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How Geothermal Brought a Sense of Calm to a Community

Geothermal is not only highly efficient, but it can allow residents to appreciate the sounds of nature.

By Brandon Bryant 

How many of us find solace in a quiet moment? We may not always realize the amount of noise that we process every day. Take a moment and listen to the many sounds around you. We all know there is an abundant number of noises that can be heard both inside and outside our home. Some of these sounds we enjoy and appreciate — the sound of children playing, birds chirping, the relaxing sound of rivers or streams. But some of these noises are not nearly so enjoyable. 

One thing that most developers and builders often do not take into consideration is the sound of a home as it operates. Homes can make a great deal of background noise – whether it be the low hum of appliances running or the noise of heat pump units routinely cycling on and off throughout the day and night. While some noises are out of our hands, such as the neighbor revving their vintage Corvette as they pull out of their driveway, others can be within our control through mindful design considerations. 

Olivette, a 346-acre planned agrihood community with plans for approximately 325 residences, mixed between single-family homes and townhomes, is an example of how including sound impact in the design can have a positive impact on quality of life. The Olivette site is naturally graced with a sense of serenity with the French Broad River bordering the community, which was something the Olivette team worked to maintain as the community was developed.

Geothermal is a viable option in any market and it is especially beneficial in colder climates, creating a level of comfort that builders are looking for.”

From very early on in the master planning process the subject of noise pollution was discussed, with the peacefulness and serenity of the river and the farm being something the developers wanted to preserve. They were concerned that the noise of cars driving by, heat pump systems running and other man-made sounds would diminish that sense of calm. While working to create this eco-conscious agrihood, the developers decided to use geothermal rather than traditional heat pump systems. 

Geothermal requires no outdoor unit, so the sound of the unit running is eliminated entirely. This was a perfect solution to reducing the noise pollution in Olivette, as well as contributing towards the NC Green Built certifications pursued for all homes within the community. The beautiful thing about geothermal is that it uses the earth to heat and cool your home. While air temperatures can vary greatly from day to night, summer to winter, and even by region, the temperature just below the surface of the earth remains an average 55-70°F year-round. Geothermal is a viable option in any market and it is especially beneficial in colder climates, creating a level of comfort that builders are looking for. 

Geothermal is a premium system in that it has more upfront cost than conventional systems, but it is unmatched in performance. Geothermal has a useful life of 25 years compared to conventional systems of only 15-18 years and an annual operating savings of $1,416 compared to conventional systems. There are also federal and state incentives and tax credits for individuals who install a geothermal system.

As Olivette founding partner Allison Smith said, “I think perhaps in a modern world people underestimate the benefits of quiet moments. A secondary (but also important) benefit of geothermal heating and cooling is the preservation of the natural soundscape. Because geothermal is a requirement at Olivette, the entire community benefits from the soothing sounds of nature- the wind in the trees, the river flowing, and the gentle sounds of the birds and insects on a summer evening.”

Brandon Bryant is President and owner of Red Tree Builders of Asheville, NC. and a Master Certified Green Builder (Master CGP). He is currently serving as NAHB Chair of the Sustainability & Green Building Subcommittee, and Vice President of the North Carolina Home Builders Association. 

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