Habitat for Humanity’s geothermal home is paying off 

By Laurel Andrews | The Alaska Dispatch:

Geothermal heat is keeping Habitat for Humanity’s new home in North Pole toasty at half the cost of a regular water boiler, delivering savings directly to the family who moved into the house in January.

Now, the non-profit has another geothermal project on the table. With high heating fuel prices in the Interior, and a federal tax rebate in place until 2016, is geothermal a viable heating source for Interior Alaska on a large scale?

A house delivering savings

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that constructs homes for families in need. The family then buys the house from the organization, paying it back on a 20-year loan with no interest.

Part of the organization’s building standards are that the costs to live there cannot exceed 30 percent of a family’s gross income. “The heating part of it is huge,” executive director Jay Pruce said. “That’s what puts (families) in sub-standard housing.”

Geothermal heat pumps, also known as ground-source heat pumps, work by extracting heat from the ground through a closed-loop system of pipes called a heat-exchange system. The systems can be installed either horizontally or vertically in the ground, and rely on electricity to run. For a house to be outfitted with geothermal, it needs to have either forced air or radiant heat systems.

Ground-source heat pumps used to heat homes are different from geothermal power derived from underground hot springs such as that used at the Chena Hot Springs resort east of Fairbanks. However, the term “geothermal” can be applied to both systems.

Habitat for Humanity’s geothermal unit slashed utility costs by 50 percent in its new three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

Habitat for Humanity was able to see savings unfold immediately. The organization completed two homes of similar size and insulation side-by-side in North Pole in 2012. The first uses oil heat, the second, geothermal. Both houses were vacant during a two month period, and set to the same thermostat temperature.

The first house ran through 256 gallons of heating oil in two months, costing $985 with the price of fuel at roughly $3.80.

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