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Mandala House goes Geothermal

October 15, 2008 by Lightwaves

After nearly a year of digging, drilling and installing, the switch-over to the new geothermal heating system in Mandala house is now complete! Lightwaves interviews Charles Green about the new system and its place in the ashram’s move towards sustainability.

Geothermal systems draw upon the natural heat within the earth to create a green, renewable source of heat. The Ashram has already installed geothermal in our newest accommodation facility, known as “the barn,” where it distributes warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer through a duct system. The Mandala House system connects to a pre-existing network of in-floor heating pipes, providing radiant warmth for Ashram residents and guests.

Lightwaves spoke to Charles Green, an Ashram resident who has been involved throughout the project, to get some clarity on what the system is, how it works, and why it’s a good choice for the future of the Ashram and the environment.


Can you talk about why the ashram decided to switch to a geothermal system?

The main reason we decided to go with geothermal was because of trying to have a lighter footprint as far as the environment goes. What we had in place at Mandala House was a boiler that was operating on both wood and waste oil. It was efficient and economical, but it required a certain amount of maintenance, and only a couple of us here were able to operate it and keep it running smoothly. The geothermal is cleaner, more economical, and less trouble to maintain.

How is the new system cleaner than the old?

We had our boiler tested, and we were told that in terms of carbon emissions, it was at about the same level as natural gas, which comparatively is not too bad. The advantage of using the geothermal, though, is that it’s completely clean – it creates zero emissions. In the past we’ve had people tell us that they could sometimes smell the emissions from the boiler, so switching to geothermal serves a dual purpose: it’s good for the environment of the ashram, and good for the environment on a larger scale.

Which buildings will it service?

We have geothermal in the Barn right now, and this new system is just going to heat Mandala House. We’re also in the process of getting a system of solar panels hooked up to heat the domestic hot water at Mandala House.

Will the system work during power outages?

What we’re working on, and we’ve got some of the initial work done but we haven’t budgeted the entire thing yet, is to have a backup generator that would help to run the geothermal and also the plumbing for the building in case of power outage. Right now the geothermal needs electricity to run the pumps, we also need electricity to run the pumps for the solar.

When did the whole project begin?

We started thinking about the geothermal quite a number of years ago and it just never seemed to quite work out financially; and of course we also had to figure out how to do it. The actual drilling started in December of 2007, and we finished drilling in January of 2008. The system was hooked up in late August – so right now it’s working, and it’s working well.

How does the system work?

The earth, down below 7 feet, is somewhere between 50-55 degrees farenheit, and we have 8 holes that are drilled down about 220 feet each. Pipes containing a coolant solution run down into the holes, where the coolant circulates and picks up the earth’s heat. Then the liquid comes up to the heat pumps. It comes in about 55 degrees, and when it goes out, it’s somewhere about 35 degrees, and goes back into the ground. The heat pumps take that 20 degrees or so out of the coolant, and then it works like a refrigeration unit in reverse – instead of making cold, making heat. It keeps taking the heat out of the liquid and putting the cool liquid back into the ground, which then comes back up – it’s a continual cycle.

What other energy saving measures are in the works in the ashram?

We had been scheduled to do solar hot water at the guest lodge (Saraswati House), and that was going to happen before Christmas, but we’ve just postponed that project, as the contractor is running behind and we decided we didn’t want to have it going on at the same time as the YDC. But that is a project we’re moving into – solar for the hot water in both the Radha House and the Guest Lodge.

We’re also thinking about putting geothermal into the Temple and maybe Many Mansions, although those projects are a little ways down the road.

The next thing we’re really trying to do as far as energy conservation is looking at upgrading our vehicles. We’re going to be doing something there this year, replacing at least one of the vehicles. There are a lot of different options, with hybrids, biodiesel vehicles, and electric – we haven’t determined which way to go yet.

And the other project we want to start hopefully before Christmas is the Divine Mother room. We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to be doing as far as energy, but we plan to insulate it well, and generally make it more efficient, while keeping the structure of the original building.

Can geothermal systems work anywhere in the world?

It’s done just about everywhere, but I think when you get into colder temperatures it doesn’t work as well because it can only create so much heat, and if you’re having really big heat losses it becomes a lot less viable. But in this area it’s supposed to work very well. The system is designed to work for most of the winter, but not for extremely cold temperatures. So for really cold periods, say if it got to be 20 below here for a few days, we have a backup propane boiler that would kick in and help out.

What’s going to happen with the old furnace shed?

The old boiler will get taken out and sold locally, and the old boiler room hopefully can become a space to help with preserving food, so it could house things like a summer kitchen and extra freezer.

What are the projected financial savings?

Generally speaking you would get a payback on something like this in 25 or 30 years. In our situation it would be longer than that, because we were using a system that was pretty economical to begin with. We used wood and also waste oil, and waste oil is less than half the cost of regular oil, so I think it’ll take a little longer to pay back on this. But it will lessen our use of energy, and it will help the environment, so we’re paying back in a different way.



Detailed article with video on Mandala House’s Geothermal Installation:

Learn how you can join the circle of sustainability:

Yasodhara Ashram’s sustainability plan:

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