Home Inspection FYI

Providing Help, Knowledge and Other Useful Information To Home Owners Everywhere

Home Inspection FYI - Providing Help, Knowledge and Other Useful Information To Home Owners Everywhere

Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Geothermal Systems For Home Heating and Air Conditioning

Geothermal systems are home heating and cooling systems that gather heat from the earth. Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) use the relatively constant temperature of sub-surface soil as the exchange medium.geothermal home Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Geographical Distribution
  • As of 2004, five countries — El Salvador, Kenya, the Philippines, Iceland and Costa Rica — generate more than 15% of their electricity from geothermal sources. In Iceland, geothermal energy is so cheap that some sections of pavement are heated.
  • In the United States, roughly 50,000 geothermal heat pumps are installed every year. The U.S. leads the world in geothermal exploitation.
  • The combined production of geothermal energy for all uses places third among renewable energy sources, following hydroelectricity and biomass, and ahead of solar and wind.

Where does geothermal energy come from?

Beneath the Earth’s crust, there is a layer of hot, molten rock called magma. Heat is continually produced there, mostly from the decay of naturally radioactive materials, such as uranium and potassium. The amount of heat within the first 33,000 feet (or 10,000 meters) of the Earth’s surface contains 50,000 times more energy than all the oil and natural gas resources in the world combined.

Benefits of Geothermal Energy:

  • energy efficiency. GHPs require 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional heating and cooling systems. According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy consumption — and corresponding emissions — up to 44%, compared to air-source heat pumps, and up to 72%, compared to electric resistance heating with standard air-conditioning equipment.geothermal closed loop vertical Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems
  • design flexibility. Geothermal heat pump systems can be installed in both new and retrofit construction. Equipment rooms can be scaled down in size because the hardware requires less space than is needed by conventional HVAC systems. GHP systems also provide excellent “zone” space conditioning, which allows different parts of a home to be heated or cooled to different temperatures.
  • durability. Since GHP systems have relatively few moving parts and the parts are sheltered inside a building, the systems are durable and reliable. The underground piping often carries warranties of 25 to 50 years, and the heat pumps can last more than 20 years. The components are easily accessible, which helps ensure that the required maintenance is performed on a timely basis.
  • noise reduction. As they have no outside condensing units (such as those in air conditioners), there’s no noise outside the home. Geothermal heat pumps are so quiet inside of a house that users may not be aware they are operating.

How do geothermal systems work?

A geothermal heat pump, unlike a furnace, does not create heat by burning fuel. Instead, it collects the earth’s natural heat through a series of pipes, called a loop, installed below the frost line. At that depth, which varies by climate zone, the soil remains at a relatively constant temperature throughout the year. Fluid circulates through the loop and carries heat to the house. There, an electrically driven compressor and a heat exchanger concentrate the heat and release it inside the home at a higher temperature, where ductwork distributes the heat to different rooms. In summer, the underground loop draws excess heat from the house and allows it to be absorbed into the earth. The system cools the home in the same way that a refrigerator keeps food cool — by drawing heat from the interior, rather than by forcing in cold air.geothermal closed loop pond lake Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Types of Geothermal Systems

There are four basic types of geothermal systems. Selection of the most appropriate system depends on the climate, soil conditions, available land, and local installation costs at the site. All of these systems can be used for residential and commercial building applications. They include:

  • horizontal:  This type of installation is generally the most cost-effective for residential installations, particularly for new construction where sufficient land is available. The most common layouts use either two pipes (one buried at 6 feet, and the other at 4 feet), or two pipes placed side-by-side buried 5 feet in the ground in a 2-foot wide trench.
  • vertical:  Large commercial buildings and schools often use vertical systems because the land area required for horizontal loops is prohibitive. Vertical loops are also used where the soil is too shallow for trenching, and they minimize the disturbance to existing landscaping. For a vertical system, holes (approximately 4 inches in diameter) are drilled about 20 feet apart and 100 to 400 feet deep. Two pipes are inserted into these holes and connected at the bottom to form a loop. The vertical loops are connected to the heat pump in the building.
  • pond/lake:  A supply-line pipe is run underground from the building to a body of water and coiled into circles at least 8 feet under the surface. In order for the body of water to be adequate, it must meet minimum volume, depth and quality criteria.
  • open-loop system:  This type of system uses well or surface water as the heat exchange fluid that circulates directly through the GHP system. Once it has circulated through the system, the water returns to the ground through the well, a recharge well, or surface discharge. geothermal open loop well Geothermal Heating and Cooling SystemsThis option is practical only where there is an adequate supply of relatively clean water, which must comply with local codes and regulations regarding groundwater discharge.


