Many homebuilders across the country are differentiating themselves from the competition by offering green communities that feature sustainable products and features. These developments appeal to an increasingly large cohort of environmentally conscious consumers who want to buy homes that conserve natural resources and have a minimal impact on the environment.
For these green neighborhoods, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) often make perfect sense, as they feature significantly lower energy costs, no outdoor equipment, and longer lifespans than other HVAC equipment. In addition, they are an appealing solution in areas of the country where natural gas is not available. And, when the higher cost of a GHP is rolled into the mortgage, it becomes more financially appealing to a new homeowner.
There is a growing demand for green homes and a lighter eco-footprint among consumers, which is why builders are offering more all-geothermal neighborhoods, said Steve Smith, president and CEO, Enertech Global LLC. “Homeowners are willing to make a larger investment on a high-performing home in order to experience the many benefits and long-term savings of highly efficient technologies. And, by building an entire neighborhood of green homes, neighbors are often able to utilize shared technology, such as shared loops for geothermal or shared PV [photovoltaic] systems, which lowers the cost to each individual homeowner.”
Enertech has been involved in three all-geothermal neighborhood projects in recent years:The Roosevelt School Condominiums in Ames, Iowa; David Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee; and Cypress Pointe North in Crystal Harbour, Grand Cayman.
When complete, Cypress Pointe North will include 10 luxury single-family homes, six duplexes, and two apartment buildings. The development will utilize individual vertical bore loops that are properly sized for each residence.
Roosevelt Condominiums, an old, defunct school that was recently repurposed into 20 residential units, uses a shared loop system that provides 40 tons of heat sink in four separate circuits.
The seven new cabins at David Crockett State Park utilize the nearby lake to provide the required 120-ton cooling load through a combination of plate-style and coiled-loop pond heat exchangers. Variable-speed pumps, solenoid and manual ball valves, and hydraulic separators ensure proper water flow at each of the individual units.
As with all applications, said Smith, an accurate Manual J calculation is required to properly size the system and ground-source heat exchanger for each home.
All-geothermal neighborhoods are also nothing new to WaterFurnace Intl. Inc., which has been involved with more than a dozen all-geothermal subdivisions around the country. These projects have included communities that range 6 to 66 homes, with sizes averaging 2,000 to 2,500 square feet. The loops systems may vary, but the majority are individually looped for ease of ownership, said Sean Dillon, director of dealer sales, WaterFurnace.
The neighborhoods are typically constructed in areas where natural gas is not available, so builders are looking for an alternative to fossil fuels, like propane and oil, because those homes are harder to sell, said Amanda Schneck, New York territory manager, WaterFurnace. “Having low energy costs is attractive to homebuyers, so they know what to expect for a total month-to-month homeownership cost.”
With more and more families seeking high-performing homes, the all-geothermal neighborhood trend will continue to grow, said Smith. “Sustainability is here to stay, and a growing majority of homeowners make decisions with that in mind. GHP neighborhoods also present a wonderful opportunity to contractors and manufacturers, as contractors are rewarded with a more satisfied client, higher profits, and increased market share. The manufacturers also realize increased profits and sales volumes, allowing more investment in new product research and development.”
GHP neighborhoods are definitely trending in a positive fashion, with demand from customers remaining high. “ClimateMaster has many projects in the pipeline and others that are in various phases of construction. And, creating a great marketing buzz on green, high-performance, high-efficiency geothermal neighborhoods helps sell available lots very well in many markets.”
The all-geothermal option is not just confined to new neighborhoods, either. According to Schneck, another developing trend is to “geothermal-ize” existing communities. “There is interest in going into neighborhoods that have similarly sized homes and encouraging a switch to geothermal. By doing so, the cost of installation can be driven down, and everyone in the neighborhood benefits.”
With the trend moving in the direction of green neighborhoods, manufacturers believe geothermal awareness and acceptance will continue to grow. That trend will be strengthened through consumer preferences for sustainable homes, unstable energy prices, and a pickup in the housing market, all of which point to a strong future for geothermal.