The energy problem in the world today has only begun to take effect. It is not just the cost to the consumer that we are worrying about; it is also the toll that these energy sources are taking on our planet. Who would have thought that the answer to this problem was right below our feet? Geothermal heat pumps use the Earth’s surface to heat and cool your home. This idea has been around for thousands of years, but odds are you have heard little or nothing about it. That is probably because in the past it was more economical to use the traditional gas or electric methods to heat and cool your home. As these energy sources continue to increase in price, geothermal heat pumps will become a more practical option for homeowners in many parts of the world.
How do Geothermal Heat Pumps Work?
Geothermal heat pumps are able to harness the Earth’s ability to absorb and store energy. It is able to do this because around 10 feet below the Earth’s surface, the temperature remains constant between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The entire system consists of:
- Indoor heat pump system
- In-ground loop (vertical or horizontal)
- Antifreeze and water mixture
- Flow center (connection between heat pump and loop)
- Thermostat (controls the system)
- Duct work (circulates the heat and air conditioning)
The ground loop is filled with the antifreeze and water mixture that is circulated from the heat pump to below the Earth surface. If you have a forced air system in your home already, a geothermal heat pump can use your existing duct work to circulate the warm and cool air throughout your home. When the thermostat is set to heat, the antifreeze absorbs the heat from inside the Earth and delivers it to the heat pump to heat the home. When the thermostat is set to cool, the heat pump removes the heat from the inside of the home and transports it into the Earth which cools the home.
There are two types or loops that you could have: closed or open. Open loops are normally used when the loop is installed under water because it uses water instead of antifreeze to transfer the heat. If an open system was used underground, there would have to be an area where the heated water could be dumped because it doesn’t reuse the water from cycle to cycle. Most residential homes will have a closed loop system. A close loop system involves a long loop of piping that is installed in the ground around your home. Your ground loop system will either be laid vertically or horizontally.
Vertical Closed Loop System
A vertical closed loop system uses one long loop that is installed anywhere from 250 to 1,000 feet into the Earth’s surface. The depth of the loop is determined by the climate. The more extreme the weather is, the deeper the loop will be. This type of ground loop is practical for those of us who have limited space on our properties. It may cost a little more than a horizontal loop because of the depth of the installation, but it is the more efficient option of the two.
Horizontal Closed Loop System
A horizontal loop system involves the installation of several loops in shallow trenches. During the installation, trenches are dug on the land and the pipes are installed in them. They are usually placed at a depth around 2 meters. Since the installation is less invasive, the cost for this type of loop is lower than the installation of the vertical loop. However, this type of loop requires a lot more land and is less efficient at heating and cooling the home.
Let’s Talk Efficiency
Modern day gas or electric furnaces can be over 95% efficient with the energy that they consume. That means that of the gas or electricity that it takes to run the unit, 95% of it is actually being used to heat or cool the home. This sounds great right? Yes it does, but when compared to a geothermal heat pump, these units seem like gas guzzlers. A geothermal heat pump doesn’t run on gas; it uses electricity. But the truly amazing thing about these heat pumps is that for every 1 btu that they use of electricity, they generate 3-5 btus. That means that a geothermal heat pump can be anywhere from 300-500% more efficient than an electric furnace or air conditioner.
Overtime, geothermal heat pumps pay for themselves in energy savings. Installing a geothermal heat pump will virtually eliminate any of the costs that you would normally have from heating and cooling your home. Also, these units last much longer than your typical gas or electric units. The heat pump alone is known to work for around 20 years, and the in ground loop is good for up to 50 years!
We cannot forget the most important benefit of all. Geothermal heat pumps help save our planet! Traditional heating and cooling units either produce harmful greenhouse gases or consume large amounts of electricity. Geothermal heat pumps do not pollute the environment in any way. Caring for the Earth should be our number one priority when it comes to choosing HVAC systems for our homes.