In a time where each of us makes a conscious effort to be more friendly to the earth, one of the biggest changes we can make comes from right within our homes.
An estimated 4,500 kWh per year is used per person in the average American household, which equates to about five times the average for the rest of the world.
Much of this is due to our heating and cooling use, and a geothermal heat pump could be the solution to reducing this dramatically.
What is a geothermal heat pump and what benefits does it offer to the average American home?
Geothermal pumps use the natural and constantly warm water located underneath the earth’s surface to provide energy to the people above, and its benefits range from reduced energy costs to a greener way of living.
If you’ve been pondering how geothermal heat pumps work and what their place in our homes could be, you’ll want to read on.
We look at the basics of these systems, the benefits they offer, and how you can go about using the natural heat of the earth to warm and cool your home, without having to feel any guilt about your carbon footprint.
What Exactly is a Geothermal Heat Pump?
Geothermal heat pumps are no new invention, and in fact, this type of system has been working since the 1940s.
Sometimes referred to as GeoExchange, ground source or water source heat pump, they rely on the warm and constant temperature of a few feet under the earth to provide heat exchange.
Many other heat and cooling exchange systems used for home rely on the temperature outside to do their work, but with these temperatures fluctuating quite a bit, it’s not always reliable and uses a whole lot of energy.
Because the temperature below the earth’s surface stays a constant range between 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s perfect for this type of application.
During winter, the temperature under the ground is warmer and cooler during summer, making it ideal for HVAC in commercial or domestic use.
It uses this constant temperature to exchange heat through an exchange system to provide heating, cooling, and sometimes even hot water supply.
The most impressive thing about geothermal heat pumps is how energy efficient they are when compared to other HVAC options.
This alone makes them one of the best options for people looking to reduce energy costs and embrace a green way of living, so if you think your home might be eligible to have geothermal heat pumps, it’s the recommended way to go.
How Geothermal Heating and Cooling Works
A geothermal pump is a device installed in the home that works by transferring the heat underneath the earth’s surface into your house, but it’s a little more complex than it sounds.
Having one of these set up in your home means you’ll have a network of pipes installed that run from underneath the ground, at least a few feet, and directly into your house.
The system comprises an indoor unit and a system of pipes that run under the ground and through the house. The heat is absorbed from under the earth and transferred through these pipes.
Depending on the system you have installed, you might use it as heat or have it run through a heat exchange system which allows for cold temperatures as well.
Unlike other HVAC systems, a geothermal heat pump is not running on fossil fuels and has very little impact on the environment.
The most basic setup features a pump, compressor, and fan, all of which require a small amount of electricity to run, and the rest of its power comes from the earth.
With the key difference being how they draw their energy and how much it uses to create the heat and cool, it’s obvious why this is becoming the first choice for HVAC in many homes.
Transferring natural energy from the earth means less effort, less energy spent, and less money for your energy bill.
What a Home Setup Looks Like
If you’re interested in installing a geothermal heat pump, you probably want to know what’s involved in the process.
Depending on the type of setup you want, whether you require both heating and cooling, and what your financial budget is, most standard home units consist of the following:
- Subfloor radiant heating: Pipes are laid throughout the house underneath the floor and hot water is pumped through them, heating the home and keeping temperatures at an ideal level.
- Desuperheater: This is standard in all geothermal heat pumps and heats the water needed for things like showers, baths, and pools. It uses more energy than cool water, so if you want to save money, you’ll need to limit its use.
- Humidity control: For people living in the tropics or humid climates, you’ll want a specialized humidity controller. This isn’t usually necessary for other homes and will cost extra but is a necessity for those in the right climates.
- Specialized areas: If you don’t want to power the whole home with energy from underneath the earth, you can select just one area to use a smaller pump. Some people choose to heat or cool their greenhouse, basement, garage, or even driveway to melt the snow and ice, so it’s completely up to you where and how you do it.
The Average Cost of a Setup
The biggest concern that homeowners have when looking at switching to a green HVAC system is the cost.
This is a fair concern too, with most environmentally friendly options being more expensive in initial outlay. However, where they make up for it is in low ongoing costs and maintenance, and the geothermal heat pump is no different in this arena.
There are varying costs involved with setting up a pump, labor and expenses, drilling conditions, and the size and type of unit you want.
The ground loop is the most expensive part as it’s the structure that sits underneath the earth’s surface, and this alone can cost between $1,000 and $3,000 for every ton that’s installed.
An average household or smaller commercial building would spend between $10,000 to $25,00 for the entire system and installation.
When compared to other air powered systems, it can cost more than $10,000 extra, which is why many people shy away from having them installed before they can begin to understand its many benefits.
How Much Can These Pumps Save You?
If you’re not initially frightened away by the cost of installation, you might be wondering whether it’s all worth it.
The best way to see what you’ll be saving by having a geothermal heat pump installed is to look at the yearly costs of other heating and cooling systems as well as how long they usually last and compare the two.
The efficiency of these pumps is what sets them apart, and compared to other systems, they can save between 30 to 60 percent of your annual energy bills.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a geothermal heat pump will save you between 30 to 70 percent of heating bills and around 20 – 50 percent of your cooling bills every month.
