June 12:
The facts - we currently have a failing, air-source heat pump. There are two components to an air-source heat pump: the outside compressor and the inside air handler. Our house is 19 years old. The compressor was replaced ten years ago when the system was 9 years old for about $3500. The air handler is original, and has been leaking and making a terrible racket for several years. We've spent over $1500 in the last five years trying to keep the air handler limping along until the compressor failed. At 10-years-old, the compressor is now failing.

The primary reason for doing this diary is because when I was researching geothermal heat pumps, I couldn't find any information as to what to expect during the whole process - from start to finish. I was warned that getting a geothermal was messy, very messy. I thought I was prepared.

Hopefully, when others decide to go green, after reading this diary, they'll understand this whole process better, and find it as fascinating as I have.

Month Avg kwh/day Savings
Before After
May 43 29 33%
Jun 57 32 44%
Jul 56 32 43%
Aug 66 33 50%
Sep 53 32 40%
Oct 42 30 29%
Prior to Geothermal - kwh/day
Post-Geothermal - kwh/day

** Links are included to the companies we thought did an especially good job.

This is the air handler of our old, air-source heat pump.  Notice the towels around the bottom. It's been leaking for years. June 12:
Called the HVAC guys to come look at our heat pump. The coils inside the air handler were icing over. Needed 3 lbs R-22 freon. That's not a good sign. Asked for estimates on both an air-source heat pump and a geothermal, ground-source heat pump.

June 12 - June 26:

During this time, we also did as much research as possible on the costs and benefits of both systems. We discovered that the life expectancy of the ground-source was twice that of the air-source. The ground-source heat pump has an EER of 30, while the most efficient & reliable air-source has an SEER of 16. (There are higher rated SEER air-source heat pumps, but the cost savings in energy are minimal over a 16 SEER, and there is a higher failure rate and consequential maintenance cost associated with them.)

As important as the cost factor was in our choice, we also wanted to examine the environmental factor. By choosing to go with a ground-source system, our environmental footprint would be cut in half. With the rising cost of energy and the increased demand for energy, we felt a pressing need to be more responsible in our energy consumption.

Some of our cost crunching included:

  • An online energy audit to estimate our actual electric bill. Compared the two systems with our current electric bills.
  • Air-source estimates: $1017.97/yr projected heating/air-conditioning/hot water
  • Ground-source estimates: $529.89/yr projected heating/air-conditioning/hot water
  • Air-source has a 10-year life expectancy
  • Ground-source has a +20-year life expectancy
  • Ground-source provides 75% of hot water needs free
  • Ground-source has half the environmental foot-print
  • As the cost of electricity climbs, the savings from geothermal would be even more significant
  • Air-source maintenance costs are moderate
  • Ground-source maintenance costs are low
  • Discovered that it would take approximately 7 years for the geothermal system to begin paying for itself. That's +13 years of projected, drastically reduced electric bills! Do your own geoexchange calculations.

June 27:
We decided on Geothermal. Specifically a WaterFurnace Envision Series. We decided to go with Love's Heating & Air, because John Love took the time and effort to really explain every facet of both the traditional and the geothermal heating systems. John's friendly professionalism and his competitive pricing won our respect and our trust.

Started shopping for a home equity loan.

June 30 - July 4:
Received and compared home equity loan info from three different banks. Because we were out-of-town the majority of this week, and because of it being the 4th of July, this was sort of a lost week.

July 7:
Made an appointment with K.E.B. Duct Cleaning for July 22nd to have our ductwork cleaned. We don't want to put in a new system only to have years and years of old dust gumming it up.

July 8:
Met with John Love of Love's Heating & Air, and Buddy Winslow of Winslow Pump and Well in our home to sign a contract for the purchase of our geothermal heat pump system. Buddy made some preliminary estimates of where the wells will be located.

July 9:
Stu from Winslow Pump and Well came by to mark and measure where the three wells for our 3 ton system will be located for the purpose of submitting the plans to the county for permits.

July 10:
Buddy Winslow called to let me know that they had hand-carried our request for permits over to the county. Now we wait for Miss Utility to mark all underground utilities.

Miss Utility had to mark all underground utilities. July 14th:
Miss Utility - The water & sewer, and the cable company were out to mark the lines today.
Signed our home equity loan.

