Norma and Phil Duerksen were both at work the day a drilling rig bored three 200-feet-deep holes in their backyard, so they don’t know whether their Roosevelt St. neighbors in Marion were ogling and speculating about what was going on.
They do know their natural gas bill this winter will be much lower than last. Boring the holes was the first step to installing a geothermal heating and cooling system for their house that, except in extreme cold, will eliminate the use of a gas furnace.
“It sounds crazy with the gas prices as low as they’ve been, but we’ve always been interested in using less fossil fuels,” said Norma, pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Hillsboro. “When we have a whole heating and cooling system for free underground, we might as well use conservation methods to be good stewards of the earth.”
Phil, a science teacher at Centre High School, agreed.
“Our use of fossil fuels in our country and world is leading to a change in the atmosphere,” he said. “That’s a concern for many of us. For some it’s controversial, but from what I understand in the scientific community, it’s not controversial.”
The Duerksens aren’t strangers to alternative ways to heat their home.
“Back in the early 1980s, we had used solar on a house we had in Goessel,” Phil said. “It was an active system where the sun shone on the panels on the roof and warmed the air, and it came down into the house. It also warmed our water.”
Geothermal heating and cooling systems take advantage of the constant temperature of ground, in the low 50-degree range, a few feet below the surface.
Large pipes placed in the holes connect to a heat exchanger inside the house, forming a continuous closed loop filled with water, which transfers heat.
“We transfer the heat in the summer time to the ground, and the cold in the winter time to the ground via ground exchange,” Merle Flaming of Flaming’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning said. “In that particular one, we’re putting in a split system that uses a gas furnace for emergency heat.”
Norma said she consulted her brother, who installed a geothermal system at his farm last year. She said he had “only positive things” to say about it.
Flaming said it’s difficult to pinpoint how much a homeowner would save by converting to geothermal because of varying factors in the type of installation, house construction, and usage.
While users could see a small increase from electricity used to power the system, eliminating propane or natural gas could potentially save “thousands of dollars” over the life of the system, he said.
One three-bedroom, one-bath house in the country using a geothermal system Flaming installed averages $63 a month for heating and cooling, he said.
Flaming has installed systems throughout central Kansas, including recent installations in Lincolnville and the Flint Hills.
“It has been a business changer for us,” he said. “It’s kept us busy at times there’s not much going on.
A 30-percent tax break for geothermal installations, as well as various utility credits, has helped fuel interest, Flaming said.
The Duerksens are among those who appreciated the savings, but chose geothermal primarily as an alternative to fossil fuels.
“It’s just a small way of making a difference,” Phil said. “Will it? I don’t know. We still drive our cars where we need to go.”
Phil said he also likes the longevity of the system, as the lifespan of geothermal systems means the next family who owns the house will also use less fossil fuels.
The next family also may benefit from solar power. Norma said the couple one day would like to save on electricity by installing solar panels.
“That’s where our interest comes from, trying to figure out how to use alternative sources in this day and age,” Phil said.