Goethermal System: A Viable Option?

by Jane VanOsdol on March 26, 2011

If you’re thinking of replacing your heating and cooling system, you may want to add a geothermal heat pump to your list of possibilities. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), geothermal heat is a highly efficient renewable energy technology that is being used in both residential and commercial areas. One of its features is that it works by concentrating naturally existing heat, rather than by producing heat through the consumption of fossil fuels.

Some may be put off by the initial higher price tag of installing such a system. Depending upon the size and style of your home, (one-story- or two-story homes), the price can vary significantly. Plan on at least two or three times the price of a conventional heating system. However, the experts think that you should be able to recoup this in five to ten years because of the monthly energy savings you will be reaping from this unit. Typically, geothermal heating and cooling systems use 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional units.

How Geothermal Heat Works

The earth absorbs about 50% of all solar energy and uses that energy to maintain a consistent internal temperature, somewhere between 50°F and 70°F, depending upon your geographic location.  Geothermal heating systems utilize underground loop systems that exchange energy between your home and the earth to heat—or cool—your home.

When it’s cold outside, the system absorbs heat from the earth and transfers that heat to water, which is contained inside the loop system. The heat is then compressed to a higher temperature and sent as warm air through your home. In the summer, the geothermal cooling system reverses and expels heat that is in your home into the cooler earth through the loop system. Generally, conventional duct work is used to distribute the heated or cooled air from the unit throughout your home.

Hot Water

Geothermal heat pumps can also be used to provide hot water when the system is operating. Many residential systems now come with desuperheaters that transfer excess heat from the geothermal heat pump’s compressor to the house’s hot water tank. A drawback is that no hot water is supplied in the spring and fall when the system is not operating. However, manufacturers are now beginning to offer “full demand” systems that will supply hot water throughout the year that can compete with any other hot water heaters.

Clearly this is a home improvement project that will take some research on your part to find the best solution for your home. We’ll continue this series by looking at the different types of geothermal heat pump systems and how to determine which one is best for your home.

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