What Is Geothermal Heating and Cooling?

Geothermal technology for homes has improved rapidly in recent years. Improved efficiency makes geothermal a much more viable alternative to traditional HVAC systems, including those powered by natural gas, propane, or fuel oil.

But are geothermal heat pumps efficient and which system is right for you?

By understanding the various geothermal home heating pros and cons, you can make a more fully informed choice when it comes to upgrading or replacing your current system.

The Basics of Geothermal Heating Systems

Geothermal heating and cooling pipes are buried on your residential property several feet underground and run into a heat pump inside your home, usually where your HVAC stack is. It works by transferring the solar heat stored below ground via the fluid-filled pipes that travel to your heat pump and is turned into warm, forced air throughout your home.

How Home Geothermal Systems Work.

​In reverse, the heat pump draws heat from your home and directs it underground, efficiently cooling your home during the summer or warm months for much less than the monthly cost of operating a conventional air conditioner.

Why Is Geothermal Heat So Useful?

One of the primary advantages of geothermal heat is its ability to provide a constant temperature all year round, regardless of the weather outside. This is due to the fact that the temperature below the Earth's surface remains relatively stable, even in extreme temperatures above ground. Additionally, the heat from the ground can be pulled up in the winter to warm homes and can be used to cool homes in the summer by transferring the heat back into the ground, making it an ideal solution for year-round temperature control.

Are Geothermal Systems Electrically Powered or Gas Powered?

Geothermal heating and cooling systems are powered by electricity. This allows for high efficiency and lower operating costs when compared to a gas-powered system.

Do I Still need an AC Unit?

No! Geothermal systems replace both your air conditioner and your heating system, rolling your entire home comfort control into one!

Are Geothermal Systems As Cost-Effective to Run As Gas Furnaces?

Yes. Geothermal systems are the most efficient heating and cooling systems on the market, making them extremely cost-effective while not compromising comfort.

Will the Underground Components Require Upkeep?

Some homeowners worry about the possibility of maintenance of the underground components. We’re here to ease your mind — buried geothermal loops can last up to 80 years without the need for maintenance!

How Far Underground Will the System Go?

As you prepare to have your geothermal system installed, you should know that the piping will typically be installed about four feet underground.

Vertical Versus Horizontal Designs

The two most common types of geothermal designs are:

  • Horizontal – Where the underground loops are installed horizontally across a larger surface area..
  • Vertical – Where the underground loops are inserted straight down into the ground, taking up less surface area.

Both rely on a geothermal heat pump.

Air-Exchange Heat Pumps Are Slightly Less Efficient

It’s worth noting the difference between geothermal heat pumps and air-exchange heat pumps, which harness heat from the air, and are a bit less efficient than geothermal systems.

Geothermal heat pumps are 400% efficient. Air-exchange units are 300%. Both also serve to replace your air conditioner as well as your conventional heating system and are both excellent choices for lowering your home’s carbon footprint.

Can You Put Geothermal in an Existing Home?

Yes, you can install geothermal heating and cooling systems in most existing homes. These systems use the same ductwork as a traditional boiler or other heating systems. The size of your property may dictate whether a horizontal or vertical system is best for you.

Read More About The Basics of Geothermal Home Heating

Geothermal Home Heating Pros and Cons

Geothermal energy, like other renewables, offers both tremendous potential and short-term challenges. Every homeowner faces varied factors when choosing a heating or cooling system; here are a few things to consider.

Benefits of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Significantly Lower Heating & Cooling Costs

In addition to providing consistent temperature control, geothermal heat also offers significant cost savings. According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps use between 25% and 50% less energy than a traditional HVAC system, which can result in lower monthly energy costs. The savings can be particularly significant over time, as homeowners can expect to use less energy for decades with a geothermal system in place.

This is especially beneficial given the rising and often volatile costs of natural gas, propane, and fuel oil. By relying on electricity instead of these traditional fuel sources, homeowners can avoid the uncertainty of fluctuating energy costs and enjoy more predictable energy bills.

Lower Emissions

Wider adoption of geothermal systems (and air-exchange heat pumps) could reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. and around the globe. Forty percent of all U.S. emissions are generated by residential and commercial heating and cooling. For every 100,000 homes that install geothermal, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decrease by more than 1.1 million tons.

Longevity, Low Maintenance

Geothermal systems are incredibly reliable, with ground loops that can remain functional for up to 80 years with little to no maintenance needed. Furthermore, the heat pump itself has a longer lifespan than conventional heating and cooling systems, with some lasting 15 years longer than central air conditioners and up to 10 years longer than conventional heating systems. This means that homeowners can enjoy the benefits of geothermal heat for decades with minimal upkeep, resulting in even more cost savings over time.

Additionally, the lack of outdoor units and compressors typically found in traditional HVAC systems means that geothermal systems are quieter and require less maintenance overall.

Works Well in Cold Climates

Despite the misconception that they only work well in warm regions, geothermal heat pumps are also well-suited for use in colder climates. In fact, the constant temperature just a few feet below the Earth's surface means that geothermal systems can provide efficient heating even in extremely cold weather.

Geothermal heat pumps can also be designed to incorporate a backup heating source, such as an electric resistance heater, to provide additional warmth during particularly cold spells. This makes geothermal heat an ideal option for homeowners living in colder climates who want to enjoy the benefits of a renewable energy source without sacrificing comfort during the winter months.

Drawbacks of Geothermal Heat Pump Systems

As beneficial as geothermal systems are, homeowners face at least one major hurdle in adopting the technology.

High Upfront Cost

While there are local and federal tax credits available, installing geothermal systems is expensive. Most homeowners can expect to pay between $10,000 and $30,000 for installation, which is significantly higher than the cost of a traditional HVAC system. However, it's important to consider the long-term savings that geothermal systems can provide.

We find that many homeowners believe that the upfront cost is offset by the increased comfort and energy savings that a geothermal system provides, making it a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Potential Landscaping Issue

Another potential consideration when it comes to geothermal systems is the landscaping impact during installation. Particularly with horizontal systems, the installation process requires some degree of earthmoving, which can temporarily alter the appearance of a property. This may include excavation of trenches or boreholes for the ground loop system, which can be disruptive to existing landscaping.

However, it's important to note that the impact is usually minimal and can be mitigated with proper planning and preparation. Additionally, vertical systems require less surface area and may be a better option for homeowners who want to minimize the impact on their landscaping. Overall, while some temporary landscaping changes may be necessary during installation, the long-term benefits of geothermal heat may outweigh this consideration for many homeowners.

Not All Technicians Can Service

Finally, it is important to understand that not all HVAC companies provide maintenance services for geothermal systems. It is important to research companies in your area and find a well-recommended team who offers geothermal services before considering installation.

Invest in Your Home with the Right HVAC System

Replacing your current HVAC system is a big decision, but it’s not a choice you need to make on your own. Speak with a professional, trained HVAC technician who can provide expert insight into the best plan of action for heating and cooling your home. Get started today; call (800) 893-3523 or request an appointment with your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.