July 15:
Miss Utility - Electric and phone were marked today.
Buddy and Stu came by after all of the utilities were marked to more accurately mark and measure the placement of the wells. Buddy Winslow ... Very knowledgeable, very thorough and very personable.

T The flags mark where the wells will go.  We need three wells.  One for each ton in our 3-ton system. he wells will be straight across our back yard. Each well is 15' from the other.

Now we wait for the permits from the county.

Because of previous plans, we informed Buddy that it would be best for us if installation began after June 28th.

July 21:
Check arrived from bank. Deposited check and contacted Love's Heating & Air to let them know.

Richard used this vacuum/brush machine to clean out our ducts. July 22:
K.E.B. Duct Cleaning came today and cleaned out our ducts. Chris Richards did a wonderful job; another company I'll be recommending.

John Love called to let us know that our equipment is in!

July 29:
The permits are in! Winslow Pump and Well will be here on Thursday to start digging.

July 31:

This is the scene I awoke to this morning ... a caravan of trucks from Winslow Pump and Well. The well-drilling truck had already made it into the backyard. Free advertising for Winslow. They're sWELL folks to work with. Jay is beginning to dig a trench at the site of the first well. I took the screens out of the kitchen window and out of my bedroom window. Instant 'eye in the sky' view of the backyard. Eric just turned on the generator which will pump the water from this truck into the pit in the backyard. This is our house. This is our house surrounded by many large trucks. This is Eric bringing the big hose which will connect the pit to the truck. This is the hose that will suck the water out of the pit and pump it into the holes they're drilling ... Eric and Jay hooking up all of the necessary ingredients to create a really big mess and a whole lot of noise. In the process of doing those two things, they'll also be digging a really deep hole. That's Rob. He's putting pieces of pipe together to start the whole noise and mess process. Let the drilling begin! This is 200' of geothermal tubing that will go down into each well once they're dug. This is a good shot of the river of clay flowing from the well into the pit. Robbie and Jay are nearly done with the first well. The geothermal tubing is sticking out of the first well. One well down, two to go! Begin to dig well #2. We'll have a 3-ton geothermal heat pump, so we'll have three wells - one for each ton. An especially good look at the carnage. We were warned that it would be messy. It is.  My electric bill came yesterday. It was $280. This messy backyard = future electric bills cut in half! Another view of the house with the drill rig at the second well location. Just another picture that shows what a tight squeeze it was. These guys did a great job maneuvering around! Eric and Robbie getting the geothermal tubing ready for the third well. This is the last time this end of the tubing will ever see the light of day. This is the bottom loop that will sit at the bottom of the 200' well. You can't really see what they're doing here, but Rob is duct taping a piece of PVC piping to the geothermal tubing. There is a really long, heavy metal rod that they'll stick into the PVC pipe. That rod will then go into the well, and with it will go the tubing, allllllll the way to the bottom. Then they pull the metal rod back out. That's the long, heavy metal rod lying on top of the dirt behind the guys. Another view of the mess. Mud. Lots of mud. Wonder if I could bottle it and sell it on Ebay as some sort of healthy facial? Yet another view of the house with the drill rig now in position to drill the third well. Nearly done with the third well. Jay measures the distances from the house and between the wells. The wells are supposed to be 15' apart. There are codes as to how close to the house. I guess they're verifying that they've done everything according to the permits. Sucking the yucky water out of the pit and into this truck. They'll haul this water away.
Jay begins backfilling the pit. Even though they sucked out most of the yucky water and the pit looked empty, when Jay tries to fill it in, there seems to still be a lot of liquified clay left. This is a big mixer. Robbie is going to add bags of Quik-Grout. Clean water will pour in from the top left. Water from the top right swirls round and mixes the goo to a delectable slurry. The black hose snaking through the yard and into the 1st well. The grout will fill the hole around the geothermal tubing. The grout is designed to help distribute and absorb the heat from the non-toxic anti-freeze which will eventually be in the geothermal tubing. The Quik-Grout. I thought it was a neat picture. Eric is holding on to the Quik-Grout hose and filling the hole with Quik-Grout.

I awoke to three big trucks in the cul-de-sac, and a very large drilling rig in the back yard. I suppose I should mention now that our house sits on a lot that is about .15 acre.

In addition to the truck with the drilling rig, one of the trucks had all of the equipment, one had a water tank and one towed a trailer with a backhoe.

