When their suburban Rochester, N.Y., clients wanted a built-in pool and a new heating and cooling system, remodelers Chris Newcomer and Mike Bartos steered them toward building a pond with geothermal even though the team had never built a pond nor done a geothermal project before. The clients, for whom the pair had previously completed several remodeling projects, were game. Tax incentives from the federal government and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority —and the prospect of a drop in heating and cooling bills—helped to make the project more affordable. (Some tax credits for geothermal systems are still in place through 2016.)
Newcomer says he did a lot of research so he could better communicate with subcontractors and clients. He and Bartos brought in pond experts Art Graf Excavation to dig a test hole to confirm that there would be a sufficient water source to fill and maintain the pond, and in the process they discovered an artesian well. “Ponds ... take a couple years before they are truly holding water on their own. [Y]ou need to have a strong comfort level that the existing water source will be able to maintain the required water level to make the geothermal system run effectively,” Newcomer says. With the homeowners’ input, Newcomer and Bartos designed a one-acre pond with a small walk-out sandy beach, a dock with a deep swimming and diving area, and a place for fishing.
The pond is about 200 yards down a slope behind the house. In its center, about 15 feet below the water line, Newcomer located four bundles of plastic geothermal coils (1-inch-diameter heavy-duty flexible tubing with a wall thickness of 3/16 inch), with a supply line and a return line leading up to the house. Inside the home, all the pipes coming in from the pond are completely insulated to maximize efficiency. A 1/4 hp, 1.7-amp pump constantly maintains circulation while the system is running. Water enters the basement and flows into a WaterFurnace geothermal heat pump with a capacity of 48,000 BTU for heating, and 60,000 BTU for cooling. Heated water is distributed throughout the house by radiant flooring; cooling, through forced air.
In the course of the project, Newcomer discovered a few things he hadn’t anticipated.
Time: The added time needed to move equipment, labor, and products from the driveway to the site.
Weather: During excavation, subs had to constantly empty the area of water to continue the dig. When it rained, heavy equipment got stuck in the hillside and had to be towed.
Permits: Town authorities signed off on permits, but the Department of Environmental Conservation “came out one day, guns blazing,” Newcomer says. has its own requirements: Newcomer had to hydroseed within two weeks of completion to prevent run-off.
Power: The new system needed additional amps and voltage compared with the electricity used to power the home’s original liquefied petroleum gas-fueled furnace. The trade-off, Newcomer says, “is more concentrated electricity used extremely efficiently, and removing the need for LP gas. Stored solar energy in the earth replaces 60% to 70% of the cost of the previous LP.”
—Stacey Freed is a senior editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @SFreed or @RemodelingMag.