Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of using heat found in the outside air, they rely on the stable, even heat of the earth to provide heating, air conditioning and, in some cases, hot water.

Many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes.  A few feet below the earth’s surface the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature.  Although the temperatures vary according to the latitude, at six feet underground, temperatures range from 45 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ever been inside a cave in the summer?  The cave is at a cooler temperature than the air outside because the air underground is constant.  During the winter, that same constant cave temperature is warmer than the air outside.  This is the idea behind geothermal heat pumps.  In the winter, they move the heat from the earth into your house.  In the summer, they pull the heat from your home and discharge it into the ground.

Studies have shown that approximately 70 percent of the energy used in a geothermal heat pump system is renewable energy from the ground. The earth's constant temperature is what makes geothermal heat pumps one of the most efficient, comfortable, and quiet heating and cooling technologies available today. While they may be more costly to install initially than regular heat pumps, they can produce lower energy bills - 30 percent to 40 percent lower, according to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who now includes geothermal heat pumps in the types of products rated in the EnergyStar® program. Because they are mechanically simple and outside parts of the system are below ground and protected from the weather, maintenance costs are often lower as well.

As an added benefit, systems can be equipped with a device called a "desuperheater" that can heat household water, which circulates into the regular water heater tank. In the summer, heat that is taken from the house and would be expelled into the loop is used to heat the water for free. In the winter, the desuperheater can reduce water-heating costs by about half, while a conventional water heater meets the rest of the household's needs. In the spring and fall when temperatures are mild the heat pump may not be operating at all, the regular water heater provides hot water.

Remember, a geothermal heat pump doesn't create heat by burning fuel, like a traditional furnace does. Instead, in the winter it collects the Earth's natural heat through a series of pipes, called a loop, installed below the surface of the ground or submersed in a pond or lake. Fluid circulates through the loop and carries the heat to the house. There, an electrically driven compressor and a heat exchanger concentrate the Earth's energy and release it inside the home at a higher temperature. Ductwork distributes the heat to different rooms.

In the summer, the process is reversed. The underground loop draws excess heat from the house and allows it to be absorbed by the Earth. The system cools your home in the same way that a refrigerator keeps your food cool - by drawing heat from the interior, not by blowing in cold air.

The geothermal loop that is buried underground is typically made of high-density polyethylene, a tough plastic that is extraordinarily durable but which allows heat to pass through efficiently. When installers connect sections of pipe, they heat fuse the joints, making the connections stronger than the pipe itself. The fluid in the loop is water or an environmentally safe antifreeze solution that circulates through the pipes in a closed system.  The wells can be vertical when outdoor space is limited or in a horizontal plane when there is more outdoor area.

Another type of geothermal system uses a loop of copper piping placed underground. When refrigerant is pumped through the loop, heat is transferred directly through the copper to the earth.  This is not common in Hampton Roads.

Surveys taken by utility companies have found that homeowners using geothermal heat pumps rate them highly when compared to conventional systems.  Figures indicate that more than 95 percent of all geothermal heat pump owners would recommend a similar system to their friends and family.

Geothermal heat pumps are durable and require little maintenance. They have fewer mechanical components than other systems, and most of those components are underground, sheltered from the weather. The underground piping used in the system is often guaranteed to last 25 to 50 years and is virtually worry-free. The components inside the house are small and accessible for maintenance. Warm and cool air is distributed through ductwork, just as in a regular forced-air system.

Since geothermal systems have no outside condensing units like air conditioners, they are quieter to operate.

Many people think geothermal is new technology which can make many people reluctant to use it or even consider it.  Reality is that geothermal is an idea that is more than 150 years old.  (It has been documented in history that during ancient Roman times they used Geothermal for heating and bathing.)

• Efficient and eco-friendly. Geothermal heat pump systems transfer heat instead of creating it, so they don’t rely on fossil fuels. Geothermal heat pumps get high ratings from the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
• Durable. Underground loops are protected from external elements such as inclement weather and vandalism, and they rank high in safety with no open flame, flammable fuel or fuel storage tanks; no combustion is involved. Pipes are fusion-welded to prevent leaks. The pipes have a life expectancy of 50 years or more.
• Inexpensive to operate. With fewer mechanical operating components, Geothermal heat pumps require less service than conventional heating and cooling systems and have a high reliability rating, keeping maintenance costs low.
• Space-saving. Hardware for Geothermal heat pumps is smaller than conventional heating and cooling systems and requires a smaller mechanical room, which frees up floor space for other uses. This depends on application.
• Comfortable. Geothermal heat pump systems maintain humidity at a constant comfort level.
• Quiet. Geothermal heat pump systems have no outside compressors, which eliminates exterior noise.

