Like a lot of people, I love my home. With a geothermal heating and cooling system, I enjoy what everyone wants, year-round comfort, at very little cost. With geothermal, my home in Pensacola, Florida is all about comfort and efficiency. That fact was borne out during the harsh winter of 2017-18, with my monthly heating and cooling bills typically only half that of my neighbors.

I built my home in 2001 from the ground up with a custom contractor (Bob Price Homes) and heating and cooling system contractor (Energy Systems Air Conditioning) who were open to providing me what I wanted. At the time, I thought it might be my last home, so I wanted to construct it beyond minimum thermal building codes with the most efficient heating, cooling and hot water system available. Friends and colleagues thought I was going way overboard, but my purpose was to maximize and enjoy comfort at the lowest energy cost possible. Guess who’s laughing now?

As an Energy Efficiency Manager for Gulf Power Company, I was familiar with every heating and cooling system manufactured, so I knew geothermal heat pumps were the answer. I also had a very good experience with geothermal system in a prior home that my family lived in for six years. It was a 2,000 square-foot, all-electric model that averaged only $80/ month in utility bills. That’s pretty darned good! When I sold, those low energy bills impressed potential homebuyers, and without question helped sell the house quickly compared to others on the market at the time. If someone likes a house, its efficiency and low energy bills are icing on the cake when selling.

My current home is 2,500 square-feet with a well-insulated, tight envelope. The house has 6” walls filled with blown-in R-21 insulation, and loose-fill blown-in R-38 ceiling insulation. The windows are double-paned vinyl, Low E windows—all tightly sealed for low air infiltration. Since the home is super air-tight, I have a passive outside ducted line connected to the return air to positively pressurize the home with some fresh air each time the heat pump operates.

The heating and cooling system is based on a packaged unit geothermal heat pump, nominal 3-ton, 2-speed capacity, with a single zoned duct system and heat recovery for hot water preheating. The geothermal ground heat exchanger serving the heat pump consists of three vertical polyethylene pipe ground loops at 250 ft. each, the most common and typical in my area in Northwest Florida.

The American Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) Water Loop Rating of my geothermal heat pump—which is closest to our ground operating/entering water temperatures—is 17 EER (energy efficiency rating) at high speed, and 19 EER at low speed for cooling. For heating it has a 5.5 COP (coef-ficient of performance) at high speed and 6.4 COP at low speed. Since most geothermal systems operate at partial load much of the time, my heat pump’s average efficiency is likely 18 EER and 5.0 COP, which is how and why I enjoy such low energy costs compared to conventional heating and cooling systems with far lower equipment efficiency.

The recent harsh winter weather in northwest Florida (a solid week of temperatures in the teens and 20s, then 30s all month in January) offers an excellent example of the energy efficiency I enjoy with my geothermal heat pump. I live on a private road with seven neighbors on large lots. They all have typical, less efficient air-source heat pumps. The average of all those homes’ January 2018 electric bills was $250, while my bill for the same period was $120.

Even better—as shown in the graph below of my energy costs—my bills total only $340 for an entire year! Why? Because my geothermal heat pump system offers the best efficiency compared any other electric or gas heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system on the market.

Right after it was built in 2001, my home and contractors won the Florida Home Builders Association “Grand Aurora Award” for energy efficiency at the Southeast Builders Confer-ence in Orlando, FL. The following year, my home and contractors won the Quality Comfort Home Award sponsored by Contracting Business magazine, including a 4-page feature article, and were also featured at the 2002 Com-fortTech Conference.

Serving the Northwest Florida panhandle area, Gulf Power has been a leading utility in the South promoting geothermal heat pumps since the mid-1990s. Working with our customers, we have helped install over 4,000 residential geothermal systems, and over 10,000 tons of capacity in commercial buildings. We know it works, it’s efficient, and it’s good for customers and us—the utility. Gulf Power only recommends and incents “closed-loop” geothermal heat pump systems simply because they are more reliable long-term than open well systems, and earth loops are maintenance free. My system is going on 17 years old and I’ve not spent a penny on my ground loop the entire time. You can’t ask for more.

Depending on the home, geothermal heat pumps can save easily 30-40% on energy bills, but like my home system, many can save over 50%. Geothermal heating and cooling is by far the best choice for anyone who is going to buy or build a home and keep it for the long-term. And with the current federal tax credit of 30% against residential geothermal installation cost, it’s as they say, a “no-brainer.”

Keith Swilley
Energy Sales and Efficiency Manager, Gulf Power Co.


Energy Systems • 1027 S. Fairfield Drive • Pensacola, FL  32506 • 850-456-5612