Geothermal – The Energy Audit

See part one here

In order to get the secured loan for a whole house energy improvement we needed to have a whole house energy audit.  This is a bit more intensive than your normal home inspection.  You know, the one that lasted about an hour when you bought your house and missed that huge hole in the roof.

This audit involved ~5 hours of work by one incredibly knowledgeable gentleman from Domain Energy Performance, LLC.  He measured most surfaces in our house and performed a bunch of tests.  Hell, he even had a thermal imaging camera!  The part that took the most time and energy was the blower door test.  Basically he depressurized the house and used some fancy computer software to tell how much air was sucking into the house.  I just thought it was interesting to walk around the house and feel the drafts.  I’ve actually caulked up a few of the gaps already.  It was cool!

About a week later he came back with a detailed report on the house and improvements that could be accomplished.  Among the suggestions were to put more insulation in the attic and crawlspace, use more CFLs, and seal gaps around the edges of wall plates and headers (inside the walls).  All of that is doable, although mostly by contractors. There were other suggestions as well but I am too lazy to find the report at this moment.

What didn’t surprise us was that he wasn’t big on geothermal’s ROI (Return on Investment).  He telegraphed that early on and the results just backed up his opinion.  Overall it will take ~15 years to pay back the total $35k investment just based on the savings of using geothermal.  That’s much better than any solar indication I’ve seen (usually 50 years on a $50k investment) but still quite a while for ROI.  Luckily we are planning on staying here for quite a while.

But we are still planning on going with geothermal for a few reasons:

  1. Our current system is at least 15 years old and will need to be replaced in the next few years.
  2. The loan rate is astoundingly low and the chances the loan option will disappear are high (PA budget crisis to blame).
  3. The additional updates that go with the geothermal (duct work, secondary water heater, better zoning) would cost considerably more later on.
  4. The tax credits (30% federal and potentially 15% PA) exist now and who knows how long they will last.

All in all it is the right time for us to make this step.  Now, if we can just get the loan company to sign off on the loan….

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