RICHMOND (WRIC) - Some people are digging up their yards to heat and cool their homes - and the government is paying them to do it.
It's called geothermal heating. As power and gas bills have skyrocketed during the frigid winters and blisteringly hot summers, more and more homeowners are turning to it to heat and cool their homes.
"Instead of using air to extract heat and dump heat, we're using the ground," says Gary Tate of Atlantic Heating and Cooling. "We've got piping here, runs 200 foot of pipe in the ground."
You might call it getting in on home heating at the ground level. Pipes are installed just a few feet below the surface in a loop around the yard. Pumping a water glycol mix through the loop, it turns the Earth's naturally mild temperature into hot air in the winter....and cool air in the summer.
"The ground is probably 42 to 45 degrees where the air you have a great fluctuation. At night, down below 32. We're losing efficiency with a heat pump."
Atlantic Heating and Cooling installed a geothermal system two months ago. It also includes the heat exchanger outside the home, and an air handler in the attic to circulate the air.
The system costs more upfront than a gas furnace or electric heat pump, but it's so much more efficient and more economical down the road.
One estimate has geothermal 30 to 70 percent more economical than a heat pump in heating costs, and 20 to 50 percent more economical on cooling.
And right now, the government is offering a little green to those willing to embrace this green technology.
"We have a 30 percent kickback from the government tax break. It really is much more affordable."
Cindy Pitek admits she was a little concerned when crews started digging five foot deep trenches in her yard in late December and began sinking the piping. But now that the system is online, she couldn't be happier.
"It's a nice steady temperature," she says. "It never drops off. It's always just warm."
She hasn't yet seen her first power bill with the geothermal system, but she knows it will be a lot less than what she paid each month with her old heat pump.
And she says she barely knows that her new system is on.
"It's very quiet. With the old, I could always hear it kick on and kick off. The old one, I was always cold."
Another nice bonus is that geothermal systems can make hot water too. It's a byproduct of the process and unlike a water heater, it doesn't use electricty to heat it.
Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond