The Big Dig: A drill, a trench and four holes

The big dig begins.

The big dig begins.

Early last week the crew arrived with a drill and set up in my front yard to drill two big holes.   You need 640 feet of hole in the ground for a geothermal system.   This is one more step in our quest for energy neutrality.   Despite having one of the largest houses on the block, we should soon have one of the smallest utility bills.  Buying a house larger than the one we had been living in and had raised children in seemed illogical.  Why go bigger?  For me it was simple.  I wanted a larger kitchen that I could actually do a lot of cooking in, compared to my closet sized former kitchen.  I also wanted to enjoy a more feng shui existence with rooms that had empty space that wouldn’t be filled.  Our old house had many small rooms with small closets.  In the 1970s you didn’t need a lot of space because you didn’t have any stuff.  Three pairs of pants and two pairs of shoes sufficed.  No electronics, one car, and a shed for the bikes.  What else did you need?  A walk-in closet meant you could walk into it.  Not turn around or move, but walk in.  That was our house.  Lastly, we dreamed that one day we might have grandchildren and that the whole clan would gather at our house and everyone would have space of their own.


Once you hit water you get a muddy mess.

The geothermal system requires two different activities:  outdoors and indoors.  The outdoor activity involves digging the holes, and then digging a trench from the front yard to the backyard where they attach the whole thing to the house and the outdoor piping meets the indoor system.  Then the indoor crew installs the new system, a furnace-like box that makes it all work.  I don’t understand the mechanics of it all, but it has to do with harnessing the temperature of the earth, which is 55 degrees, and using that to heat and cool your house rather than electricity.  To sweeten the deal, you can get a rebate of 30% of the cost back on your taxes from Uncle Sam who wants to encourage you to save energy, at least this year.


At the time when the outside crew and the inside crew have to coordinate they take away your heat pump–which you don’t need anymore, and turn everything off, so you are without A/C for a day or two.  Fortunately this happened the day after a weeklong heat wave so we opened the windows and enjoyed a weekend of fresh air.


The drilling part took about three days to dig the holes.  They had planned on digging two holes of 320 feet each for a total of 640 feet, but due to some problems they decided instead to drill four holes for a total of 645 feet.   On day two they had issues of rock and a cave in at about 180 feet.  Long story short:  the drill got stuck.  This is a bad thing.  A drill costs around $15,000 and if it gets permanently stuck or breaks you have to replace it.  All, not literally you (meaning me), but the company doesn’t want to incur that heavy expense so when the drill gets stuck they take extra care to try to get it out in one piece and regroup with another strategy. The crew labored to get the drill unstuck, and this set the work back part of a day.   On day three the trench work began and then the indoor crew arrived.


The dogs were fascinated with the crew and the trench.  Dogs and dirt are like hotdogs and a bun.  On top of that, if you have a fenced back yard and suddenly either the gate is open or you have a big pile of dirt, or both, you have a logistical nightmare.  One day I had to take them out on a leash to do their business to keep them out of the crew’s way and out of the dirt.  We had all day rain on two days.  Overnight and during the weekend they covered the trench and the piles of dirt with a tarp.  This was partly so no one would fall into the trench and partly to stop the pile of dirt from becoming a pool of mud.


On days four and five everything got connected.  Slowly the heavy equipment was taken away until only the earth mover was left to put everything back.  We actually got a bonus out it.  The men noticed that we had a dip in the front yard where water was collecting, so with the extra dirt from the holes they graded that area.  Now it’s covered with straw and grass seed which we hope will be like new in a few weeks.


What’s the fuss about?

What you may ask, is the point of the time and money and energy put into this exercise?  For many years now we have been doing our best to reduce our carbon footprint and produce as little trash as possible and use as little energy as possible.  We take reusable bags to the supermarket and carry items rather than take plastic.  We have a compost pail on the counter and a composter in the back yard.  For the new house we bought one that rolls.  It’s incredibly low tech.  It’s like a barrel on its side.  You roll it a few times a week, and when you need compost you just roll the whole thing to where you want it.    IMG_1572


Most weeks we don’t even generate one bag of trash.  Out tiny bag of trash looks so lonely inside our huge trash bin.  The recycling bin is always full.  Next year my husband wants to get solar panels.  If we get them up and running we could actually have excess energy and sell power.  How cool would that be!

When they set up the new system the indoor guys reprogrammed the thermostat.  Before they left I rethought the temperatures.   Anyone who know me knows that I don’t like the heat, but I dislike being cold even more.  I have committed to try to keep the house 2-3 degrees colder than usual.  If I’m cold, I can put on a sweater.


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