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F.A.Q. & Myths

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Geothermal FAQ’s

What is a geothermal heat pump?
A geothermal or “ground-source” heat pump is an electrically powered device that uses the natural heat storage ability of the earth and/or the earth’s groundwater to heat and cool your home or business at very high efficiencies.
How does a geothermal pump work?
Like any type of heat pump, it simply moves heat energy from one place to another. A geothermal heat pump is like a refrigerator because they work using the same scientific principle. By using refrigeration, the geothermal heat pump removes heat energy stored in the earth and/or the earth’s groundwater and transfers it to the home.
How is heat transferred between the earth and the home?
The earth has the ability to absorb and store heat energy. To use that stored geothermal energy, heat is extracted from the earth through a liquid medium (water or an anti-freeze solution) circulated in the ground via open or closed earth loops and is transferred to the heat pump heat exchanger. There, the heat is used to heat your home. In the summer, the process is reversed and indoor heat is extracted from your home and transferred to the earth through the liquid circulating in the loops underground.
Do I need separate geothermal ground loops for heating and cooling?
No, the same loop works for both. When changing from heating to cooling, or vice versa, the flow of heat is reversed by a mechanism inside the unit.
Where can this loop be located?
That depends on land availability and terrain. Closed-loops are trenched horizontally in yards adjacent to the home if the yard is large enough. Or, for smaller yards, the loops can be installed vertically using a drill rig, much like a water well installation
How long will the loop pipe last?
Properly installed, these pipes will last over 50 years.
Can a geothermal heat pump be added to my fossil fuel (gas, oil, propane) furnace?
Split systems can easily be added to existing furnaces for those wishing to have a dual-fuel system. Use the heat pump as the main heating source and a furnace as a supplement in extremely cold weather if additional heat is needed.
I have ductwork, but will it work with this system?
In most circumstances, yes. Your installing contractor should be able to determine ductwork requirements and any minor modifications if needed.
What does a geothermal system cost?
A geothermal system for the typical home will cost more than if you bought a conventional central air conditioning system. But you wouldn’t be comparing “apples to apples.” To get an accurate comparison of costs you need to consider the following:

  • Payback, or how long it takes to recover the difference in costs between the two systems using energy savings. Payback for most geothermal heat pump systems runs three to five years.
  • Federal, state and local tax credits / incentives will significantly reduce the upfront cost of installing a geothermal system.
  • Energy efficiency of the two systems. To get an accurate picture, make sure efficiency claims are substantiated. Your lifestyle and how well your home is insulated affect how economical a system will be, too.
  • Total operating savings from heating, cooling and domestic hot water must be combined to get an accurate picture of total energy savings.
  • Energy costs and availability, both present and future.
  • Maintenance costs and system reliability.
  • System lifespan.

Geothermal HVAC Myths Busted

Geothermal systems eventually “wear out.”

Fact: Earth loops can last for generations. The heat-exchange equipment typically lasts decades, since it is protected indoors. When it does need to be replaced, the expense is much less than putting in an entire new geothermal system, since the loop or well is the more pricey to install. New technical guidelines eliminate the issue of thermal retention in the ground, so heat can be exchanged with it indefinitely. In the past, some improperly sized systems did overheat or overcool the ground over time, to the point that the system no longer had enough of a temperature gradient to function properly.

Photovoltaic and wind power are more favorable renewable technologies when compared to geothermal HVAC systems.

Fact: Geothermal HVAC systems remove four times more kilowatt-hours of consumption from the electrical grid per dollar spent than photovoltaic and wind power add to the electrical grid. Those other technologies can certainly play an important role, but geothermal HVAC is often the most cost-effective way to reduce environmental impact of conditioning spaces.

Geothermal HVAC systems use lots of water.

Fact: Geothermal systems consume no water. In the past, there were some “pump and dump” operations that wasted the water after passing over the heat exchanger, but those are exceedingly rare now. When applied commercially, geothermal HVAC systems actually eliminate millions of gallons of water that would otherwise have been evaporated in cooling towers in traditional systems.

Geothermal HVAC heat pumps are noisy.

Fact: The systems run very quiet and there is no equipment outside to bother neighbors.

Geothermal HVAC systems are not considered a renewable technology because they use electricity.

Fact: Geothermal HVAC systems use only one unit of electricity to move up to five units of cooling or heating from the earth to a building.

Geothermal HVAC systems only work in heating mode.

Fact: They work just as effectively in cooling and can be engineered to require no additional backup heat source if desired, although some customers decide that it is more cost effective to have a small backup system for just the coldest days if it means their loop can be smaller.

Geothermal HVAC systems cannot heat water, a pool, and a home at the same time.

Fact: Systems can be designed to handle multiple loads simultaneously.
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Geothermal HVAC systems put refrigerant lines into the ground.

Fact: Most systems use only water in the loops or lines and if refrigerant is needed it is of a food grade mixture and environmentally friendly.

Geothermal HVAC needs lots of yard or real estate in which to place the polyethylene piping earth loops.

Fact: Depending on the characteristics of the site, the earth loop may be buried vertically, meaning little above-ground surface is needed.

Geothermal HVAC technology is not financially feasible without federal and local tax incentives.

Fact: Federal and local incentives typically amount to between 30 and 60 percent of total geothermal system cost, which can often make the initial price of a system competitive with conventional equipment. Standard air-source HVAC systems cost around $3,000 per ton of heating or cooling capacity, during new construction (homes usually use between one and five tons). Geothermal HVAC systems start at about $5,000 per ton and may go higher depending on conditions. However, new installation practices are reducing costs, to the point where the price is getting closer to conventional systems under the right conditions.

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