A geothermal system usually costs about $2,500 per ton of capacity. A typical home uses a 3-ton unit costing roughly $7,500. That initial cost is nearly twice the price of a regular heat pump system that includes air conditioning. The cost of drilling, however, can be considerable; drilling can cost in excess of $30,000, depending on the terrain and other local factors. Systems that require drilling vertically deep into the ground will cost much more than systems where the loops are in a horizontal fashion and closer to the surface. Despite these initial costs, a geothermal system saves enough on utility bills that the investment is often recouped in five to ten years.

FYI, geothermal systems heat and cool homes using sub-surface soil as an exchange medium. Geothermal systems are more expensive to install than conventional furnaces, but their operating costs are significantly lower.


Geothermal Energy Information


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What Is Housewrap

Housewrap Information and Uses

Housewrap is sheathing installed on exterior walls before the siding or other cladding is attached.  The term refers to all materials (made today, typically, from plastic or spun-fiber polyethylene) designed to replace tar paper, which serves the same function.  Since almost any exterior finishing material will allow at least some water to penetrate it, housewrap is used underneath to guard the building envelope against water entry. housewrap What Is Housewrap

Housewrap also serves to minimize air flow through walls, though it is not a vapor retarder.  In fact, housewrap is designed to stop liquid water while allowing water vapor to pass through.  This lets moist or humid air escape from the interior and simultaneously keeps water outside.

Homeowners may want to be familiar with the function of housewrap, especially when considering a new build, and InterNACHI inspectors can benefit from knowing more about what issues are commonly found with housewrap during an inspection.

Types of Housewrap

Tyvek® is the most common housewrap material used in the U.S.  Tyvek® is a synthetic material manufactured by DuPont.  It’s made of flash-spun, high-density polyethylene fibers.  Tyvek® is highly durable and allows water vapor to pass through it while blocking the passage of liquid.  It simultaneously resists air infiltration better than many other materials.

Other types of housewrap are made from micro-perforated, cross-lapped films, films laminated to spun-bond, non-woven materials, and films laminated or coated to polypropylene woven materials.  Asphalt-impregnated paper (tar paper or building paper) predating synthetic materials is still in use as housewrap today.

Advantages of Housewrap

  • While housewrap is used in many areas, it is most beneficial in humid climates.  This is because in areas that often experience heavy rainfall, there is a greater chance of water penetration damaging the framing of the house.  Housewrap prevents damage from water penetration.
  • Generally higher levels of moisture content in the air are also common to wet climates.  Housewrap allows moisture to escape from interiors, helping to ensure that wet conditions will not create problems such as mold growth.
  • Since housewrap helps prevent air movement through wall cavities, it also has some insulating value.

Disadvantages of Housewrap

  • Proper installation is the most important concern with housewrap.  If not installed correctly, not only will the housewrap perform less effectively, it may actually do more damage than good.  A common mistake installers make is treating housewrap as if it were a vapor retarder, and installing it accordingly, often with improper lapping.  However, because housewrap will actually collect and channel water, serious damage can occur over time if it is not installed in a manner that allows for channeled water to exit the wall system.
  • Another issue can occur if housewrap is left exposed to the elements for a long period before siding or other exterior cladding is installed over it.  This can lead to damage from wind and debris that goes unnoticed once the cladding is applied and the wrap is hidden.
  • Housewrap can sometimes be damaged by rough handling during installation.
  • Any holes or tears in the housewrap that have occurred during installation or from exposure to the elements may allow water to penetrate the wrap if they go unnoticed, negating the benefits housewrap is intended to provide.

