Tag Archives: geothermal loops

Friday Freeforming

I had a great time last night speaking at the Goshen Historical Preservation Society. The crowd was responsive, the food was good, and we even moved quite a few books. All in all, a successful event, and I couldn’t have asked for nicer hosts. My thanks to the GHPS and to all who came. I had fun.


Fall has officially arrived here in Maryland. After weeks of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, we’ve finally settled down into a much more autumnal mood. The trees have known what time of year it is all along, though, and have gradually, almost sneakily, been skewing their internal tint knobs over to orange and red and dropping leaves all over the lawn. It’s nice. I’ll miss tending my lawn and the flower beds, but getting the fall weather and fall color is a completely fair trade.


If you’ve been following this blog for a while now — and by god, why wouldn’t you be? — you know our house has been in complete and utter disarray for the past three months as we worked to retrofit our 80-year-old farmhouse with a modern geothermal heating/cooling system. As I reported several weeks ago, the system is up and running perfectly — so we’re now in the process of taking everything we moved out of the attic and basement to make way for the HVAC crew and putting it back. This gave us a perfect opportunity to sort through the clutter and get rid of some junk and, more important, change the function of several rooms.

You have to understand, our house has been added on to several times over its eight decades, expanding from the original one-bedroom/one bathroom farmhouse into its current hodgepodge of many odd-sized rooms. Some bedrooms are barely larger than closets, while others look like handball courts. A bathroom twists its way around the backside of a kitchen pantry. The upstairs doesn’t match the downstairs, and there are no real closets to speak of.

That sort of non-conformity is actually very freeing, in that it’s let us come up with some interesting functions for the various rooms and nooks and crannies. The upstairs room that once served as a makeshift kitchen, then, became my office several years ago. It’s a long rectangular room, only about eight feet wide — which was just wide enough for me to cram a desk and a bookshelf in one end of it. Our plan now is to move me out of the small office into the newly-organized basement, where I’ve got more room for bookshelves and all the random junk I like to collect. Knowing that I’m not much longer for my old office, then, I have adopted an I’ll put it away after I relocate attitude with my space. Thus, my normally tidy little office now looks like this:

Yes, it’s awful — like a Nerd Bomb went off, or something. Anyway, our task this weekend is to begin moving me out of that space, and into this one:

This is the front room in our basement — previously one of the yuckiest spaces in the house, but now gleaming with a new coat of wax on the old tile floor (notice the compass rose built into the middle of the floor — a nice touch that was almost invisible under the 50-year-old coat of gunk and grime we scrubbed off) and shouldering an incomplete coat of primer as I prepare to give the old panelling a coat of paint (a tough call, but the room remains very dark otherwise). The fireplace doesn’t work — the chimney needs to be sealed — but it’s a nice room, and with the new heating system, it’s the most comfortable room in the house.

There’s still a lot of work ahead — including running some new electric and telephone wiring — but our plan is to have the room ready and up and running by the end of the month so I can get back to work.

Have a great weekend.

Monday Odds and Ends

Is it really the last week of September? Really?

Sorry to step away last week — deadlines and Life Away From The Internets were both calling. But lots of interesting little things going on.

First, the geothermal system is up and running. We turned it on last week, it fired up immediately, and with the quirky weather we’ve been having — cold and windy one day, warm and rainy the next — we’ve had a chance to try out both the heating and the air conditioning. For what I am guessing is the first time in the life of the house, there’s a constant temperature, and low humidity, in every room, and we’re listening for creaks and groans as the floors and walls finally adjust to the change in temperature. We’re in the process now of getting the house back in order, moving everything back into the attic and basement storage spaces that we had to clear out to make way for retro-fitting the duct work. Slow going, but we’re getting there. I’m hoping to have my new basement office up and running by . . . well, maybe the end of October, if I’m lucky.
Over on the blog of Agent Jonathan Lyons, Agent J is hosting his first ever trivia contest on October 1. Go play. And if you’re one of the three lucky winners, you can choose from one of three prizes: a query critique and evaluation of your first five pages, an evaluation of your first thirty pages, or a free book from one of his clients. Like me. Or Jaye. Or David. Or Edward. Well, you get the idea. Have fun.
So, didja see this story last week? About the Bernalillo County (New Mexico) Republican Chairman putting his foot in it and declaring that “Hispanics consider themselves above blacks” and won’t vote for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama? Here’s the story from the Albuquerque Journal, “GOP Official’s Comments Ignite Calls for His Removal”.

I bring this to your attention because that’s my Mom (who I blogged about back here), checking in on the matter:

Elaine Miller, a vice chairwoman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, said C de Baca is scheduled to meet this morning with members of the county party’s executive board.

Stepping down “would be in his best interest, so we could get it behind us. So it doesn’t affect the election,” said Miller, who under party rules would become county chairwoman if C de Baca leaves.

