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A geothermal home inspired by the Energy Fair

August 22, 2012

Coiled geothermal lines laid where they will be buried at Bob and Sherry Piros’ home. (Photo by Sherry Piros)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

After living with an 1890s farmhouse for nearly 20 years, our friends Bob and Sherry Piros decided to build a new one. Sherry fell and broke a leg a few years ago, so is very cautious around ice and going down a steep staircase to do laundry. They tried several renovations and were considering more. Her brother, who is a contractor, examined the structure, took measurements, and advised them that adequate renovating could be very expensive and leave them with an expensive, cramped, inconvenient old house.

They will live in the old house until the new one is ready, then remove it. Rather than having it torn down, the Piroses intend to have it deconstructed. Bill Howard of YouthBuild and Americorps, who made a presentation about deconstruction at the recent Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (held Aug. 11-12 at Ogle County Fairgrounds), will lead the work. Deconstruction disassembles a building and determines which items can be be reused, wasting little.

The new house will have an attached garage and a laundry on the first floor. They briefly considered using structural insulated panels, but the expense, added to the fact that their builder was not familiar with using them, led them to select a modular house with geothermal heating and cooling.

They checked several locations in their yard and decided that, based on elevation, drainage and the excavator’s advice, the best site was slightly behind the old garage but far enough from the oak trees they wanted to protect. The garage went down on Monday, the site was staked and inspected on Tuesday, the hole was dug and the framework went in on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the geothermal system was installed.

They first contacted local geothermal experts. A Rockford company wanted to do the complete job, but the controls came with the modular house. A Rochelle company does not install systems, but only services them. They found Meyers Mechanical Solutions from Lancaster, Wis., which works with the modular company and was willing to install the system and hook it up to the pre-existing controls. The work was done in one day.

The system is horizontal and, unlike vertical systems, requires almost no maintenance, just annual inspections. It has a washable filter. Pipes are 8 feet deep and will be deeper as soil left over from excavation will cover it. Four straight 150-foot long pipes 5 feet apart move water from the house, and overlapping attached spiral loops return it, while 3,200 feet of straight and curved piping make up the underground section.

The soil, which molds to the system, was sandy at lower levels and continued to fall into trenches as they were dug. Additionally, a high water table allowed water to flow into the trenches. Finally, one wide trench was dug, the soil was set aside, and lines were rolled into it. The same procedure was followed for the remaining trenches with soil from the new trench used to fill the previous.

Digging both the hole for the house and the trenches revealed an interesting soil profile. Topsoil, water-carried coarse sand with rocks from the prehistoric Rock River and extremely fine aeolian (windborne) sand from ancient sand dunes were all evident.

The house will include additional energy-efficient features. The basement will be insulated on the inside. Piping will carry drainage away from the waterproofed exterior. Extra ceiling insulation will raise it to R-60; the walls will be R-25. Casement windows, which have better seals, will be used. With the convenience of an attached garage for storage, the Piroses should have many comfortable years in their new home.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Aug. 22-28, 2012, issue

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