As the name suggests, geothermal heating is the use of energy from the Earth to produce heat which can be used for a variety of other purposes. When you set out to install a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system, a list of factors determine whether or not you’re making the most effective and cost efficient decision for your household. This article focuses on the most commonly asked questions when it comes to setting up geothermal heating systems and how beneficial they really can be for you.

Q1) What are geothermal systems and how do they work?

Geothermal heating systems have been used for the last 70 years in various applications such as heating water and electricity generation. However, the advancement of technology has allowed us to develop Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs) to heat and cool our buildings. These pumps utilize the temperature of the ground as an alternative solution to control your house’s temperature instead of burning oil and gas. Since the ground temperature is stable, the tubes containing water and usually refrigerant are installed 10 feet under the ground. The heat of the ground is exchanged with the temperature of the liquid in the pipes and with the help of a heat exchanger, compressor and control systems, warm air is pushed into the building while cold water is pushed back into the ground in a loop. This cycle is reversed in the summers as the heat from the house is pushed into the ground after which cold air is pushed back into the house. The use of geothermal heating has brought a great deal of convenience to humankind for a very long time to the extent that our reliance on it is a necessity. However, with modern advances in technology, HVAC systems have progressed a great deal. This evolution of the application of geothermal heating brings up a lot of questions to homeowners. This article aims to cover the main questions of geothermal heating in matters of utmost relevance from power saving queries to the cost to the environment and the sustainability of the systems in general.

Q2) What are the different kinds of geothermal systems and how do they work?

Thermal energy is present in the Earth primarily due to the decay of minerals and the solar energy absorbed by the surface of the Earth. A geothermal heating system is based around using that heat to keep buildings warm or cold. The primary advantage of this system is that no energy conversion is needed so it is cost effective in terms of thermal efficiency, however the catch lies in the fact that thermal energy is absorbed less in the winters so the performance of the system faces a dent as well. While deciding which system to use, one must first learn how the different kinds of geothermal systems work and which one is suitable for your homes.

Open loop

An open loop system uses water from a nearby water body such as a lake or a well which acts as a refrigerant to either heat or cool the water in the pipes before it is disposed off again into the water body that it came from. In comparison to closed loop systems, open loop geothermal systems are generally less expensive ranging from $10,000 to $15,000. There are a few drawbacks here as it is rare for a house to previously have a well on their property and constructing ones could add up the costs heavily. Some states and municipalities also have strict regulations about water being treated before it is released back into its source.

Closed loop

The most common kind of geothermal system is the closed loop system in which a water loop (sometimes with an added refrigerant) is created that utilises water present in the tubes to transfer or extract heat energy in order to control the temperature of the house. The water is not extracted out and new water is not used from nearby lakes and wells. A closed loop system is estimated to cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 depending on the equipment required and whether it is built using a vertical loop system or a horizontal loop system. If you do have a pond or lake near your property then you also have the option to install a pond closed loop system which does not expel the water back into the pond and still uses refrigerant. These are slightly cheaper at $10,000 to $15,000, however, a permit may still be needed by local authorities before you decide to install a lake closed loop system.

Horizontal Loop

A horizontal loop is the more economical choice if you have decided to choose a closed loop system. Although the lower cost is an advantage, the rows of tubes must be dug for around 400-500 feet which involves cutting trees and upheaving the landscape of the area under which the system is going to be installed. The colder the climate, however, the deeper the tubes will have to be installed, which increases the costs. Based on the conditions of the land and the amount of digging and pipes required brings this system to an approximate cost of $15,000 to $30,000.

Vertical Loop

A vertical loop system involves the same mechanism as the other kinds of closed loops but has several advantages and disadvantages attached to it. It is more expensive than the other systems as hundreds of feet of land have to be dug up for the pipes to be installed after which grout (cement, sand and water) is used to seal the sizable hole in your ground and provide efficient thermal conductivity. The approximate price for a vertical closed loop system is $15,000 to $35,000.

Q3) What are the benefits of using geothermal systems?

The benefits of geothermal systems appear in forms financial, functional and economically viable. Ten feet under the ground, the Earth is at a constant temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Modern revolutions in geothermal technology allow users to save 80% on energy costs for heating and cooling compared to conventional electric systems and natural gas. Geothermal systems are friendly to the environment as well. The pipes are made of materials such as HPDE (High-density polyethylene), PEX ( Cross-linked polyethylene) and PE-RT (Polyethylene of raised temperature). These materials can last up to 100 years making them ideal for the purpose. The antifreeze solution used in these systems is also environmentally friendly and does not react with the ground or any surrounding water bodies. Another advantage that geothermal systems have over other air conditioning systems is the fact that they have the ability to provide houses with hot water all year round.