Jay, Rob, and Eric were the young men who did all of the work. I really was quite impressed with their knowledge of the entire process, and with their expertise in maneuvering around our small yard with so much equipment.

Breaking ground ... Right away Jay began to dig a small trench next to where the first well would go. Connecting to that trench, and and accessible to all of the wells, he dug a very large pit. Water was pumped into this pit for the purpose of pumping it down into the wells as they were being dug. In addition to being a bit of a lubricant for the whole drilling process, the water also facilitates the removal of dirt, rock, clay, etc. up and out of the drilled hole. For the geothermal piping/tubing to have adequate surface area to either absorb or release heat, each of our three wells has to be 200' deep. In a vertical loop, each ton in the geothermal system equals one 200' well. We're getting a three-ton system installed, hence the three wells.

I found the entire drilling process fascinating. There's probably been something on the Discovery Channel showing how it's done, but seeing it happen in your own back yard is definitely more realistic than even HDTV. If you take a look at the photos, I hope they capture a bit of what it looked like. (I'll get the videos online soon.)

Jay, Rob, and Eric finished digging all three of the wells today.

(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
The initial scoops out of the backyard
25 sec
Nifty video of the drilling process
3:08 min
Shorter video of the drilling - clay
18 sec

Drilling the second well
11 sec
Geothermal tubing goes into the well
3:53 min
Mixing up the QuikGrout
1:26 min

August 1:
The guys from Winslow arrived today, but didn't stay long. They scooped some of the clay from the trenches down into the wells, unstuck the well rig and then left.

August 4:


Digging the trenches for the tubing
43 sec

They're back! Jay and Rob started bright and early digging the connecting trench today, but the track on their backhoe went kerfluey. See you tomorrow morning!

Jay is digging the trench that connects all three of the wells together. This is the last photo I took on Monday, because the track came off of the backhoe. They worked trying to fix it, but soon discovered that the needed a new part. See you on Tuesday, guys!

August 5:

They brought a second backhoe today. Rob is extending the trench around the side of the house while Jay clears out the extra dirt and mud around the piping coming out of the well. The pipe has to sit at the bottom of the trench. They removed the back portion of our fence in order to dig the trench. This is a better view of the tubing coming out of the well. Eric is clearing the dirt and debris so that the pipe exits at the bottom of the trench. Rob and Eric begin laying out the geothermal tubing/pipe. Rob is patiently allowing me to take yet one more picture. This is a joint he's just heat fused. This contraption is an iron. It reaches 500 degrees. Rob is pressing two pipe ends over the fittings in the iron. As soon as they've reached the proper temperature, he will pull the two pieces off of the iron and immediately push them together. They will then be permanently fused.
Meanwhile, out front ... having finished digging up what seems to be every square inch of the backyard, Jay is rearranging the front yard. If you look in the window you'll see hangers and Zout. If you've been following along, you'll guess that Jay is in the process of digging right up to the foundation in front of ... the laundry room. A view of the right side of the house. Going around the right side of the house eliminated the need to dig up the driveway. That was a very good thing. The only things disturbed by digging here were lots of roots and several slugs. A view of the front of the house. The side yard trench and the front yard trench meet. Connecting the first well to the second.
Closeup of the heat fused joint (the top one). A good view of how the pipe comes up out of the well and will lay across the bottom of the trench. That's the iron in the upper left. Did I mention it heats up to 500 degrees? Repositioning the 1-1/2 inch geothermal tubing so that it unrolls properly. Pretty good view of the fusing iron in this one, too. Closeup view of the fusing of the T-joint. Kind of complicated-looking. And hot. This wide-angle view of Rob and Eric doing the complicated fusing.
While fusing's going on in the backyard, Jay is drilling holes in my laundry room. There will be two pipes coming into the house. One is the outgoing portion of the loop. One is the incoming. After Jay finished drilling the holes, this is what the foundation looks like from outside. Looks kind of like a piggy nose, I think. They finished heat fusing the tubing from the wells and then ran one continuous piece of tubing around to the front. Now Jay begins the backfilling over the continuous pipe. Before he can finish backfilling over the joints, they'll have to pressure test it. The west to east view of the trench with the geothermal pipes fused and ready to be buried. The east to west view of the trench with the pipes in place. Everything is fused into one gigantic loop. All of it designed to capture and release the heat of the ground.
The trench in the side yard is no more. Eric and Rob are preparing the pipes for pressure testing. There mustn't be any leaks in any of the joints! Notice that the pipe on the right has been capped off. Rob uses a compressor to begin adding air into the pipe. He added 80 psi to the pipe ... he'd almost gotten it there when I took this photo. The pipes maintained the pressure for about 15 minutes with no decrease in pressure. We're good to go! With the pipes sealed, secured and without leaks, Jay starts backfilling the backyard.
Eric is feeding the 1-1/2 inch pipes into the house. Jay is guiding the tubing into the laundry room. Since our basement is at ground level, the pipes will enter the house at near grade level. Because of this, the pipes need to be insulated. Benseal - 'Prevents entry of surface water into borehole, prevents vertical movement of fluids in the hole between porous zones, forms a permanent, flexible downhole seal, allows hole re-entry Jay is applying a waterproof concrete in the holes around the pipes.
Over the waterproof concrete, he adds another layer of protection from water ... the Benseal. It transforms into a clay-like material as soon as water hits it. The fellas are packing up their toys and going home. This is the result of all Winslow Pump and Well's work ... two pipes coming into the base of the outside wall of my laundry room. It is now John Love's, of Love's Heating & Air, turn to continue the process.