Well, the chairman did step down, but my Mom — rather than move up as chairwoman, as the rules provide — agreed, in the name of party unity, to unanimously support the appointment of a new chairman. It was a generous, decidedly unselfish move, and I’m really proud of my mom.
Over on her blog, Josephine Damian is talking about Internet addiction with her usual candor and aplomb. Are the Internets a blessing or a distraction? Opinions differ — but go see what she has to say, and let her know what you think. She’s right here.
Finally, I meant to announce this earlier, but I’ve been asked by the Goshen Historical Preservation Society to speak about Washington Irving at their meeting on October 16. The meeting is at 7:30 at the Church of Nazarene in Goshen. If you’re in the area, come on by. I’m pretty sure it’s free — but I’ll put up more information when I get it.

Getting Better All The Time…

I know it seems I say this EVERY week . . . but I’ve been assured that the geothermal system will go live today. No, really. The wells are complete — and have been connected to the house — and the majority of the work has been completed inside. But now the two have to be linked together — and that’s what’s going on today. By the time I get home this afternoon, I should be walking into a house that’s finally temperature-regulated.

More than anything, it’ll be nice to finally start to reclaim the house, which has been a disaster area for the last six weeks. I’ve started to work on the backyard, which was a sludgy gray mess, and now — as you can see from the pic below — looks like the surface of Mars:

In this little corner of Maryland, our soil is crammed with layers of shale, which get chewed up any time you push a shovel in the ground, and break off in enormous chunks. You can pick up the big stuff, but no matter how much you scoop up, you’ll keep finding big pieces of it for weeks, as if it were burrowing to the surface on its own. Which it probably is.

As for the inside, everything we removed from the basement and crawlspace is still crammed in the spare bedroom, my old office, the front parlor, and dining room. The rest of the house is covered in dust from all the cutting and drilling.

But there’s progress. Here’s the space in the basement, for example, that I cleared out — and painted white — all ready to receive the heating/cooling unit:

And here it is as of today, with the unit squatting in place and the ductwork fitted almost perfectly into the space:

And then, of course, there’s still this darn thing sitting in the boiler room, ready to be taken apart and taken out:

Typical of my luck, we discovered the doggone thing was not actually empty, even though our furnace stopped burning any fuel from it late last Spring. Apparently there’s a clog in the pipe that funnels fuel from the tank to the boiler. So we’ve got to figure out a way to pipe the remaining fuel — about 70 to 100 gallons, we think — from our tank over to our neighbor’s tank, about eighty feet away. We can’t move it out until then, or it’s considered a hazard.

More later. Here’s hoping we’re up and running this afternoon!

Into the Homestretch . . . But Still A Mess

From the Thanks for Asking! Department, we’re still in the process of installing the geothermal system, so we’re not yet basking in the luxury of indoor cooling — but we’re getting there. Two 350-foot wells have been drilled and a loop of black tubing has been run down each, then grouted into place inside each well. The two open ends of each black tube are now sticking out of each well, ready to be tied into the main system. And as you can see, it’s a complete mess:

That gray sludge you see is pulverized bedrock — which, once it mixed with the bit of water that came out of the ground, has now taken on the consistency of putty. At the moment, walking across this section of our yard is like walking on a waterbed. I’ve been assured that all this yucky stuff will be scraped off and buried in the trench that will connect the wells with the house.

Speaking of messes, our HVAC crew is doing yeoman’s work in removing the old boiler-based system from the house. The 80-year-old boiler — which was too heavy for me to remove from the basement myself — has been expertly dismantled and hauled away, and now the 4-year-old replacement boiler has also been disconnected and is waiting to be shipped to the Great Scrap Iron Heap in the Sky:

All that other junk in the background? Also stuff that came out of the boiler room. Yup, it’s gross.

The rest of the work is scheduled to be completed early next week, and the system should be fired up by mid-week. I’ll keep you posted.

What A Mess!

We’re entering the homestretch of our HVAC retrofit here at Chestnut Hill, as we continue the work to install a modern geothermal heating and cooling system in our decidedly stubborn 70-year-old house.

Most of the major ductwork has been completed, but ensuring that air could move between the top and bottom floors of an old house meant sacrificing the closet in the downstairs bedroom, which is actually one of the few closets we have in the entire house. As you can see in the picture just above, the return duct is on the left, and the supply is on the right. That leaves about two feet of closet between the ducts and the door — which, I suppose, isn’t all that bad by closet standards. Look closely, and you can see where the shelves lining the walls were ripped out to make way for the ductwork.

The main unit will sit in the basement directly below this closet. We’ve been assured the system we’re installing is whisper quiet. We’ll see. They’re still working this week, finishing up the ductwork in the basement — including in the area where my new air conditioned and heated office will be — and, to our delight, disassembling the old boiler-based system we have squatting in a back room in our basement. I swear, after burning 70 years of fuel oil back there, it’s gotta be a Superfund site. I’ll be thrilled to get the huge 250-gallon holding tank out of there.

