post that they do NOT want to come out and do hook-ups (like to a boiler) where a DIY'er did part of the job (and they listed their various reasons for this, which I won't list here).
Thanks,

Mary


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/3/2010


Mary,


I do not have a boiler - I have a geothermal heat pump. I purchased all my PEX tubing, manifolds, etc. from Mountainview Supply. I purchased my heat pump, QT flow center, ground loops and master manifold from Ingram's Water and Air. My husband and I installed everything ourselves. PEX tubing is run and the the lines go to a manifold - then the boiler or heat pump is hooked up to the manifold. The boiler hookup has very little to do with laying the PEX tubing. I know tradespeople who like to work and feed their families, so if I call them and ask them to come out and work for me - they will. Mostly because they know I will pay them. Those (the ones you are describing) are also the same contractors who are charging $32K to do two days' worth of work with $1,800 worth of materials.

I am not advocating that everybody should run out and do a complete DIY geothermal install - most couldn't. It takes a great deal of time and energy to learn everything and then to do the install. On the other hand - laying PEX tubing is pretty simple, straightforward and not very labor-intensive. Now that my house is done - I may start up a PEX-laying business! Apparently there's a huge markup in that line of work! LOL

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By Mary in PA on 2/7/2010


Faye, thanks for the valuable input. It's great to hear that a person does not need to be a plumber, HVAC installer or somehow 'in the industry' to purchase the parts for a DIY install. I was hearing that some brand-name appliances may only be sold through exclusive dealers who also require the customer to buy the installation, and I was concerned that even if we have the learning ability, time and attention to detail to do the install, we might not be able to get the major items. Your listing of your sources is very helpful!

I agree with you that it is up to each person to decide what is a DIY and what is not, based on their past experience, knowledge and skills, ability to learn and apply new skills and the time they have available to dedicate to doing a proper job.


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/7/2010


Let me add my total agreement with Faye regarding the PEX radiant-tubing layout. This is a DEAD SIMPLE thing to do, with the most complicated piece being the manifold hookup and pressure-test part. You'll spend way more time talking/arguing about how to optimize the loop layouts than you will actually putting them down. The money you'll save will be substantial.

The neat thing is that you can even be a bit sloppy, since when all is said and done it's the slab that's heating the area, not the tubes you're putting in. You won't have "dead zones" because you're heating the mass of the concrete, which in turn radiates its heat into the rooms on that floor. There's some certain minimal spacing for tubing to reflect how much concrete a single loop can heat, but even if you utterly mess things up and just throw stuff down, you're likely to be "good enough". I found this out after spending a lot of time being very precise and detailed with my layout--and yes I'll probably still do the next floor the same way anyway, but it's good to know I've got margin for error.

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Mary in PA on 2/7/2010


Jon, thanks for the tip on the book. Thanks for all the great resources!

Mary


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/7/2010


Steven,


My husband also found a small adjustable swivel stool with a padded seat and tray (for clips) on casters for $25. That $25 item sped up the whole process SOOO much, and saved our knees! You are right, it does take some thought regarding where to put your manifolds, etc. However, just installing the loops is what all the subs say costs so much. They claim it is extremely time-consuming and their labor costs are high. We also were not fanatical about our tube layout, but did put them closer together in areas like our bathrooms and farther apart in our walk-in closets. 

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/7/2010


Howdy Faye:

It's funny you mention that! I did actually consider getting a stool such as you suggest, but we quickly realized it wouldn't help us much.

The PEX we just installed was on top of Lite-Deck, basically an ICF that goes horizontally so you can form the floors out of concrete. It  has very deep channels (which rebar goes into), and on top of the whole thing we had wire mesh laid out to help the concrete share any thermal contraction/expansion. All of this made it impossible to roll something like a stool around, I'm afraid.

I used 8" spacing throughout for the tubing. My PEX supplier said he figured 1' would be good, whereas my builder put in 1' spacing in his place and thought it worked so well that I could be fine with 2' spacing instead.  However, since I'm high up in the mountains, and this is my primary source of heat, I went with the tighter spacing. Didn't cost much extra in terms of tubing costs, but it probably would have been a LOT more expensive to hire subs to do.


Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/11/2010


Doh!

Seeing Faye's notes on prices just made me realize--I didn't post my own costs!

As of this writing, we've only installed in-floor radiant on the top floor of Tanglewood (the house we're building), approximately 2,400 square feet. I used two manifolds, one a "simple" copper one with basic flow control and the other an "advanced" model (from Icma), which has temperature and flow controls for each zone. The first manifold is running 6 zones and the second is running 7.

Total cost front to back, including a Harbor Freight air compressor to air the system up for test, was $3,938. I ended up with one 300' roll of PEX I didn't use on that floor (miscounted), so if you deduct that, it was more like $3800. 

The first floor will be more complex--more square footage (roughly 5,000), probably two of the more sophisticated (and expensive) manifolds, and a snow-melt system that will go under the apron outside the garage. If I have the same price/foot as I did with the second floor, it should run just under $8,000. That strikes me as high, though--I think it'll more likely come in at around $6,500. That would put the total tubing and manifold cost at between $10K and $12K or so... FAR better than the estimate I got from one plumber of around $50K.

If at all possible--put in your radiant heat yourself!

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Mark in APO, AE on 8/13/2013


Steve -

Now that you've been using your system for a while, how is it working out for you? What would you have done differently? 


Mark

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