While I wait for an estimate from DeConstruction Services to do the tear-down of the house in an environmentally sensitive way, my architect, Peter VanderPoel, suggested we spend a Tuesday afternoon at Amicus Green, a building supply center dedicated to green products, in Kensington. I thought we were going to a mall for eco-friendly supplies. I had no idea.

The author, Mary McCutcheon, consults with Jason Holstine at Amicus Green, a green-building supply store. (C/o Peter VanderPoel)

Amicus Green is in an unprepossessing storefront on Howard Avenue with little outside advertising. This wasn’t the Home Depot. As we walked in and I saw the crowded warehouse-like conditions, I asked Peter, “What exactly are we doing here?”

(c/o Mary McCutcheon)

It wasn’t until Jason joined us that I realized we were not picking out stuff. Jason’s main business is consulting for people like me. What we talked about was mainly heating, cooling, air circulation and insulation. He does all the math for these kinds of systems.

Peter told me that, in our climate, we spend three times more energy heating than cooling our homes. Even though we might want to cool about as often as we want to heat, when we do heat, we are likely to be changing the outdoor temperature by more degrees than when we cool.

Jason Holstine from Amicus Green. (c/o Peter VanderPoel)

I told him, with cocky self-assurance, that I was definitely going with geothermal. What I know about geothermal is that it taps the ambient temperature way below the ground level and requires a long length of tubing penetrating this area which then is cooler than the outside air in summer and warmer in the winter. You need to have a hole going down to the water table that accommodates this length of tubing. I had heard that some people pay for their entire systems over as little as seven years of energy cost savings. That sounded really good. But as soon as I mentioned my idea to Jason, he said, “I’m going to show you my cards now,” and he proceeded to talk me down to earth (or I should say up out of my deep hole) again.

First, he told me that average costs for doing all the digging and engineering are $70,000. Whoa. My eyes widened. Then he said that the system can be so efficient that in the summer, short blasts of cooling are sufficient to lower the temperature enough to click off the thermostat. This sounds good except that the cooling system is not kicked in for long enough to dehumidify a house in the steamiest part of summer; people end up with mold in the cool moist conditions that it creates. For houses that are drafty and are being retrofitted with new heating and cooling, it can be a good idea, but when you build a new house from scratch, it’s so tight that it makes geothermal a waste.

Check back here for next week’s Home Demolition.

Read past installments:

The architecture

Wrecking and recycling

Considering the wrecking ball