Heating with an Outdoor Woodburner vs Geothermal

Lyns06February 14, 2012

I'm hoping this is the right forum to put this question in. Debated whether it should be in the new home forum or energy efficient forum.. but we'll give'r a try here!

My husband and I are about to begin building a new home. We live on a 500 family farm, with about 30-50 of those acres being wooded. We have a lot of large equipment at our disposal, so we are building the house ourselves with minimal outsourcing.

We are trying to plan the heating/cooling portion of our home and have narrowed down the heating to an outdoor woodburner or geothermal.

The case for the Woodburner:

- Have enough down trees to never have to cut a tree down for firewood. We already have next year's supply stocked after cleaning pastures!

- Husband has all of the equipment for firewood: chainsaws, log splitter, dump truck & skid loader for hauling, etc.

- Husband LOVES playing with his equipment and cleaning up the woods.


- Costs about $10,000 for the woodburner alone (put this in the cons bc cost is always a con!).

- Woodburner would heat the water, so there would be the dilemma of having to heat the water in the summer months when the entire house is not being heated.

- We are in our late 20s now, but as we age husband's enthusiasm for labor might diminish.. but then again, if he stays anything like his work-a-holic family, then probably not! =)

The case for Geothermal:

- We have the large equipment (backhoes, skid loaders, etc) to dig for geothermal.

- Essentially labor free after initial installation.

- I don't have much more!


- You would have to heat with another source to bring the temperature up from 55 degrees to a comfortable temp.

- Not sure about cost if we do the labor ourselves..

So, there you have it! Can anyone else help to clear up our inhibitions?

Thanks a lot!

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It seems like you want cooling at the start of your essay, however you present no way to cool if you go with wood for heat. Do you need cooling or not?

Where do you live? It makes a huge difference between being in a predominantly heating or cooling environment or something more balanced.

By "woodburner" do you mean a wood boiler or wood furnace? If the former, you use wood fuel to heat water.

Who is going to stoke the wood heater to keep the house from freezing when you are out of town? Who is going to keep the home fires burning if you even take a day trip? Who is going to prepare the wood when you get too old to even carry it from the wood pile to the furnace?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 2:41PM
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The fact that you have the land and the equipment to do a horizontal ground loop for geothermal yourselves is a HUGE factor in its favor.

Do you have a pond or lake near your new home?


    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 11:53PM
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Thanks for the replies!

I have done a substantial amount of research on the topic of geothermal since I posted this, so I realize that I wasn't fully aware of its potential when I started inquiring.

Anyhow, yes, we would want cooling as well. I didn't realize that geothermal would be useful for that, too (I told you I didn't fully do my research!! =). We were figuring on getting a central AC along with the woodburner, which would of course, add substantially to the cost.

And, yes, we would have used an outdoor woodburner to heat the water, so I suppose the correct term is wood boiler.

We live in Northeast Ohio, where we heat 7-8-ish months a year and would cool for probably 3-ish.

I appreciate your pointing out how difficult it is to maintain a wood burner. Where we live now, on the family dairy, there is always someone (family) who is on the property (cows don't take vacations) so I've gotten accustomed to having a hired hand or family take care of the fires when we aren't available. This won't be the case with our new location, so I appreciate your pointing that out.

As for doing the horizontal loop, we certainly have the equipment, so hopefully that will help fray some of the cost!

Unfortunately we don't have any bodies of water nearby, but I see how it would be nice to use it as a place for the loops.

Could you tell me, would you have to have a back-up system for geothermal? Can you use radiant heating with it? We are wanting to run it under the tile in our bathroom. Any more advice or considerations?

I appreciate your wisdom and thoughts!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 9:21PM
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It looks like you have been misinformed about geothermal. Geothermal can heat your house above 55 degrees to any temperature you want. In some areas you need additional heating when it is really cold out and the geothermal can not keep up. In northeast Ohio the geothermal should not need it.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:15PM
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Geothermal should always be backed up, usually with electric resistance heat of some sort and yes you can do radiant in-floor heating with geothermal using a triple function geothermal heat pump. Full capacity hot water production for indoor radiant in-floor or radiators and snow melt outdoors or pool heating, forced air for heating & cooling, and domestic hot water for kitchen and bathrooms.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 12:26AM
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I should have mentioned the purpose of the backup is incase the house has greater heat loss than the system can provide in extreme cold conditions and as a method of emergency backup in case the compressor fails or is locked out.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 12:35AM
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I'm not an expert, just someone enjoying our geothermal heating/cooling. We had a HOT summer last year, and it kept our house very comfortable. DH set it about 68, and it held it perfectly. Now we are having a very mild winter here in WI, and we have never used the backup heat yet. We do have radiant heat in the basement. We recently were away for 3 days, dropped the thermostat to 50 degrees, but the house never dropped below 58. Our house in insulated very well, which should be done with any heating/cooling system. I'm not sure this is a DIY project; the equipment looks very technical to me.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Thanks, Joyce, for the review. It's nice to hear from someone who actually uses geothermal rather than just telling me how it should perform in theory.

And, the only DIY part we'd do for this kind of project is digging the hole for the horizontal loops. The rest we'd leave to the professionals. However, if we can save on excavating costs, that wouldn't hurt!

Thanks again, Joyce!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 4:33PM
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