• Expensive initial investment. Installation costs can be several times higher than comparable conventional systems. (There are tax advantages such as a tax credit of 30% of the total cost of a new Geothermal heat pump, includes existing homes and new construction—both principal residences and second homes qualify.)
• Difficult to repair. Repairs to underground pipes, though seldom necessary, can be difficult and expensive.
• Require backup. In extreme climates and rural areas, the systems may require an emergency backup heat system.
• There is a water pump. All Geothermal systems require a water pump to circulate the water throughout the condensing part of the system. Some pumps are larger than others and are noisier. Most are very quiet in closed loop applications. The open loop water pumps applications are noisier, but are usually located in a garage.

Department of Energy(
Environmental Protection Agency(
Energy Star (
Consumer Energy Center (
Natural Home and Garden (
Geothermal Energy Association (

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Hurricane Season Preparedness

If you have lived in or currently live in an area that is subject to hurricanes, then you should be aware of the precautions to take BEFORE a hurricane will affect your area. If you are new to this, please read carefully and take the precautions suggested.
A hurricane is a severe tropical cyclone having winds greater than 64 knots (119 km/hr or 74 mph) originating in the equatorial regions, traveling north, northwest, or northeast from its point of origin and usually involves heavy rains. The combination of the wind and rain can be devastating.
The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season is ongoing and is forecast to have above-average activity. The season officially started on June 1 and will end on November 30. These dates conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. Based on the average over the last 150 years of storms, the Atlantic Hurricane season ramps up in August.

The following names will be used for named storms that form in the North Atlantic in 2011.
·       Arlene- June 29-July 1st-Tropical Storm-affected Central America, Yucatan Peninsula, Florida, Mexica (Veracruz), Texas
·       Bret-July 17-July 22-Tropical Storm-affected United States East Coast, The Bahamas, Bermuda
·       Cindy-July 20-July 23-Tropical Storm-affected areas None
·       Don-July 23-July 30-Tropical Storm-affected Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, Yucatan Peninsula, South Texas, Northeastern Mexico, Southwestern United States
·       Emily-August 1-August 7-Tropical Storm-affected Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Turks, and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas, South Florida
·       Franklin
·       Gert
·       Harvey
·       Irene
·       Jose
·       Katia
·       Lee
·       Maria
·       Nate
·       Opehlia
·       Philippe
·       Rina
·       Sean
·       Tammy
·       Vince
·       Whitney
Despite living along the coast, and even after major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, a 2009 survey revealed that most residents are not prepared for a hurricane. The U.S. Government's National Hurricane Center advises the following actions for hurricane disaster preparation.
1.     First, get important papers and special photos in order and secured in plastic. Identification is difficult and time-consuming to replace: so be sure to include social security cards, birth certificates, high school diplomas or GED certificates, titles or deeds to property, as well as your hurricane insurance policy. Photos of special occasions or loved ones cannot be replaced, so including these is important as well.
2.     Think ahead and take video or photos of your property before you leave. This will help later on with any insurance checklist claims for damage that may need to be filed.
3.     If you are advised to evacuate – DO IT! Be sure to turn off the power, water, and gas to your house before leaving. Lock your doors and take your essential valuables, paperwork, and photos and pets with you.
4.     If staying with relatives is not an option, consider booking a room in a hotel or motel in another nearby town or state. Make sure to get directions and put them in the car ahead of time. It is easy to forget that piece of paper in the rush out the door. A cheaper route might be to find temporary hurricane shelters. Usually nearby towns not in the direct path of the hurricane will provide these for people in need.
5.     Unfortunately, it is unlikely that your pet will have a place in a motel or hotel. Keep this in mind, and try to find alternate housing like pet friendly hotels and motels or dog boarding kennels in areas out of the path of the storm until it is safe to return home.
6.     Designate a spot, in the hall closet, to keep a bag of clothes for each person in the household. Make sure to include sleeping gear if you plan on going to a temporary shelter. 
7.     Along with overnight clothes, consider stocking your Hurricane Kit with the following: extra cash, generator, batteries, flash lights, battery operated radio/television, bottled water, toilet paper, non-perishable foods such as cereal or crackers, canned goods, a can opener, a small cooler, candles, prescription medicines and any over-the-counter remedies you use regularly; and if you have small children—diapers, baby wipes, formula, baby food.
8.     Count on the power being out for at least a day or two. Remember that ATM's will be non-operating, so have at least some hard cash in your Hurricane Kit (see no. 6, above) to see you through the storm. 
When TV and computer games no longer operate, board games or a deck of cards come in handy! Arts and crafts, crayons and downloadable coloring pages are always great distractions for the kids - so make sure you've stored some of these supplies in a tote bag or in the car trunk.
9.     If you decide to tough out the storm, stay downwind in your home. This means if the wind is hitting the living room windows, go to the room opposite the living room. It is best to stay away from any windows because debris can fly through at any given time.
10.  Plywood is a 'hot' commodity for those of who decide to stay. Boarding up windows that will take the brunt of the wind and rain is a wise decision. If board is not available, help protect your windows from the wind by criss-crossing them with layers of duct or packing tape. This will not be much protection, but may help keep some glass from being spread. Learn how to build and install plywood hurricane shutters is your best bet. If you can afford it, metal hurricane shutter are available and can be installed by a professional.
11.  Finally, STAY INSIDE. However tempting it may be to videotape or take photos of the storm, be sure to shoot from indoors - where it's safer, and dry!
More disaster information, evacuation routes, and preparedness literature can be found at the following sites.
Virginia Hurricane Preparedness:
National Weather Service:
National Hurricane Center (U.S.):
Red Cross:
NewsChannel 3, WTKR:
13 News, WVEC:
43 Fox:

**Informational list and knowledge for this blog on Hurricane Preparedness was prepared using all of the above referenced websites.**

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Indoor Air Quality Issues

In the past 20 years, an emerging and expanding body of evidence has shown that indoor air quality has tremendous impact on human health. Americans-especially infants, the elderly, and persons with chronic diseases-typically spend 90% of their time indoors where they can be exposed to very high levels of air pollutants.
—American Lung Association® report

Are you aware that the air inside your home may not be healthy to breathe? There are many factors that can contribute to poor indoor air quality in our homes. A few unhealthy air sources examples can be found at different sources such as:

  • Laundry room chemicals
  • Garage items
  • Car exhaust in the garage
  • In your attic
  • In your crawl space
  • From your pets
  • Your carpet
  • Something you may cook
  • Your cleaning items
  • Outdoor air coming in that has pollen and many other contaminates
  • Bathroom humidity and items such as hair spray etc.
Indoor air pollutants are all around us. They include pollen, molds, fungal spores, viruses, bacteria, smoke, gas combustion by-products, out-gassing from carpets, furniture, plywood and drywall, cleaning supplies, personal care items, pet dander, dust mites including their feces and body fragments, cockroach body parts, and more. Disgusting!

Wow! What can you do about it???

While there are many products on the market, most don’t perform as claimed (unless you live in a controlled laboratory.)  Some products might be helpful, but none can do it all and all are limited. Listed below are a few solutions that could be of some help to you and your family.

  • Hardwood floors or tile are better than carpet. There is little to no off-gassing and the floors do not hide and store contaminates like carpet or rugs.
  • Have your duct work sealed to reduce unhealthy air from coming in through the ducts that may be located in your attic or crawl spaces. Use mastic, 181, pastes, or tape to do the sealing.
  • If you have cats or other animals that use a litter box; try using the most dust free litter available.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner that has a Hepa Filter in it to keep the dirty air from recalculating back into the room.
  • Vacuum, mop, and dust often. (Don’t forget the fan blades if you have ceiling fans.)
  • Try not to back your vehicles in the garage where the exhaust is going into the house directly and then pull the vehicles out of the garage ASAP.
  • Have your garage professionally sealed to help prevent carbon monoxide and other chemicals from entering your home. A CO monitor is a good idea so you know if there is a dangerous level in your house.
  • Be sure your bathroom has operating exhaust fans that exhaust the humidity and fumes to the outdoors (Not just back into the attic.)
  • Schedule an appointment with a company that offers infiltrometer (“Blower Door”) and infrared scanning and testing to locate your hidden air leaks and to find any construction issues with your house that may cause health or energy concerns, and to have solutions to solve these issues.
  • Try to use a quality return filter/s in your home and change or clean them every month. Be sure to choose a filter that is compatible with your HVAC system. A simple way to determine if a new filter will work with your HVAC system is to turn the AC fan to the “ON” position and take out your return air filters. Next measure the air flow strength coming out of a couple of different supply air registers. You can just feel the air strength or you can take a tape measure and a paper towel or tissue and measure how far away from the register you can get and still feel the air or see the tissue move. Now put in the filter/s of choice in all of the return air grilles. Take your measurements again. If the air strength is about the same; great, use can use that filter. If the air strength is noticeably less or reduced; do not use that filter. With less air coming out of the registers there will be more resistance in the ducts which will harm the HVAC system over time and cause you higher energy bills.
  • Ultra violet lights placed correctly in your duct work may help with killing odors caused by different types of bacteria.
  • Electronic whole house air cleaners may also help in reducing small and light air borne particles when the system is operating. Room air cleaners can also help and can operate continuously and collect particles closer to the floor.
  • Be mindful of where you store your household chemicals. If there is a return air filter nearby; the chemicals may be drawn into your HVAC system and ten distributed throughout your house. Not a good thing.
There are no perfect or complete solutions to air quality, but the suggestions above may help reduce unhealthy air in your home. If you locate and remove the source; you can improve your air quality. For more information, please visit: or Google "clean air in your house".