With an average pump system installed, you will be saving between $400 to $1,500 a year on energy costs as well as doing a huge favor for the planet.
However, these saving take some time to be seen as you are still usually paying off the cost of the setup and installation.
The average warranty on the pipes used for geothermal heat pumps is around 50 years and the other parts of the unit require very little in the way of maintenance.
Considering all of these factors together, the system will start to pay for itself after five or so years, so it’s a smart investment to make if you plan on living in your home for some time.
What Households Suit Geothermal Heat Pumps Best?
There are no special criteria to meet if you want to have a geothermal heat pump installed, so it’s available to almost everyone provided they can afford it.
Before you have one installed, a professional will come and assess your property and home to see if it’s viable, and then talk you through the steps and cost involved.
Most households use a large amount of their energy bill on heating and cooling costs, and if you’re looking for a way to cut down on this then a heat pump is ideal.
Whether you live alone or with a large family, these pumps will be able to cut your energy use in half, and even if you use one on a smaller scale like just to heat your driveway.
The Biggest Benefits of Geothermal Pumps
There’s more than one reason why geothermal heat pumps are about to be the biggest trend in environmentally friendly HVAC systems.
These pumps offer so many benefits to the average household that more than make up for their cost, so check out what you could be getting if you make the switch to this type of heating unit.
One annoying thing about owning heaters and air conditioners is that you have to keep them clean and get them serviced regularly for them to continue working. With a geothermal heat pump, you’re looking at almost zero in terms of maintenance.
If installed correctly, the buried loop will last for generations, and the parts of the unit are all housed inside and won’t be exposed to any harsh elements.
All you have to do is check them once a year, change their oil and filter, and they’re ready to get back to work.
Low Ongoing Cost
Some might be turned off at the high cost of having a geothermal heat pump installed at home, but when you look at the ongoing costs this helps to even it out.
Estimates show that these systems pay for themselves within five to 10 years thanks to reduced energy bills and less maintenance.
Considering the system can last over 50 years when installed correctly, it’s one of the smartest investments you’ll make for your home.
One way of telling how effective a heating or cooling system is, is to look at its performance in terms of how much power it uses to get results, referred to as the coefficient of performance.
Other options like air conditioners and space heaters might do a good job of heating and cooling, but they use up just about the same amount of energy doing so, having very low COPs.
A geothermal heat pump operates with a COP of 3.0 to 5.0 which means every singular unit of energy that it uses to work the system, it then supplies you with up to five units of heat.
A ground bases system like this is 400 times more efficient than an air conditioner and requires just one kilowatt per hour to power up a 12,000 BTU.
When you think about your everyday household use of heating and cooling units, this translates to a lot of saved energy.
The only things relying on electricity are the base unit and this uses very little, thanks to the natural energy sourced from below the earth.
A pump like this can save up to 70 percent in energy on heating and 50 percent on cooling costs, which is enough to get anyone excited.
Reduced Impact on the Earth
If you’re not just interested in how a heat pump can benefit you, think about the good you’re doing for the planet as well.
Using a geothermal heat pump is one of the friendliest things you can do for the environment and a smart choice for your home’s HVAC system.
You’re only using the earth’s heat to heat your house and just a small amount of electricity, so it’s one of the greenest options out there that the planet would be grateful for.
Discreet and Quiet
Although we like to rely on our space heaters and air conditioners to regulate the temperature at home, they can be noisy. Having a geothermal heat pump running makes very little noise if any at all, so you can have one near your house and not notice.
Because the majority of the system is underground as well, there’s no threat to your home’s aesthetics or risk of anything degrading or rusting over time.
The Natural Way Approach to HVAC
The future points to many amazing developments in green technology and engineering that we can get excited about and geothermal heat pumps have to be one of the most exciting.
As one of the biggest energy consumers in the average household, having an option like this to provide your heating and cooling is a gamechanger.
Although the use of geothermal heat pumps is nothing new, the way they’re now being used for everyday households is. Now more than ever we want to reduce our carbon footprint and do our part for the planet, and this is the easy way to do so.
An estimated 50,000 geothermal heat pumps are installed just in the United States each year, with that number only growing more as time goes on, so it’s great to see the demand for this green HVAC system increasing.
There are so many benefits available from having one of these systems installed and although they can be expensive initially, they end up paying for themselves in no time at all.
With something as simple as harnessing the constant temperatures a few feet under the earth’s surface, geothermal heat pumps have changed the way we heat and cool our homes for good.
Geothermal heat pumps are just one of the amazing eco-friendly discoveries that have been made in recent years.
If you’ve never heard of these heat pumps or any other green heating and cooling options, you might want to check out the answers to some commonly asked questions about how they work.
Does Geothermal Add Value to Your Home?
Having a geothermal heat pump installed in your home could be a valuable asset and one that can add to its financial worth.
Considering these heating and cooling systems are capable of saving up to 60 percent of energy costs and last for up to 50 years, listing a home that already has one installed would be a major selling point.
Are There Negatives to Geothermal Heat Pumps?
As these are relatively new in terms of domestic use, not enough is known to determine if there are many negatives.
Some do worry that the greenhouse gases found below the surface of the earth where its energy is taken from will be able to move up above the ground, but as of yet, there isn’t enough evidence to support this.