Dave Mellen keeps his thermostat at 74 degrees, even with soaring natural gas prices and frigid cold spells. “Why not? It’s free heat,” said Mellen, who put a geothermal system in his 3,600-square-foot Morton home.
(Condensed from the Journal Star, Peoria, Feb 13) Dave Mellen keeps his thermostat at 74 degrees, even with soaring natural gas prices and frigid cold spells. “Why not? It’s free heat,” said Mellen, who put a geothermal system in his 3,600-square-foot Morton home. “Geothermal is outstanding. Since I put my system in 1 1/2 years ago, three other houses in my subdivision have gone to geothermal.” The Tri-County Area is slowly catching up with Quincy in terms of geothermal installations, which tap into the earth for heating and cooling. Quincy is considered one of the hottest areas in the country for geothermal systems and has several subdivisions that require them. Mellen said, “Forced hot air systems usually blow like mad with spikes and chills in temperature in the house. My system stays within one degree of the setting. It’s a step up in comfort from any other system.” While many homeowners were looking at utility bills of $600 to $800 in January, Mellen received a bill including all heat and electric of $172. “A smaller house than mine would have been $90, and that includes the total utility bill,” he said. Mellen figures heating his large home during one of the coldest winter months on record was just under $100. His base utility bill was $81.55 for October without heat or air- conditioning. That included all appliances and lighting except a gas clothes dryer. Mellen’s pleasure with his geothermal system is shared by Doug Ruff, who built a home in Washington that also taps into the earth for heating and cooling. Ruff came to central Illinois from Quincy, where he was familiar with geothermal systems. His average monthly utility bills were $113 the past year. “That’s with two 40-gallon hot water heaters. We have a big hot tub,” Ruff said. “A byproduct of geothermal is free hot water.” Ted Schieler, general manager of Contempri Homes in Goodfield, has put in a dozen geothermal systems in homes over the past year and had more than 60 people attend an evening seminar on the system earlier this month. Schieler has three model homes at his offices in Goodfield. One of the homes has geothermal heating and cooling. “It’s totally silent and keeps the temperature a half-degree from the setting. Because all the equipment is inside and not exposed to the elements, this has a longer life expectancy than conventional systems with compressors outside,” Schieler said. “We’re getting more and more inquiries.” He works with David Buss, territory manager with WaterFurnace International geothermal systems. Buss was a heating contractor before he put a geothermal system into his own home in Quincy 21 years ago. That sold him on the concept. “We have several subdivisions in Quincy that are all geothermal. The builders believe in it wholeheartedly, and they didn’t want any LP tanks or compressors showing outside the homes,” he said. “They wanted systems that worked without problems and homeowners who were happy with their monthly bills.” The systems typically cost $4,000 to $6,000 more than traditional heating and cooling systems but reduced utility costs help pay for the difference in less than five years, Buss said. He estimates 30 percent of new homes constructed in Quincy have geothermal compared with about 5 to 10 percent of new homes in the Peoria area. Some geothermal installations use water from ponds or aquifers. Others on small lots use loops drilled 150 feet deep into the earth. Homes with more land can use a less expensive installation that places loops in trenches about six feet underground. Buss said a typical 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot home needs three or four loops six feet below ground in 250-foot trenches. “It’s the most environmentally friendly and efficient system on the market today, far more efficient than a high efficiency natural gas unit,” he said. “Crunch the numbers. If the system costs $4,000, you might end up paying $25 a month more for your mortgage and saving $50 a month on utility bills.” Brent Braker of Garber Heating and Air Conditioning said his company has been installing geothermal units in the Peoria area for 18 years. “It really is the way to go. Geothermal is the best in terms of comfort and lowest operating costs,” he said. “We put in over 25 units last year and we’ve bid on 10 jobs in just the last two weeks. These systems are becoming more and more popular.”