The basic physics behind emerging technologies. Geothermal heat pumps are a way to use the earth’s natural energy to heat and cool your home. Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons but underground temperatures don’t. Four to six feet below the earth’s surface, temperatures remain relatively constant year-round. A geothermal system, which typically consists of an indoor unit and a buried earth loop, capitalizes on these constant temperatures to provide “free” energy. In winter, fluid circulating through the system’s earth loop absorbs stored heat and carries it indoors. The unit compresses the heat to a higher temperature and distributes it throughout the building. The system reverses, pulling heat from the building, carrying it through the earth loop and depositing it in the cooler earth.
Unlike ordinary systems, geothermal systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth to provide a more efficient, affordable and environmentally friendly method of heating and cooling. Typically, electric power is used only to run the fan, compressor, and pump.
One thing that makes a geothermal heat pump so versatile is its ability to be a heating and cooling system in one. With a simple flick of a switch on your indoor thermostat, you can change from one mode to another. In the cooling mode, a geothermal heat pump takes heat from indoors and transfers it to the cooler earth through either groundwater or an underground earth loop system. In the heating mode, the process is reversed. Some geothermal heat pumps can provide all of your hot water needs on demand at the same high efficiencies as the heating/cooling cycles. An option called a desuperheater can be added to most heat pumps. It will provide significant savings by heating water before it enters your hot water tank.
A geothermal system operates more efficiently than ordinary heating and air conditioning systems because they can deliver an astonishing four units of energy for every one unit of electrical energy used. That translates into an efficiency rating of 400%, compared to the most efficient gas furnace, which rates only 95%. By combining stored earth energy with safe electric power, many homeowners realize savings up to 60% for heating, cooling, and hot water.
Because of the extraordinary efficiency of a geothermal system, any added investment related to installing a geothermal unit is usually more than offset by your energy savings. In new homes, most homeowners will experience an immediate positive return on their investment when the system cost is added to the mortgage. In replacement installations, homeowners find that any added investment over the cost of an ordinary system is generally recovered in energy savings within a few years. And with a long system life and less maintenance, overall life cycle costs are lower with geothermal.
The system provides precise distribution of comfortable air all year long, eliminating hot spots and cold spots. During heating, you’ll experience warm air without the hot blasts associated with ordinary gas furnaces. And compared to an air-source heat pump, the air is warmer. When cooling, a geothermal unit delivers cool, dehumidified air. For ultimate comfort, a zoning system can be added, using multiple thermostats to precisely control temperatures in various zones.
Because natural gas, propane or oil are not required to operate a geothermal unit, there’s no combustion, flames or fumes and no chance of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
With the all-electric geothermal system, there are no fumes produced during operation. By adding optional high efficiency air cleaners, you’ll achieve high levels of indoor air quality.
Unlike ordinary air conditioners or heat pumps, there is no noisy outdoor unit to disturb your outdoor environment or your neighbors. Geothermal units are designed and constructed for “whisper quiet” operation, similar to your refrigerator. Some models include variable speed fan motors and acoustical enclosures for the compressors.
Unlike air conditioners and heat pumps, geothermal units are installed indoors (like your refrigerator), so they are not subject to wear and tear caused by rain, snow, ice, debris, extreme temperatures or vandalism. Geothermal units have proven to be very reliable and require less maintenance.
According to the Department of Energy and the EPA, geothermal systems are the most environmentally friendly way to heat and cool your home. The system emits no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gasses which are considered to be major contributors to environmental air pollution. With a geothermal system, you can take comfort in a better environment. In addition, the lower peak demand for geothermal systems helps to postpone the need to build more expensive electric generating plants.
Geothermal systems are installed in homes from the cold climate of northern Canada and Alaska to the heat of Florida and Texas. Whether your home is new or old, large or small, a geothermal system will deliver. One compact unit provides heating, central air conditioning and domestic hot water. Various sizes, configurations (horizontal, vertical, splits), and options enable a system to be installed in virtually any application.