Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Geology of Cool

I don't know how easy it would be to install one of these systems in an existing building, but it might be worth investigating.

The New York Times
June 8, 2008
The Geology of Cool

THE idea that burrowing underground could somehow help you cool off on a hot summer day might seem illogical — especially to anyone who rides the subway, where platforms at this time of year can be sweltering.

But burrowing is exactly what geothermal heat pumps do to reduce temperatures. They work because the ground hundreds of feet down remains a fairly constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Absorbing heat into water, they whisk it downward, disperse it and then resend it, newly chilled, back to the surface.

The technology has existed since World War II; newly eco-conscious developers are taking advantage of its greenness. In cooling a room, it uses about half the electricity of the typical air-conditioner and produces fewer carbon emissions.

The pumps can be four times more expensive to install than traditional heating and cooling systems, partly because thick bedrock and narrow lots complicate drilling the deep wells they need. But they can pay for themselves in a decade, according to developers, engineers and industry leaders.

A few multiunit buildings in the area are therefore trying out the technology.

One is 180 East 93rd Street, a seven-story brick-and-limestone condo rising between Third and Lexington Avenues. Its nine units, all three- and four-bedrooms with corresponding numbers of baths, range from 1,450 to 3,300 square feet; they will have slate kitchen counters and white oak floors, says Douglas Benach of Greystone Property Development, the builder.

While excavation has begun, sales figures for the $30 million project await approval by the state attorney general; Mr. Benach expects prices of $2.7 million to $7 million, based on market rates.

The system, whose subterranean portions will be drilled in August, will cost about $400,000; conventional systems run $100,000, Mr. Benach said. Still, they should ultimately reduce common charges and obviate the need for bulky roof equipment, he said.

They do take up room in the basement, however. This can cut into key condo common areas, says Carlton Brown, the chief operating officer of Full Spectrum of NY. That was why Mr. Brown shelved geothermal plans at the Kalahari, at 40 West 116th Street, near Fifth Avenue in Harlem, where it would have meant losing a few of the building’s eight squash courts.

Closings begin this week at the 12-story condo, which was co-developed with L & M Development Partners of Larchmont, N.Y. Its 249 units — studios to four-bedrooms — are 90 percent sold; those remaining are priced from $695,000 to $1.7 million, he said.

Another deal-breaking worry is that drilling could harm nearby foundations, says Gita Nandan of Thread Collective in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Ms. Nandan had considered a geothermal system for the five-floor 6,500-square-foot condo she is putting up at 225 Troutman Street. She ended up deciding that given all the challenges, there were easier ways of going green.


ENERGY WITHIN Builders of 180 East 93rd Street are installing geothermal technology.

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