The hardwood floors, abundant light and meticulously crafted built-ins are what you notice first when walking into the Glastonbury home of Paul and Denise Reddington. But it’s what’s in the basement — and hidden under the lawn and inside the foundation — that Paul can’t wait to talk about.
Paul, a retired Pratt & Whitney mechanical engineer, designed the energy-saving features of the house, custom built for the couple in 2007. So after a cursory tour of the main floor, he heads down a flight of stairs to show off the feature that makes him the most proud.
In a storage room in the finished basement sits a WaterFurnace Envision dual-capacity geothermal heat pump, the heart of the system that heats and cools the 3,200-square-foot house. Tentacle-like hoses extend up from the box-shaped pump, wind around the upper edge of two walls, to a cluster of pipes leading out of the foundation.
Beyond that, hidden from view, are loops of polyethylene pipe stretching 300 feet into the ground in two vertical wells. The pipes are filled with water that, because the temperature range of the ground at that depth is 48 to 52 degrees, stays warm year-round. Depending on the season, the heat pump transfers the heat energy into or out of the house to keep it warm or cool.
Together with other features, including photovoltaic panels on the roof, the system is delivering lower-than-predicted energy costs, says Reddington. In 2012, the couple spent a total of $1600 on energy. Their electric bill for the months of May, June and August was $16 per month, the basic monthly distribution charge, he said.
That kind of savings, along with the tax credits and rebates available toward the purchase of equipment, is making geothermal an increasingly attractive option for homeowners. While upfront costs are admittedly steeper — about 30 percent to 40 percent more than gas and oil — that expense is recouped within three to seven years because of the lower energy costs associated with running a geothermal system, according to industry and government estimates.
“I thought it was a good thing in 2007,” he said of the decision, “and with today’s energy prices, I think it’s an even better thing to do.”
Geothermal is a niche market compared to oil and gas — less than 2 percent of residential and commercial buildings in the United States — but heat-pump sales have been rising since the 1980s, according to Geothermal Exchange Organization, a nonprofit education and advocacy group for the geothermal heat pump industry. Demand is strongest in the West and Midwest, where the four major heat-pump manufacturers are based, said GEO spokesman Ted Clutter, but geothermal projects are popping up across the country and include the Juno, Alaska, airport, an IKEA store in Centralia, Kan., and the retail pavilion at the Statue of Liberty.
In Connecticut, geothermal accounts for about 7 percent to 10 percent of all heating and cooling system installations, most of which are residential.
Since January 1, 2009, homeowners installing geothermal systems have been eligible for a one-time federal tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost of qualifying equipment. Systems installed before that are eligible for the same tax credit up to $2,000.
In Connecticut, rebates of up to $1500 also are available through Energize Connecticut, a smart energy initiative funded through a charge on utility bills. The incentive is part of an overall energy audit and applies to a variety of energy-saving equipment installations, including natural gas systems and tankless hot water heaters. That alone is not likely to sway homeowners, said Al Lara, a spokesman for Northeast Utilities, but when combined with the tax credit and energy savings over the life of the system, it’s a persuasive package.