Will net-zero homes be the future in New England?
By Sam Ueda
Geothermal heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are increasingly becoming mainstream for new houses. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, net-zero homes are becoming more common, as are geothermal systems. Two New Hampshire businesses, ReVision Energy of Exeter and Ultra Geothermal of Barrington, are working together to do just that.
While it is true that a geothermal HVAC system is an investment, it increases the value of a home, and the eventual savings more than make up for the investment. It’s not widely known that current HVAC systems do not have to be entirely replaced. Hybrid systems can be developed. Ultra Geothermal can install a partial geothermal system alongside a compatible furnace. If your furnace is not a newer model, such as forced hot water baseboard, Ultra Geothermal can come up with a plan to integrate ducting into the home. And when it is finished, you also end up with central AC.
Ultra Geothermal owner Melissa Aho says, “In addition to installing our geothermal systems, we have, in a way, become a green consulting company for people.”
One major idea keeping people from buying geothermal systems is the cost of electricity. This concern can be answered. Monthly bills can be reduced by installing solar panels to produce the power needed.
ReVision Energy is one of New England’s foremost residential and commercial solar installers. They collaborate with Ultra Geothermal to install solar systems that support geothermal heating, giving homeowners incredible energy self-reliance and in some cases taking them off the grid entirely. Two local renewable energy leaders combining solar energy with geothermal is like a marriage of the power of the sun and the earth’s natural embodied heat energy.
“Solar goes hand in hand with geothermal energy,” said Heather Fournier of ReVision Energy. “Similar to geothermal energy, installing a solar panel is like having your own electric generator — you’re basically pre-buying your electricity for the next 20 to 25 years.”
For those who don’t feel that they can afford a geothermal HVAC system, Aho says there are plenty of options. Geothermal systems are appraised and installed based on a house’s “load,” which depends on several factors, including the house’s size and heat loss. Ultra’s geothermal systems can run parallel to an existing HVAC system, relying on the original system as necessary.
Aho says that demand for energy varies widely among buildings. “It’s not just the size of the home, it’s the heat loss, what windows are facing the sun, and several other factors. A geothermal system can absolutely do 100% of your load; however you just have to build it to scale and build it intelligently.”
Geothermal systems employ the earth’s internal heat for heating and cooling homes, and for hot water. A series of pipes are placed underground on the property. If installed properly using the “closed loop” system, a full geothermal system can power a home’s heat vents and central air system, eliminating the need to burn fossil fuels. And when combined with solar panels, geothermal can bring a properly insulated house to zero emissions. That means zero utility bills and full energy independence.
If Ultra Geothermal and ReVision Energy keep up the breakneck pace of their installations, net-zero emissions could very well become commonplace in New England. In 2013 alone, ReVision installed more than 160 solar systems in New Hampshire. Ultra installed nearly 70 geothermal systems last year, and over 700 in the past decade. Some of these homes are completely net-zero.
Aside from installing geothermal and solar systems into peoples’ homes, Ultra Geothermal and ReVision Energy also host educational sessions for interested people. Their emphasis is not so much about selling their product as about educating the public on the science and benefits behind these alternative methods of power and heat generation.
“Education is where I always want to set my goals,” said Aho. “We want everyone to have a higher awareness of his or her options, and to keep expanding the discussion about sustainable homes.”
ReVision Energy and Ultra Geothermal are both members of the Green Alliance. Find out more about the Green Alliance at www.greenalliance.biz.
Sam Ueda is a Green Alliance Staff Writer.
Kimry Corrette of ReVision Energy and Melissa Aho of Ultra Geothermal will give a presentation on how solar and geothermal systems can be added to new and existing homes on May 10th at Squam Lakes Science Center in Holderness, N.H. More information about this event can be found at http://www.nhnature.org/.