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No more heating bills

Jessica Gray
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 13/06) - John Williston is saying goodbye to home heating bills and hello to a new wave in technology that promises to warm his house from deep underground.

NNSL Photo/graphic

John Williston is building a Niven Lake home that will use natural heat energy from underneath the planet's surface to warm his home. - Jessica Gray/NNSL photo

Geothermal energy

According to statistics supplied by Natural Resources Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, geothermal exchange (heating) is the most energy efficient, cost effective, and eco-friendly system on the market.

The heating and cooling system is 48 per cent more efficient than gas furnaces and 75 per cent more efficient than oil furnaces.

Geo-exchange systems typically outperform other heating methods by 36 per cent, and cooling methods by 43 per cent.

Around 30,000 Canadian homes are now using geothermal heat exchange units for heating and cooling. The electricity required to power one million homes for one year would be saved if every North American school that could use geo-exchange did so.

Source -- Canadian GeoExchange Coalition

The 20 year-plus resident is constructing a home in the Niven Lake subdivision that he said, when finished, will employ geothermal energy to heat it in winter and cool it in summer. The system transfers heat from underneath the Earth's surface and pumps it back into his home.

"About two years ago, I started pursuing the idea," he said.

Not discouraged after consulting with Yellowknife engineers and companies who said it was an impossible feat, Williston kept at it until he found Refined Energy, an Edmonton company that specializes in geothermal heating.

"I was told it can't be done," he said.

Williston's home is one of two in the Niven Lake area under construction that will use geothermal energy heating and cooling systems once complete.

He said as far as he knows, they are the only two housing projects in the entire territory to use the technology.

Williston had seven holes drilled about 95 metres deep into the ground to be fitted with pipes filled with water.

The water will flow down into the ground, gathering naturally occurring heat energy.

It will then flow back up to a heat exchange unit on the surface, which adds more heat energy, and then finally into a heat pump, which compresses the water and warms it to the desired temperature.

It produces virtually no carbon dioxide emissions because no fossil fuels are burned.

The warmed water travels through pipes in the floors and walls, providing heat for the home.

The process works the opposite way in the summer, taking chilled water from underground to cool the house.

The total cost of the project, including flying a professional from Edmonton to see whether the idea was feasible, was approximately $45,000, said Williston.

Simon Taylor, co-owner and architect at Pin/Taylor Architects, designed the overall concept for the two-storey, 3,000-square-metre home.

"You won't be able to drive by and say, 'That's a geothermal house,'" said Taylor.

"But you will drive by and say it's a nice house."

It will be the fifth house Williston and his family have built, but the first they've moved into.

Williston was hoping to be able to finish the home this December, but due to drilling delays, the new move-in date isn't scheduled until December 2007.

"Drilling holes was a big challenge, especially where to drill the holes," he said.

In addition to geothermal, the windows face the south to absorb energy from the sun.

By using these methods, the house will only use one-quarter to one-third of the energy it takes to heat an equivalent size home with heating oil, said Williston.

Although the dwelling still needs electricity to function, geothermal technology cuts the family's total energy needs by more than half, he said.

Williston said he plans to add solar energy panels on the roof, eliminating the need to buy electricity at all once the technology becomes more efficient.