Urbana Highlands’ home-owners Jerome and Sonya Smith decided it was time to do a good deed for the environment while reducing their budget for home energy costs.
“Our decision to install solar panels for electric, solar panels for hot water, and replace our existing heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system for geothermal is all based around attempting to save money,” said Smith, who moved with his wife, Sonya, into their Lochness Court home in 2002.
When all three of the alternative energy systems are up and running simultaneously, the Smiths should be able to achieve their goal — that is, to be completely independent of the electrical grid.
“We also understand what good all of the changes will do for the planet as a whole,” Smith said.
Their solar system should be a go early this month when final inspections are set to be completed. The panels on the roof, along with the hot water storage tank, which will give the Smiths a new solar hot water system, will also be finished soon and online.
Standard Solar is responsible for the installation of the Smith’s rooftop panels. “We’ve installed 27 systems in Frederick County to date,” said Christian May, the company’s marketing director.
Experts are seeing a consistently larger group of people interested in solar panels. As long as there is direct access to the sun, the panels can be placed on newer and older homes.
Three sources will create hot water for the Smiths, who are the first homeowners to install such a hot water system in Urbana.
“Hot water is the second largest consumer of energy in your home behind heating and air conditioning,” said AtisSun, Inc. co-founder Mark Bartlett.
AtisSun has installed additional rooftop solar hot water panels — approximately three measuring 50-square-feet — that are heated naturally by the sun for much lower electricity bills.
“In the Mid-Atlantic region, customers receive a 75 percent savings on the energy needed to heat their hot water,” said Bartlett. “And the systems work very well all year round.”
The Smith’s new geothermal unit will also heat water before moving it to their new solar hot water tank. If the weather is sunny, the water could be heated to 120 degrees. Much energy is collected during the day and stored for high-use times such as the morning and evening hours.
Experts say these alternative systems have been around for decades, are really quite simple to use, and are reliable. Life expectancies are 25 to 35 years.
As for the Smith’s current heating and air conditioning system, they are replacing it with a geothermal system to offset the need for electricity and natural gas.
“Geothermal, instead of using some form of a fossil fuel, uses the earth for your heating in the winter and cooling in the summer,” Smith said.
Simply put, geothermal energy uses groundwater that consistently remains the same temperature, varying only by a few degrees, beneath the earth. A pipe filled with fluid is placed beneath the ground and that fluid then absorbs the heat from the earth. A heat exchanger extracts the heat and distributes it through the house.
During hot weather, the fluid that continually circulates in the pipes absorbs heat from the home and transfers it back into the earth.
“Depending on what you set your inside temperature to, you can save a lot with this system,” said Smith. “A regular HVAC system, for every dollar you spend, you get a dollar of heat or [air conditioning.] Secondary to that, most home HVAC systems are only 40 to 60 percent efficient, so for each dollar you spend, you’re not actually getting a $1 of comfort within your home.”
Easterday Well and Pump is planning to dig a 400-foot well, or outside ground loop, outside of the Smith’s home.
The new efficient indoor unit is made by WaterFurnace. “It, unlike a typical HVAC system, has a 5-1 ratio, meaning for every $1 I spend, I get $5 of heat or [air conditioning],” Smith added.
When deciding upon their new alternative energy sources, the Smiths turned to the Urbana Highlands’ Homeowners’ Association (HOA). Since they were the first residents to ask for approvals from the HOA on the installation of their solar and geothermal systems, the process hit a snag.
“It took so long because the project was the first of its kind in the neighborhood,” said Smith.
The HOA had to dissect the entirety of its solar heating laws, and the rules for installing these units at a Highlands’ home had to be rewritten. “So, we have paved the way for everyone behind us,” Smith said.
Smith says he and Sonya are looking forward to the time when they are able to recoup their investment in solar electricity and geothermal energy.
“Estimates say we should start to see things even out in four to five years,” said Smith.
Each of the three projects is eligible for federal and state tax credits, such as the
30 percent Federal Investment Tax Credit.
“Maryland is a leading state in the country for solar tax credits,” said Bartlett. “We see half of the cost of our systems paid for from federal and state programs.”
Here’s the cost breakdown for the Smith’s new alternative energy systems: solar panels: $36,000; solar hot water: $13,000; hybrid hot water: $2,200; the home’s exterior geothermal well: $11,200; the home’s indoor geothermal unit: $16,000; and miscellaneous expenses to assure that all systems are working properly: $5,000.
“Our neighbors seem to be very excited, having wonderful things to say, and they all have lots of questions. So we are really looking forward to having it all done and on line,” Smith said. “From what we are expecting from solar, I would recommend saving money and the environment [and] planet to everyone.”