Geothermal Energy Fueling a Family’s Love for the Finger Lakes

The Money house during winter. Photo by Lore Bottorf Petrie

A casual observer standing outside Dennis and Sheila Money’s three story home would be hard pressed to say what makes it different from their neighbors’ houses. Tucked between trees on a ridge overlooking Canandaigua Lake, it looks fairly typical. Only after the Moneys invite you inside for cup of a hot chocolate and you start to talk with them do you discover that their commitment to the environment influences almost everything they do.

This couple’s eco-friendly lifestyle includes operating a tree farm, growing their own vegetables, raising chickens and turkeys, and for the past 32 years, using wood from their 140 acres to heat their home. The Moneys do not see it so much as a checklist for green living as much as a blueprint leading into the future. They strive to minimize their carbon footprint because it benefits the environment overall, the Finger Lakes Region in particular, and now, their family’s energy bills.

When Sheila retired this past year and would be spending more time at home, the Moneys decided to install a geothermal heating, cooling and hot water system to replace their wood-burning heat. They made the decision in part because they wanted a lower-maintenance method of heating. “We spent a lot of time stoking the fire and not being able to travel in case the house would get cold if we were gone for a length of time,” said Sheila. “Now, we can spoil ourselves a little bit and still recap the cost-effective benefit of our heating choice.”

So what is geothermal heating and cooling and how is it used? 

Dig down approximately 6 to 15 feet, and the ground maintains a consistent temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

“Geothermal systems take energy generated from a water loop installed in the ground to pull heat from the Earth and bring it into your home,” explained James Van Hee, operations manager with Van Hee Heating Service based in Ontario. “It is free, renewable energy found just below the Earth’s surface.” Since 1978 the Van Hees have installed more than 500 systems throughout western New York, and they installed the Moneys’ system this past summer.

How does it work?

In the winter, the closed water loop pulls heat from the ground and brings it to the home for heating – including supplementing the hot water tank. In the summer, the reverse process takes place, and the system pulls the heat from the home and transfers it back into the ground for air-conditioning.

Most of the installation takes place up front. For the Moneys it meant installing an 1,800-foot ground loop field as well as a new heat pump located inside the house. “Think of it as a huge car-radiator installed into the ground,” Van Hee said. “The loop exchanges the heat between the ground and your home heat pump. The heat pump transfers heat between the ground and the conditioned space of the home.”

Dennis added, “The ground is doing the heating and cooling. There’s nothing outside that’s releasing carbon. It could not be more environmentally friendly. The heat in our home is extremely even and it feels warm from floor to ceiling. Also, air conditioning, which we didn’t have before, is part of the process – no extra unit is required.” And of course, the ground works as a radiator for free!

What does it cost?

The initial investment for installing geothermal can run between $20,000 and 30,000 on average. However, once it is installed, the only cost is the electricity to run the heat pump, so electric bills are only about one third of what they used to be for heating and cooling, and there are no more fuel bills.

A very important consideration for geothermal implementation is the 30-percent federal energy tax credit, which currently runs through 2016. “If you make the same investment in today’s financial market, you might find that you actually get a better return on your investment with a geothermal system,” said Dennis. The geothermal system generally pays for itself within 4 to 8 years, and the Van Hees guarantee the loop field for 55 years.

For Sheila and Dennis it is not merely about a financial investment. Mainly, it is about investing in a green future because getting energy out of the ground exemplifies how they live their life as environmental stewards.

Dennis noted, “Success for me is waking up in the morning and knowing I have done something good for the environment, leaving behind a legacy for my family and future generations to enjoy.”
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Van Hee Heating and Cooling, established in 1952, is a family-owned company specializing in geothermal and solar energy as well as traditional heating and cooling. In 1978 Van Hee installed its first geothermal systems and is now an innovator in the industry. Learn more at www.vanheeheating.com.

Lori Bottorf Petrie is a writer and technology professional specializing in corporate training and communications. She grew up on Canandaigua Lake and now resides in Irondequoit with her husband Jeff. She is also a mom to three young children from China and her rescued mutt-dog Jewels.


by Lori Bottorf Petrie