Should I replace my geothermal system with a gas boiler?

Lawrence Brusnyk Oct. 31, 2018, 8:07 p.m.

I have an energy efficient 2,000 sq ft bungalow located on acreage just east of Edmonton.  The house was built in 2007 and received the Green Vision Award for Alberta that year.  Features include ICF walls basement to roof, infloor heating in basement, geothermal heating (closed loop, 6 wells 200 ft deep), triple E argon windows, R50 attic insulation, etc.

However, the coax coil in the geothermal system has rusted out which I understand the system need to be replaced.  It also did not help that the unit, an Altlas Essentials? was made by a company that has long gone out of business and the installer was suspect from the get go.  I currently do not have heat in the basement, and was informed by the heating guy that he could not recharge the system (which I had done twice before with some success) more than once otherwise his ticket would be revoked.

To make a long story short, I will be presented with several cost options over the next few days which will include installing a new geothermal unit (ClimateMaster recommended although this assumes it's the unit and not a leak in the closed loop system, also I assume newer technology mean greater efficiency, problem is that it is American made and will take 6 - 8 weeks to arrive), gas furnace (I have gas to the house since my wife wanted a gas stove, a gas fire place and a gas barbque), or a natural gas boiler/electric furnace option (for radiant infloor heat in the basement and forced air heat on the main floor. 

I met with the plumber and the heating guys 2 days ago and have been trying to sort out what the best approach is.  All my previous research (when the house was cosntructed in 2007) indicated that geothermal has higher upfront costs but over the long term, these costs would be offset by lower monthly bills (ROI ~10 years) and that the replacement cycle would be in the 15 to 20 plus years.  Unfortunately, this has not occurred.  While my monthly gas bill pretty much reflects distribution charges ($60/month), my power bill averages $315/mo (2,200 kwh/mont, could this be a power quality issue since I live on an acreage?) year round.  I am currently looking at replacing something after 11.5 years which is certainily frustrating.  

Any thoughts would be appreciated.


Responses (1)

Ecohome Nov. 5, 2018, 2:55 p.m. Reply


Hi Lawrence, 

Regarding the wait time for replacement parts, that’s an issue of comfort and inconvenience that we of course can’t council you on, but if you decided to wait, perhaps a few electric space heaters may get you through that time depending on how much you use your basement. 

As for system repair:

You need to determine exactly what caused the failure, so first have a contractor pressure test the system to ensure it isn’t a leak down in the well. 

We called ClimateMaster to get their input, what we heard back from their tech support was that if water is leaking into the refrigerant that is a pretty significant and costly failure, if refrigerant is leaking into water than is less serious and can probably be remedied by replacing the coaxial coil. 

It’s of course frustrating to replace a system prematurely, but it’s still probably worth repairing the geothermal system rather than switching to gas, since digging the holes accounts for the biggest expense and it will offer savings long term.  But if you decide to switch, of the options you laid out I’d go with the gas boiler and keep your warm floors, that way the tubing in the floor will continue to provide even heat distribution without having to run ducts around your house, which you would probably need to do with a gas furnace. 

Radiant heat provides a lot of thermal comfort in a home, and given that you are already accustomed to having warm feet, I think the drop in floor temperature you would experience by switching to a forced-air heating system would be quite noticeable.