Most people dread getting their first heating bill of the season. Not Doug McConatha. He’s looking forward to getting his bill. Having just had a new geothermal system installed, he’s wondering just how little he will be paying. McConatha is one of just a handful of homeowners in West Chester with geothermal systems. New technology has made it possible for people living in rural areas and businesses to have them installed.
“The price of oil has gotten so expensive, and I’m looking for a way to increase the value of my home at the same time,” McConatha said. “This will also provide me with air conditioning as well, which I haven’t had in the 20 years I’ve lived here.”
Geothermal systems on average are about 75 percent more efficient that oil heating systems. And no fuel is used to generate the power. For homes with existing zone-based heating and cooling, the systems can be fully integrated for a combination of energy savings.
“No doubt folks are starting to jump into it for its green aspect,” said Ernie McNeeley, West Chester borough manager. “We only have four or five residential installations in the borough, but I see a trend because they are becoming financially feasible.”
The federal government recently extended a 30 percent rebate on new geothermal installations. In addition, there are state incentives and a PECO energy rebate. In McConatha’s case, his $42,000 installation actually will cost him $29,000 out of pocket after all the energy incentives. On top of that, geothermal is so energy efficient, McConatha said he will will recoup his investment in just 6.2 years.
The combination of rebates, slashed energy costs and advancing technology is indeed a powerful marketing tool for geothermal contractors to woo residential customers. John J. Costa of Horizon Services, the Wilmington company that installed McConatha’s system, said that in 20 years, McConatha will have saved enough to put a child through college. “Geothermal is the future,” Costa said. “Right now the industry is clouded because there are cheap systems out there. But we only put in Bosch systems that have twice the longevity of the standard system. If you spend this kind of money, you want to go with something good.”
Many homeowners, like McConatha, are choosing geothermal because their bills will not increase no matter how high the price of oil goes. And also because the systems are green. “I will be using a lot less electricity, and will be tapping the earth’s natural resources because this thing is 400 feet below surface,” McConatha said. “This is a rare event for West Chester,” Costa said of McConatha’s installation. “It’s difficult to do in a situation like West Chester because you just don’t have the space to operate.” Costa said West Chester is becoming known as one of the friendliest municipality for geothermal installations. West Chester University is geothermal, and Costa said borough officials encourage it despite the limited ground some homeowners have.