Heating a home from the ground up

Arch and Bonnie Archuleta look to the earth to heat their 9,000-square-foot home on Orchard Mesa, but they burn nothing and rely on a minimal amount of electricity.

The geothermal system that operates out of a section of their basement fits into a space about the size of a bedroom, runs silently and costs them about $300 per month in electricity bills in cool weather.

To apply the same principle to a smaller house, such as 3,000 square feet, the cost would run about $100 month, said Arch Archuleta, an engineer and fan of the system that keeps his house “toasty” in the winter and cool in the summer, with no floor or ceiling registers. In fact, no air blows through the house.

Pumps in the heating room circulate water in a closed system that reaches 200 feet below their home, where the temperature is a constant 55 degrees.

Water heaters in the house need only boost the temperature of the water from below by 15 degrees before the pumps send it coursing through pipes embedded in the floors, imperceptibly heating the entire building.

In the summer, the Archuletas use the same system to heat their outdoor pool.

Their energy bill, which was $303.49 for November, covers the Archuletas’ entire energy menu, including gas for cooking and all their electricity use, from the pumps that work the system to the microwaves to the computers in both their offices.

“And we have a lot of lights,” Arch Archuleta said.

There’s a lot of room in the Grand Valley and elsewhere for geothermal systems to heat not just buildings, but entire neighborhoods, maybe even cities, he said.

While his system is a vertical one, with 13 bores down into shale 200 feet below, similar systems can be laid out horizontally and be just as effective, Archuleta said.

Geothermal systems that operate on the same principle as Archuleta’s vertical one also can be laid out horizontally beneath buildings, said Terry Sweetin, service manager at Keenan’s Plumbing in Montrose.

A horizontal system for a 2,000-square-foot house in Grand Junction or Montrose would require trenches about six feet beneath the surface and would cost about $22,000, Sweetin said.

A vertical system would run about the same cost.

Such systems can operate just about anywhere, Sweetin said. He recently installed one at Lake City and on that one, “I had to go eight feet deep. It depends on the frost level.”

Similarly he recently installed a system that runs pipe into a pond about 20 feet below the surface, Sweetin said, “And it works fine.”

While the installation cost is admittedly expensive, Archuleta expects to see his original investment in geothermal paid off after about seven years, he said.

“It’s a great system,” Archuleta said. “This is probably the best thing I did with the house.  too bad it isn’t sold more.”


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