Housewrap Tips

Here are some tips for checking that housewrap has been installed correctly:

  • Installers should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  When installed properly, housewrap will not allow water to flow into the area behind it.  house wrap cut What Is Housewrap
  • Housewrap should be installed before windows and doors are installed.
  • Upper layers should be lapped over lower layers.
  • Horizontal joints should be lapped at least 6 inches, and vertical joints should be lapped 6 to 12 inches, depending on the potential for wind-driven rain.
  • Staples or roofing nails a minimum of 1 inch long should be used and spaced 12 to 18 inches on-center throughout.
  • Proper joints should be covered with tape designed specifically for use with housewrap.
  • A drainage provision should be installed at the bottom of the external cladding material.
  • The sill plate and foundation joint should be covered by the housewrap.

Housewrap is a useful building material that helps protect a home from damage related to water intrusion and moisture buildup.  The main concern with housewrap is proper installation.  Inspectors may want to be aware of the areas where common installation problems can be found, and knowing more about housewrap will be helpful when answering clients’ questions.


Eco-Friendly Relocation

Eco-Friendly Environment Relocation

Relocation is often stressful and time-consuming, but rarely do we wonder about the impact the process has on the environment. Eco-Friendly relocation is amplified when moving to a smaller house or condominium, and additional decisions have to be made regarding items that must discarded in order to save space.  If we don’t make these Eco-Friendly decisions deliberately, our choices can generate a lot of trash, and waste energy and natural resources. Fortunately, we have other options so that, when the time comes, we can relocate — along with our stuff — responsibly.

 Some Eco-Friendly measures to consider before moving day:

