Believe it or not, human beings have been using geothermal energy for thousands of years.

Even ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Japanese, Chinese, and indigenous peoples of the Americas (just to name a few) used heat from the earth to warm pools, spas, and dwellings and for bathing, cooking, and medicinal purposes. We continue to utilize geothermal energy, but we’ve added modern technology to the equation.

Geothermal energy has been around for a long while, but it’s still flying under the radar. As concerns about the environment grow, eco-friendly technologies are getting more attention, and geothermal energy is dominating the HVAC world.

What Is Geothermal Energy, and How Does it Work?

The word geothermal is a combination of the Greek words for earth and heat, literally meaning heat from the earth. Geothermal systems use underground loops to transmit heat to and from the earth to heat and cool your home.

Earth’s underground temperature is relatively consistent; so, geothermal heat pumps employ buried pipes with loops that source underground heat to regulate your home’s temperature. The loops transmit heat to and from the ground. In the summer, heat is pulled from your home and cooled underground. In winter, heat is pulled from the ground to heat your home. Find out more about geothermal heating and cooling.

The type of loops best suited for your situation depends on the landscape, cost of trenching and drilling, ground water availability, and space. Loop types include:

  • Horizontal trenches
  • Horizontal coils
  • Vertical loops
  • Pond loops
  • Open loops

Both types of horizontal loops involve the digging of trenches. Vertical loops are placed in drill holes and are most often used when space is limited. Pond loops are placed at the bottom of a pond or lake. Open loops are part of what’s referred to as a well-water system and rely on groundwater; they’re often the most economical option. While excavation and placement can get pretty messy, the end result is a nearly completely underground system, and your yard will return to normal.

Outside of heating and cooling your home, geothermal energy can also provide heat to your hot water heater, pool, and radiant floor system. This is especially helpful in the summer when your hot water heater can store the heat pulled from your home for later use.

If you’re considering geothermal energy for your home, learn more about the pros and cons.

Infographic on the pros and cons of geothermal energy

Pros

 
  • Eco-friendly. It produces less pollution and is 30-50% more efficient than systems using fossil fuels.
  • Price and fuel stability. Its fuel source is renewable and prices don’t fluctuate.
  • Savings. It costs less over time with people spending 30-60% less on heating and 25-50% less on cooling.
  • Maintenance. There’s an estimated 40% savings on maintenance because there are fewer moving parts.
  • Life span. Interior components last more than 25 years and underground components 50 years.
  • Incentives. Tax cuts and incentives help offset the cost of installation.
  • Quieter. It makes less noise than systems with compressors or fans.

Cons

 
  • Up-front costs. It’s incredibly expensive to install and can take anywhere from 5-10 years to pay for itself.
  • Needs power. It relies on electricity to operate the heat pump.
  • Fewer contractors. There aren’t as many HVAC contractors that install, service, and repair geothermal systems.
  • Difficult to repair. The underground loops are difficult and expensive to repair if damaged.
  • Environmental concerns. Geothermal systems with wells use a lot of water, and there are concerns about sulfur dioxide and silica discharge.

Is a Geothermal System Right for Your Home?

As you decide if a geothermal system is right for you, remember to:

  • Weigh the pros and cons of geothermal energy.
  • Survey the area for contractors with geothermal experience.
  • Research tax incentives in your state.
  • Find out what kind of geothermal system would work for your property.
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