Why Am I Doing This?
The Short Answer - I want to save money, help the environment and have a project/hobby that I could work on at home.
The longer answer is….. a few years ago, I began to look at the solar power as way to reduce our energy bills. My propane bill was going up (same usage), our local electric utility went up a smidge and we endured a few “longish” power outages. (Looking back over 4 years, my propane bill went up 40%!.) I thought solar would be a way to pay one more time for power and be done with it forever. No more bills, power outages and wasted refrigerator items.
As I looked down the road to retirement, it occurred to me that my current (2007) energy bill of $4,400, would probably double by the time I retired. (I live in a 2,100 sq/ft home.) Taking an estimate of $8,800 annually for energy costs at retirement, ten years of energy cost into retirement would be tough to deal with.
Perhaps this amount is too much or not enough for you, this is merely a guess as to what could be. I felt that trying to compensate for this bill by saving more for retirement would have too much of a negative impact on my budget. So, I started looking for ways to deal with this issue. I started with solar first. It seemed simple and it would be able to do everything we needed it to do. Just purchase a bunch of panels and no more electrical bills. Move to electric heating and a nice generator (for rainy days) and all is well.
Unfortunately, part of the solar calculation is Peak Kilowatt Hours or what your peak energy demands are. From there you size the system to meet your peak needs. Along the way you increase capacity to compensate for winter (less hours of sun) and lost efficiencies. Meeting our peak needs would have costs us about $35,000 upfront. (2006 costs) This was far too expensive.
The solar folks know that it is important to weather proof as much as possible, buy different appliances, and make some lifestyle changes in order to reduce the cost of a system. This is wise; but, not workable for my family.
Again, it would be a budget issue or a lifestyle problem that we faced. As of July of 2007, solar was really ramping up to the point where there were world wide shortages of photovoltaic panels and prices increases. Various countries have committed to utilizing this power and manufacturing facilities just did not see this type of demand coming. It will be well into 2009 before enough manufacturing comes online to meet demand and reduce prices. Also, there are some exciting new technologies that promise to increase the overall conversion efficiency by two fold. Solar is coming down in pricing; but, it is still very expensive.
What I was really trying to do with solar was to never pay another utility bill again. Since solar was not working out financially, I took a harder look at our energy bill and broke it down into a few categories to see what I was really dealing with. I realized that our heating bill was roughly $2,200 annually (propane and going up very quickly) and our summer cooling bill was over $1,000, thus our heating and cooling alone were about 75% of our energy needs. I felt that if I could find a cost effective way to take care of heating and cooling, then I might be able to go back to solar.
In searching through the Internet, I stumbled upon Geothermal. Geothermal, “seemed” simple and cheap. (It is neither.) I jumped at wanting to get a geo system until I started getting bids that were north of $25,000. $25,000 is still too expensive plop down for 75% of our energy needs. Yes, it “seemed” to pay for itself over time (Nine year ROI); but, it really didn’t financially do everything I hoped it would do. It was cheaper than solar; but, not that much cheaper. So, this was very depressing. I thought I would be stuck paying utility companies forever.
As I was surfing around, I found a gentleman who said he did his geo system by himself AND did it for under $7,000! (That was in the later 90’s.) $7,000 is definitely budgetable and has a very nice ROI considering a current $3,200 a year heating and cooling bill. So, I decided to try doing this on my own.
An interesting note is that a 1998 study by the EPA indicates that for every $1 reduction in energy cost, the value of the home rises by $20. It would be nice if they would update this study a bit in light of current energy costs and the sub-prime market melt down. This is in 1998 dollars AND since the stock market is going nuts due to the sub-prime meltdown, I have no idea of what this means. Note: In February 2009 and in December 2009 (don't ask), I had my home appraised. The appraisers gave NO added value to the house due to the Geo system. A realtor visit in December of 2016 stated that its not a significant value add.
This began quite a while of searching and talking to folks about geo in order to get to a point where I felt comfortable doing this myself. Thus, I began my own geo project. The only thing that I can offer to you is… ask a LOT of questions and know that if you do this, you will still miss something… Hopefully, it will not be big.