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Is DIY Geothermal Installation a Good Idea

If you are the type of person who loves tackling DIY projects, and have thought about trying to save money on your home heating bill, maybe you have considered DIY geothermal kits. Geothermal is undoubtedly an effective and economical method of home heating, but is it possible to set up a home geothermal system by yourself? Or would the job be too complicated and rely on expensive contractors?

Is DIY Geothermal worth considering?

The answer is yes, but you must first consider the limitations the average do it yourselfer will be faced with during this project. Let’s begin by discussing some of the easier aspects of the task.

The work needed to be done inside your home for this project is similar but not identical to what is needed in any conventional HVAC installation. You will need a location for a pump, suitable connections for your ductwork, and access to the exterior ground loop.

Like many home renovations another aspect to consider is electricity. Fortunately, with just some basic knowledge about electricity this aspect of the project will not be extremely difficult. You will need an electrician to connect your geothermal unit, but this is a relatively easy and quick job for any good electrician.

Now that we have briefly discussed two of the easier aspects of DIY Geothermal projects, let’s talk about some of the more challenging aspects.

Ground Digging

Geothermal units require at the least some degree of ground digging to be operational as it isn’t called “geothermal” without reason. The degree and style of the digging you will need depends on the type of ground your home is built on. Different soils in different locations require varying network styles for your geothermal piping. Here are a few of the common network styles.

Horizontal Network

The horizontal network is probably the most commonly used geothermal network in North America. This is because digging trenches horizontally across the ground surface is both easier and more economical then digging vertically into the ground. This does not mean that digging Horizontal networks is easy, as even excavating relatively shallow trenches (say 6-8 feet) it is still a lot of work, and potentially dangerous.

Digging these trenches yourself would not be advised if you didn’t have access to an excavator and possess some experience using it. This is ok though, as most people who choose to install geothermal systems on their property take no shame in hiring a contractor for this difficult aspect of the job. It can save you a lot of time, but more importantly it is unquestionably the safer option for those with no excavating experience, as tackling this job with no experience could lead to serious injury or even worse.

Vertical Network

The second most common method of digging ground for geothermal piping is the vertical network style. As the name suggests, this is where single or multiple holes are vertically drilled deep into the ground for the heat exchanging piping. Unfortunately, this method is even more difficult for the amateur do it yourselfer then the horizontal network. It requires holes running much deeper than horizontal installations, and to achieve this sophisticated excavation equipment usually only owned by well digging companies is needed. If you do not own one of these companies, you will need to contract their services.

Pond or Lake Loop

Although it’s not the most common method of DIY geothermal, installing a pond or lake loop is certainly the easiest method available. All this method entails is submerging heat exchanging piping into suitably deep pond or lake water.

Unfortunately, like stated earlier all geothermal installations require some degree of digging, and the pond or lake loop method is no exception. Luckily the only digging that is required will be to connect the geothermal piping from the pond/lake water to your house in order to protect the pipes. This only requires shallow trenching (1-2 feet) and would not be out of reach for most do it yourselfers. Sure, it will still be a painstaking task, but not nearly as much as vertically drilling 300ft holes, or excavating hundreds of cubic feet worth of shallow trenches.

The drawback to this method is availability. If your property doesn’t have access to a suitable pond or lake, or if regulations prohibit you from installing heat exchanging piping in the body of water near your property, this method is not available to you.

Open Loops

The final option that DIY enthusiasts have for installing geothermal systems for their home heating/cooling is the open loop method. All of the other methods we have discussed involve closed looped systems where the heat pump is part of a self-contained system. An open looped system doesn’t operate like this.

Open loop systems benefit by bringing up well water from the ground, using it to heat or cool your home, and then expelling that water back into the water cycle. This system is the cheapest method on this list, but just like with the pond/ lake loop this method is not available to everyone. Many municipal and county governments are misled and have regulations against open or “pump and dump” operations, even though they create zero damage to the environment.

If you can install an open loop system on your property, it is most likely because your home already benefits from a well. If you do not have access to a well then one would need to be dug, and again a contractor would almost certainly be needed to do this.

So, is DIY Geothermal right for me?

Well that depends on how you want to define DIY. A lot of the aspects involved in this task can be planned and carried out by anyone who would be considered handy. Unfortunately, for a lot of those who wish to install geothermal heating on their property, contractors and professionals would be needed in order to complete this task. So, if you are the type of person who can accept that there are a couple aspects of this project that require external help, “DIY” geothermal is something you might be interested in. Doing it yourself or partially will save you $1000’s of dollars and this is the primary reason homeowner buy geothermal heating packages.

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