They're back ... again ... with another backhoe. Today they dug the trench connecting everything and brought the pipes into the house.

The photos show what the geothermal pipe looks like. How deep the trenches are. What the loop at the bottom of the well looks like. The diameter of the wells. How they insert the pipe down into the well. The grout mixture that backfills the wells once the loop is inserted. The trench connecting the wells to each other and then to the house. I tried to show how they heat-fused the pieces of piping together. What the fused pipe looked like laying in the trench. Pressure testing the pipe for integrity. And finally, the backfilling of my yard.

By looking at all of the photos, you'll get a pretty good idea of what you'll be facing when you decide to go green. When I look at my yard, I cringe right now. However, I know that a year from now I'll never even be able to tell anything was done. I keep reminding myself that this is a process with a beginning and an end. The end will be more than worth any of the inconvenience we're experiencing now in the beginning.

(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
Heat fusing the tubing
1:22 sec
Heat fusing the tubing down in the trench
33 sec
Trenching the front
34 sec

Drilling through the laundry room wall
57 sec
Pressure testing
1:09 min
30 sec

August 5:
Suzanne and Mike from Mike's Works, LLC stopped by this evening. Mike and Suzanne will be the ones returning our now brown yard back to green.

August 6:
John Love called and we scheduled installation of our geothermal WaterFurnace for next Tuesday!

August 12:
John Love, Greg and Mike knocked on my door ready to begin on the next and final phase of our geothermal installation - installing and connecting the geothermal tubing inside, removing the old air-source heat pump, installing a new hot water heater and hot water storage tank, and installing the new WaterFurnace geothermal heat pump.

Before I go any further, I want to thank the entire team at Love's Heating and Air. The installation in my finished laundry room was a tight fit. John measured, figured, re-configured, and went to a LOT of extra effort to make sure that my laundry room remained as functional as it was prior to the installation. All the while maintaining a positive, friendly manner. I really appreciate that. Really.

Today was the configuring exactly the best way to fit everything into the space, hooking up the tubing, mounting the flow center, and filling the tubing with Environal 2000.

Thanks also to the guys for doing the heavy lifting. Before they could begin, Greg & John moved the washer and dryer out. Greg is figuring out how the interior of the wall is configured so he knows where to drill the holes for the pipes. John and Mike are installing the flow center. The geothermal tubing will attach here, and then go into the furnace.
John begins heat fusing the connecting pipes while Greg drills through the wall to run the pipes back behind the washer and dryer. More heat fusing. Nearly done running the pipes into the flow center. It took quite a bit of figuring, a little bit of creative notching, and several connections, but we now have our outside loops connecting to the flow center! Time to fill all of that tubing!  About 50 gallons of Environal 2000, mixed with water, will go into the geothermal tubing. Environal is a non-toxic, corn-based anti-freeze.
This is the contraption that will mix the Environal with water, and will fill the geothermal tubing. John begins filling the loops with Environal. At the same time as it is filling the geothermal tubing, it is circulating the Environal through the tubing and removing any air that may be trapped. I thought this was a nifty picture. Here you can see that the Environal is an attractive blue color. Not that I'll ever see it again once the system install is complete!