But the current mess in the house is nothing compared to the disarray seen to your left. That, my friends, is the well-drilling machinery that will drill two 300-foot wells in our backyard, which will supply the rock-steady temperatures that make a geothermal system work. The thing sits about thirty feet high (you can measure it against the two huge chestnut trees you can see in our backyard just behind it), and the 20-foot lengths of drill bit rotate in, revolver-style, to be screwed onto the end of each bit as it drills itself further into the ground. Yeah, it’s noisy.

As the drill moves into the ground, shale, bedrock and gunk come gushing out — which are then blown through the flexhose you see in the photo into an enormous bin for removal. While the system works well, our yard is already a mess of dust, clay, and mud. Fortunately, the lack of rain here has kept everything dry, so the yard’s not turning into a pigpen. There’s rain in the forecast for later this week, but the drilling is supposed to be completed by Tuesday. Let’s hope.

Messy? You bet. But worth it, if only to get off of the annual 1,100 Gallons of Heating Fuel addiction this house had. Feeling like the junkie who calls his dealer to announce he’s going cold turkey, I called our local fuel company this past weekend to tell them we wouldn’t be needing their services anymore.

“Right,” the woman on the phone said. “That’s what they all say. You’ll be back, you hear me? YOU’LL BE BA–“

I hung up on her, and went outside to look at my wells again, quivering.*

* Dramatization. Actual event may not have happened.

Random Abstract

It’s a beautiful day here in Maryland this morning — 70 degrees, lightly overcast, and one of those days where you’d really like to spend the morning in bed with the window open, enjoying the breeze and listening to the birds chatter.

But I can’t.

Some random bits today:

The HVAC crew is back at it again today, working hard to bring us into the 20th century, and maybe even a bit into the 21st.

I read this piece over on WendyC’s Writes in the City blog — providing some pointers she learned at the Southampton Writer’s Conference on how to present your work — and thought they were all dead on. For my part, speed is my enemy. I can talk at about 30 words per second, and slowing down takes a conscious effort on my part. I was on a radio show in Santa Fe earlier this year, and after asking me the first question, the deejay looked up at the clock in the studio to check the time. As soon as I saw that glance at the clock and became aware of the time, I was finished — I talked a mile a minute for the next 26 minutes (that would be 26 miles, if you do the math — a verbal marathon on my part). When we were finished and the deejay went to commercial, he flicked the red light off, looked up at me over the top of his glasses, and said simply, “Wow.”

Oh, and I started poking at a proposal for book two this week, too.

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

This morning I had the pleasure of going to the post office to send an inscribed copy of Washington Irving to a former U.S. Ambassador to Spain, who was thrilled to learn I had written about his illustrious predecessor. I’m always pleased when Irving gets recognition beyond his literary accomplishments, and it’s an honor to send my book to the ambassador.

Even closer to the home front, we’re in the process of having a geothermal heating and cooling system installed here at Chestnut Hill. Our house was built back in the late 1930s, well before the days of air conditioning, so we’ve spent our last few summers improvising ways to keep the house cool. We settled on window units for the bedrooms, which works well enough for sleeping at night, but the rest of the time . . . well, let’s just say we have an understanding of what life was like in the 19th century.

Heating was another matter. Our house was built for steam heat, meaning we have hot water running through radiators throughout the house, all heated by a boiler in the basement that burns heating fuel. When we moved in five years ago, the boiler in the basement was the original, a half-ton monstrosity that looked like it could power the Titanic. Since then, we’ve replaced the boiler with a new, more efficient model, and it all works well enough . . . but with fuel prices going through the ceiling, we’ve been working hard to get the heating fuel monkey off our backs.

We decided on a geothermal system, as opposed to a traditional heat pump, because we wanted to get a system that was not only more efficient, but better for the planet. Unlike a traditional heating/cooling system — which sucks in hot air which it then cools down to blow as air conditioning in your house during the summer, and cold air, which it then heats up to blow as heat in the winter — a geothermal system takes air from the rock-steady 60-degreeish temperature of the earth and converts it into air conditioning or heat.

So this week, the hammers are flying, saws are rasping, and drills are, er, drilling as our crew of HVAC fellows retrofit our 1930s stone farmhouse with ducts, vents, blowers and returns, squeezing ducts into tight corners of our crawl space, and fitting vents into thick horsehair-plaster walls. Next week, the drilling crew comes to drill two 350-foot wells in our back yard, from which a pipe will run, carrying a water/alcohol solution over to the AC/heating unit, which will then be blown into the house to provide the correct amount of heating or cooling.

I know. I don’t understand how it works either.