Q4) How much would a geothermal heating system cost?

A typical geothermal heating system will cost a US homeowner anywhere from $18,000 to $30,000 depending on other factors discussed in the questions below. What a homeowner needs to keep in mind is the number of tons and BTUs required for their residence. This lies anywhere from the range of 2.5 to 5 tonnes which equates to 24,000 BTU to 120,000 BTU. The costs of these systems are made higher by the equipment needed to run the systems. Depending on how much space is in question, a horizontal loop system is more efficient than a vertical loop system. What raises the costs as well are the ground heat pumps required in order to keep the system running properly.

Q5) Are ductless mini splits more cost efficient in the long run compared to geothermal heating systems?

This article is going to jump into one of the most debated choices a consumer has to make in the decision making process. The easy-to-install ductless mini split is the apparent victor in the cost saving process and is in much favour with homeowners looking to control the temperature of only certain parts of their residences. Ductless mini splits are also easy to install and are available in a variety of sizes suitable for bedrooms and semi-large halls. Another competitor in the race here are the new window air conditioner units which are slightly more efficient and are even more suitable for smaller areas. The efficiency of all of these air conditioning systems is similar on paper to the point of negligibility, however what a consumer should keep in mind is the kind of space they have, how large it is and whether they want to control the temperature of their whole houses or only certain parts of them.

Q6) How does geothermal heating affect the environment?

Perhaps the largest benefit of geothermal heating systems lies in the very fact that heat is being utilised that would have otherwise gone to waste. Many residences are equipped with heating pipes that run from hot springs and the ground. This system is not all friendly to the environment as some buildings require heat pumps which consume additional energy to push heat to them. The effect to the environment must, in this case, be reduced based on the most suitable air conditioning system for a house. It may be very likely that installing a geothermal heating system in area with limited to no nearby natural heat sources would require a great deal of energy to produce heat at and in cases such as those options such as buying a ductless mini split may be a better idea.

Q7) What do the monthly costs look like for geothermal heating?

Although the monthly cost would vary based on the building and the type of system that is used, some homeowners claim to spend $150/month to $300 for their geothermal heating systems. Since geothermal heating does use energy from the ground instead of entirely relying on power, it can create savings up to $3000/year. These numbers may vary based on various energy charges around the world and once again, very importantly, the geology of an area.

Q8) Is maintenance sustainable?

This question has multiple answers however it will be most appropriate to base it on genuine user accounts of issues with their HVAC systems, how easy they were to repair, how expensive they were and just how much of an inconvenience they could really be. One consumer claimed that after his compressor went bad after ten years, it only cost him $1800 to repair which he was very pleased with. Although HVAC maintenance for geothermal systems is not exceptionally costly in comparison to other options such as ductless mini splits, they do require technical knowledge. The same user reported that he had issues with his geothermal heating system around Christmas and had to wait until after New Year’s for a technician to arrive and fix the problem. This account is not meant to deter anyone from installing a geothermal system, however hiring a reliable Maintenance, Repair and Operations team is of the utmost importance. What is important to mention once more is that the materials used to construct these systems last for a century at times. For further details on technical assistance, feel free to contact us if you have any issues

Q9) Are they reliable?

The most important question has been saved for last for this article as an HVAC system is only as suitable as it is to maintain it. The less you have to worry about maintenance, repair and operations, even in terms of the cost of a system, the better suited the system is to you. The answer for this is not simple and depends on a number of factors such as:

  1. The size of the house

    The bigger the house, the more equipment will be required which may mean that the chances for a component being damaged is higher, however, with a professional technical team, a geothermal system could be streamlined very smoothly for many years.

  2. The design and layout of the house

    A house with too many rooms and awkward spaces may be difficult to get heating and cooling to, a potential buyer who has many different spaces in the same building and only some of them are to be used, should definitely consider another airconditioning option.

  3. How insulated your house is

    Geothermal energy uses heat from the Earth, however how well insulated a house is determines how efficiently that energy can be utilised. A well insulated house can save homeowners thousands of dollars in the long run.

Now that we have covered the most common questions and queries regarding geothermal heating systems and the mechanism they use, we hope that you have a clearer understanding of how these HVAC systems operate. Of course, as individual scenarios differ, questions may arise and you may require a more thorough understanding of what kind of HVAC setup is suitable for your home. For this purpose, feel free to contact an HVAC expert at ProServices Supply to discuss your requirements. We are a leading MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) provider and HVAC equipment specialist based out of Atlanta, GA, providing services across the US. To speak to an HVAC expert about geothermal systems or other HVAC and MRO related queries, visit our website or call (877)-776-8228.

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