AUGUST 12th & 13th VIDEOS
(Double-click to view videos larger on YouTube site)
Drilling to the drywall
8 sec
Heat fusing in the laundry room
29 sec
The new furnace!
36 sec

August 13:
John has a team of five today. Greg and Mike are back, in addition to Lindy the plumber and Brent the electrician.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated with us. The temperatures stayed in the low 80s all day which was excellent, because the air had to be turned off while the old air handler was removed and the new WaterFurnace geothermal heat pump was installed.

Out comes the old air handler of our air-source heat pump. Greg is removing the compressor outside, too. One very nice benefit of the geothermal system is that there is no outside unit. Soon grass will grow where the compressor once stood. A quick look at what the laundry room immediately after the removal of the air handler. This is Lindy removing the old 20 year old hot water heater.
Mike begins cutting down the original return so that it will fit with the new system. Configuring the old duct-work to fit the new system was a fascinating process to watch. The now empty hot water heater closet. Mike starts the process of installing the new junction box. Lindy runs the hot water heater pipes into the laundry room. Brent takes out our old, very basic thermostat. Brent shows us how to use our new, touch-screen, programmable thermostat.
The tank behind is the holding tank. Hot water from the heat pump will be stored in the tank. The tank in front is the hot water heater. Instead of a cold water feed, as hot water is used, water from the storage tank refills the hot water heater. Hence, very little hot water is actually heated in the hot water heater. This is a good shot of how the return has been cut back for the new furnace. The gray pad is what the new furnace will sit on. John also puts a rubber gasket between the pad and the furnace for additional sound-proofing. John had to construct all of the sheet metal pieces to create custom fit between our old configuration and our new furnace. John installs the new piece he just made that will connect the existing return. The white box is the air filter we decided to have included in our system. It's an AprilAire 2200 filter. In the background, the pump continues to circulate the anti-freeze in the pipes. It's been going for hours with the express purpose of removing any air from the system. Here comes the new furnace!!
Lining up the new furnace with the old duct-work. There will be a few adjustments. John will custom-make another piece or several. Installation of the hot water heater and reserve tank is finished. Thanks Lindy! Brent powers up the furnace. Everyone is busy getting the furnace connected ... top to bottom. Notice the cut-away section of duct at the top. It wasn't a perfect fit, and John wanted to make certain we had a perfect fit. John is making a section of ducting to fit the top.
Greg is making all of the final connections. I just love this picture. Somehow Greg squeeeeeezed into this very tight spot in order to tie the pipes all together. Ta! da! John with our completely installed WaterFurnace!! Great job!! It's been an absolute pleasure working with John and his great team of workers. Thanks Greg!!

All of that work for this ... our new furnace!

September 25:
Our first all geo electric bill came in the mail today! Today's electric bill ..... $158!!!! Wahoo!!!Remember the $280 electric bill that arrived before the geothermal install?

October 10:
We waited two months for the ground to settle over the trenches. A few really good soaking rains seemed to get everything all settled in. Time to think about restoring our lawn. Mike Latham of Mike's Works, LLC and his helper, Richard, arrived this morning with a tractor, rakes and some bales of hay. A new yard?!?!

Mike's Works arrives to give us back our yard. Here's Mike's info, just in case you need some yardwork in Southern Maryland. Dragging the bucket to smooth out the bumps. More smoothing. 10 tons of topsoil get delivered. Mike starts scooping up the topsoil.
And spreading it out over the yard. 10 tons of top soil goes a long way. Richard starts raking the topsoil to make a nice smooth surface. Scooping up some more top soil. The last of using the big equipment. Time to get out the rakes.
Raking and raking ... ... and raking and raking.  Lots of raking. Spreading out the grass seed! Sprinkling hay to hold the moisture in the soil. After two months with no yard, our hay yard looks great to us! Now we're off to the hardware store to get a couple extra hoses and sprinklers.

Asked numerous friends and associates for recommendations for other HVAC companies dealing with either traditional or geothermal heat pumps. I didn't want to go through the yellow book and take a chance. I wanted companies that others have dealt with and knew to be reputable. Called the six companies that were recommended most often.