Western New York is known as a four-season region. While temperatures outside fluctuate from single digits to heatwaves in the 90s, the temperature just 5 feet below Earth’s surface remains a constant 55 degrees all year long.
With the ground warmer than the outside air in the winter and cooler in the summer, putting the planet’s natural power to use is becoming a more popular way to heat and cool homes and businesses.
People are also reading…
It’s called geothermal energy, and it’s part of New York State’s aggressive clean energy initiative to fight climate change.
Geothermal heating and cooling uses consistent ground temperature to extract free energy. By inserting a vertical or horizontal loop of pipes into the ground, it allows heat to be transferred to and from a single heat pump located inside a building.
Geothermal technology can replace old fossil fuel equipment in existing homes and businesses, or the upfront cost can be rolled into a monthly mortgage payment if installed for new construction.
NOCO is helping local homeowners and businesses make the conversion from conventional HVAC to geothermal. And with an aging system at its own 32,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Tonawanda, the energy solutions company recently began converting to geothermal technology.
"NOCO's a forward-thinking energy company, and we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” says Paul Wachter, General Manager of NOCO Geothermal. “For a company that started out in the early 1900s with coal then went into oils and propane, geothermal is a next natural extension of the energy industry. NOCO is at the forefront of that.”
While NOCO’s system will likely require at least 20 ground holes due to the size of its corporate building, homeowners typically only need one or a horizontal loop field if there is ample land.
“A lot of people are looking for energy efficiency in homes,” Wachter says, “and a study by Zillow determined that your value goes up by about 7% with a geothermal system installed.”
Here are four more reasons why you might consider a switch to geothermal.
Help the planet
Modern geothermal systems do not emit any greenhouse gasses, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Rather than creating heat for your home, it’s transported without running conventional HVAC equipment. Therefore, no fossil fuel sources such as natural gas, propane and heating oil are burned.
“NOCO is investing in geothermal for many reasons,” Wachter says. “One is to help the environment. Two is to help our customers help the environment. And three is to have everyone save money in the process.”
The initial cost to install a geothermal heat pump is higher than a fossil fuel replacement, but Wachter says the long-term benefits from a cost-saving standpoint are “pretty dramatic” due to increased efficiency and lower operating costs.
The most efficient conventional system is 92% efficient, Wachter says. With geothermal, it’s 500%.
“So you spend a dollar on electricity, you get $5 worth of energy,” Wachter says. “And that borehole is free energy, so about 75% of your energy is coming from the earth for free.”
The useful life of the underground energy sink can be more than 100 years and won’t need to be replaced at the end of the 25-year life of the indoor geothermal heat pump. So the upgrade costs for the next system will only be for the indoor equipment, and therefore much less expensive.
Capitalize on incentives
While the upfront costs are higher for geothermal systems, tax credits and incentives have been extended to bring the costs much closer to conventional.
A robust 26% federal tax credit is available through 2022 and will be lowered to 22% for systems that are installed in 2023.
A clean heat rebate through NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority) is funded through 2027. And Wachter says Gov. Kathy Hochul recently put into the budget a tax incentive which is also good through 2027.
“There are many reasons, but from a financial standpoint, the incentives are so good that you don’t want to miss out on them,” Wachter says. “Incentives typically end when mandates are put in place, so we want to educate consumers on what may be coming.”
Geothermal systems look and act similarly to a conventional furnace, but last twice as long.
With no exposed equipment required outside, they’re not subject to rain, snow, ice, debris or temperature extremes. It’s also a quieter operation with no loud unit outdoors.
Simple maintenance includes changing air filters and cleaning the condenser overflow.
“It’s pretty much worry-free,” Wachter says. “If something isn’t working right, the computer system alerts both NOCO and the homeowner so that NOCO can go out with the right parts and fix it without having to troubleshoot it.”