  • Buy less.  The less you accumulate, the less you will have to discard when it comes time to relocate. Also, fight the urge to be a pack rat by recycling and giving items away as they become obsolete to you. If you put off these decisions until the day you have to relocate, many of the things that you’re on the fence about keeping will likely end up in the trash because you’ll be too preoccupied by the move to put the effort into thoughtful Eco-Friendly and responsible disposal.
  • Discard items in a responsible manner, rather than merely throwing them away. Non-biodegradable trash doesn’t disappear; it just accumulates in new locations where it contaminates groundwater and soil, off-gasses methane and other greenhouse gasses, and overwhelms otherwise useful land. By taking Eco-Friendly steps, you can save money, help others, and minimize your impact on the environment.
    Sort through your belongings and decide what you don’t want to take with you, separating them into defined groups based on how best to dispose of them. For instance, separate your unwanted items that are in good working order, and can be reused by a friend or neighbor, from other items that require special disposal, such as hazardous chemicals or large, bulky items. See the following sections on how to identify items for reuse, recycling and special Eco-Friendly disposal.
    • Recycle. With a minimum of effort, you can recycle old magazines and newspapers that you do not want to take with you to your new home. Glass, metal and plastics are also easily recyclable, and you will conserve some of the Eco-Friendly raw materials and energy required to produce these items by re-offering them. Many of the items you clean out from your home might be Eco-Friendly and recyclable in your community curbside or drop-off recycling program. To determine what Eco-Friendly items you can recycle, contact your local environmental agency or waste-pickup service.
                    Common recyclables include:
      • cardboard;
      • mixed paper;
      • newspapers;
      • glass bottles and jars;
      • plastic bottles and jugs; and
      • scrap aluminum and cans.
Many Eco-Friendly items can be dropped off for recycling at nearby locations, such as:
  • plastic grocery bags that are often accepted for Eco-Friendly recycling at grocery stores;
  • used electronics, such as cell phones and computers, which are collected for recycling at electronics stores, school vocational programs, and by municipal governments;
  • bulky consumer goods.  Your municipality, by special request or at designated times of the year, may collect appliances and other large discards, such as non-working refrigerators and broken furniture.
  • Sell.
    • Neighborhood yard sales are a fun way to get rid of items and make a little extra money.
    • Websites such as eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle provide ways to advertise online, often for free, in order to unload unwanted items.
    • Antiques can be cleaned and sold to antique and consignment shops.
  • Donate.  Try putting items on your curb with a “free” sign.  Or, take them to your local Salvation Army Store, ARC Store, DAV Store, Goodwill, women’s shelter and homeless shelter as the items lose their usefulness to you.  Keep a spare bag in the trunk of your vehicle, and take the reusable Eco-Friendly items that you run across out to your car.  Before you know it, you will have a full bag to drop off at a thrift store or a collection drive.  Charitable donations to many non-profit organizations are often tax-deductible. Popular Eco-Friendly donated items include:
    • clothing and footwear;
    •  bedding, curtains and towels;
    • some toiletries;
    • books and magazines, which can be donated to your local school, library, or community or senior center;
    • furniture;
    • kitchenware and small, working appliances;
    • consumer electronics;
    • unwanted entertainment items, such as CDs, DVDs and video games;
    • larger items, such as computers, and stoves and refrigerators;
    • vehicles; and
    • unopened food items, which will be accepted at food banks and shelters.
  • Hire an Eco-Friendly environmentally conscious moving company. When searching for a professional service, select a competent expert who is concerned about nature and takes active Eco-Friendly steps in employing environmentally sound practices. Ask the company:
    • Do they encourage the use of used boxes rather than insisting that each customer pay for new
      boxes? An environmentally conscious transporter should be happy to take the materials
      from you after your move to pass on to his or her next customer.
    • Are their vehicles fuel-efficient?  Ethanol-powered trucks are a bonus, although high mile-per- gallon diesel and gasoline trucks are positive choices, too.
    • Moving vehicles may also be fitted with devices that emit a sound to prevent animals from
      wandering into the road. It may seem trivial, but moving vehicles spend a long time on the
      road, and these devices can and do save the lives of many animals. In Australia, they use
      “hopper stoppers” to protect kangaroos.  In much of the rest of the world, deer are a bigger
  • If you don’t use a professional moving company, be smart about boxes and packing materials. Rather than buying these items new, which unnecessarily adds to the expense of moving, find them used. In most cases, old boxes work just as well as new boxes. Liquor stores, grocery stores, hardware and other retail stores are usually happy to give away large cardboard boxes they no longer need and would have to otherwise discard or recycle. Calling around first will save you frustration and the emissions of driving around town to individual stores. You can also ask friends and neighbors if they have materials you can have or borrow. Moving boxes are also popular “freebies” on Craigslist. By following this tip, you will have reduced the number of trees that must be chopped down and boxes that must be manufactured. Also, by reusing boxes and packing material, you keep them out of landfills. When you are finished moving, keep the packing materials for future use, or pass them on.
  • Properly dispose of hazardous household items. While cleaning out and packing up the basement, garage or shed, you might run across some products such as cleaners, pesticides and paints, which are corrosive, flammable or otherwise dangerous to the environment and human health, if not disposed of properly. See if your community has special drop-off sites or holds periodic collection days for safe recycling and disposal of these products. Some stores offer free Eco-Friendly recycling for returned used goods at the point-of-purchase.
          Common hazardous substances include: oil Eco Friendly Relocation
    • cleaning supplies;
    • art and photographic supplies;
    • spent printer cartridges;
    • leftover paints, stains and varnishes;
    • light bulbs and fluorescent tubes;
    • spent batteries for laptops, digital cameras and other personal electronics;
    • old car batteries;
    • antifreeze;
    • used motor oil; and
    • pesticides and weed killer.
Also, beware of hazardous chemicals that may contain gasoline, oil or other toxins. Local environmental agencies across the country have set up programs for homeowners to trade in their old gasoline-powered lawnmowers and electric gardening equipment. Contact your local solid waste collection outfit or environmental agency to inquire about these Eco-Friendly programs.

FINAL FYI, Eco-Friendly relocation is often hectic and expensive, but it doesn’t have to damage the environment.  You can also take easy steps to pare down your material belongings and keep them out of the landfill by reducing, reusing and recycling.