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Geothermal energy a real possibility, even at this latitude

The heart of the geothermal system starts with the two header pipes on the right in the photo. They come directly from the underground field bringing water into the home that has been warmed by the natural temperature of the earth.1 / 2
Jason Bast, a member of the Speer-Bast Edina Realty team, is heading up their new construction division. His most recent project was installing geothermal heating and air conditioning in this model home, one of sixteen western Wisconsin homes featured in the St. Croix Valley's Tour of Homes which continues through March 28. Photos by Margaret Ontl2 / 2

What comes to mind when you think of geothermal? Perhaps it is Iceland or Yellowstone National Park.

Jason Bast is hopeful you will think of him. One of the homes featured this spring on the Tour of Homes features a geothermal heating and cooling system. It was built by Bast.

The geothermal system starts with 3,000 feet of tubing buried 20 feet below the surface and arranged in five 600 foot loops.

"Below 15 feet the earth maintains a constant temperature of 47 degrees," said Bast. "Using directional boring means the system can be installed horizontally if the property has enough land or vertically, which is common when installing the system on existing homes."

Geo (earth) thermal (heat) has been harnessed in one form or another for centuries and is as old as the earth. The oldest known pool fed by a hot spring dates back to 3rd century B.C. China. Later the Romans used hot springs to feed public baths and provide under floor heating.

By 1852 the first heat pump was invented and in 1912 the idea to draw heat from the ground was patented. It wasn't until 1940 that it was successfully implemented.

A big boost for the industry came in the late 1970s when the development of a specialized pipe material made geothermal heat more viable.

Today, it is still somewhat rare in residential projects, but with the 30 percent Federal Renewable Tax Credit, which is good until 2016, the payback can be as short as five years.

The home at 831 Settlement Drive utilizes the Climate Master geothermal system to both heat and cool the home plus provide a boost to the hot water heater by sending preheated water to it.

The annual energy cost for the four level 4,000 square-foot home (2,056 square-feet are currently finished) will be $900. The system, using a heat exchanger combined with in-floor heating virtually eliminates the need for natural gas, which is only present in the cook top and fireplace.

Geothermal is also considered a sustainable energy source. Bast implemented LED and florescent lighting as well as motion sensor on and off switches to make the home more efficient.

"With the economy we are listening to what people want," said Bast. "By going with a smaller foot print we can save them a considerable amount of money since concrete and lumber are two of the biggest expenses."

"If we can make it green in the process it is even better," said Bast.