ROCKLAND – “This house is my laboratory,” said George Terrien of Rockland.
Right now he was standing next to a trio of sophisticated heat pumps in the basement of his house on Broadway, explaining why he was keeping a diary of temperature readings.
For 18 years he heated and cooled his house and his water with a geothermal system. In what looks like an adorable Midcoast Maine garden, the tip of a pipe is the only evidence of the 425 foot deep well minimizing its carbon footprint.
Terrien estimates that without the geothermal process, it would have taken 72,000 gallons of oil to heat his home for the same number of years.
Terrien, 79, and his wife, artist Connie Hayes, bought the house in 2001 and began extensive renovations. Terrien worked extensively as an architect, including setting up his own office. He also worked as a consultant and trainer.
With the house, he was able to claim and prove with real data that older houses didn't all need to be replaced, but could be modernized in a way that both saves money and promotes a better environment. Demolishing all of the country's older homes and replacing them with new, energy-efficient homes would create a huge carbon footprint and environmental cost in terms of the energy and resources that are consumed in the process.
“To replace our older homes, we would need half another Prudhoe Bay,” he said, referring to the largest oil field in North America.
Instead of rebuilding a wet basement, for example, he simply installs an industrial dehumidifier.
In addition to the geothermal system, the south-facing parts of the roof are covered with solar panels.
Those who built the house in 1850 could never imagine what the level of technology would be to revive it. The house and the then detached coach house were dilapidated when they were bought. They renovated for three years before moving in.
When the geothermal system was installed, Terrien was a pioneer in the process. The equipment was in place, but there was no local experience of setting up such a system.
Terrien explains that the soil and water below the frost line have a constant temperature of 47 degrees. That doesn't sound very warm, but the consistency allows the system to trap energy.
He compares it to a refrigerator, which extracts energy (heat) from the objects inside and emits this heat in coils on the underside of the device. These coils get pretty warm, he said. Property owners can get energy from this heat exchange, use it to heat water and a house, and use the same constancy of floor temperature to cool the air in summer. Heat pumps use the same principle.
Terrien said that for every unit of electrical energy he puts into the system, he gets four units of heat back.
In other countries like Denmark this is not at all unusual.
“If we can do it, we owe it to the world,” he said.
With the solar in the mix, he said his utility bills are less than $ 14 a month.
Additionally, improvements to insulation and windows not only help trap heat or cold in the house, but also protect the couple from the noise of the busy street outside. The excellent ventilation of the house also prevents road dust from getting inside.
Terrien has worked with environmentally friendly technology throughout his career. In the 1970s he was the architect of the Maine Autobon Society headquarters in Falmouth. He developed a solar energy process to heat this building. He was helped by students and a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maine in Orono.
Today he would recommend homeowners invest in air-to-air heat pumps or air-to-water heat pumps. Technology has advanced since he renovated the house 20 years ago and more technology is readily available.
He hopes to contribute to a better world, a place to leave behind his children and grandchildren.
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