As scientists and policy makers gain knew knowledge about climate change, there’s increasing focus on developing and implementing eco-friendly ways of producing energy. One proposed and promoted solution is geothermal energy. In fact, quite a few homeowners already use this type of system to heat and cool their houses.
Are you curious about how viable geothermal energy is as an alternative to fossil-fuel-generated electricity or natural gas heating? Consider this blog your introductory course: Geothermal Heating 101.
How Geothermal Heating Works
Did you know that soil around your home contains heat? While this soil isn’t nearly as warm as the layers of magma deep inside the earth, it still holds onto plenty of heat energy. Also, that warm layer of dirt (and sometimes water) keeps a consistent temperature, about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter the season of the year or the changes in the weather.
Given the constant temperature of the ground beneath our feet, scientists and engineers have figured out ways to use that heat as a source of energy. For homeowners, the most important use involves installing geothermal heat pumps. These heating systems transfer heat between the ground and a building such as your home. The heat pump replaces your traditional HVAC system and can both warm and cool your house.
It’s important to understand that geothermal heat pumps are distinct from geothermal power. To install a heat pump, a trained technician places pipes in a relatively shallow area beneath the ground. In a horizontal system, the pipes typically lie no more than 10 feet underground. In a vertical system, the pipes may extend down several hundred feet.
In contrast, geothermal power setups use hot underground rocks to transform water into steam. The steam then turns a generator and produces electricity. Generating electricity with this method requires holes that extend much deeper into the earth’s surface, usually about a mile or more down. This blog focuses on geothermal heat pumps, not geothermal power.
Benefits of Geothermal Heating
Geothermal heat pumps have many benefits for homeowners who choose to install them. These benefits include all of the following:
- Renewable energy source. Unlike coal and natural gas, which are often burned to generate electricity, geothermal energy is a renewable source of energy. This amount of energy available from this source does not deplete when we use it, and the ground regularly absorbs more heat energy from the rays of the sun. This renewability makes geothermal heat pumps sustainable.
- Efficient energy use. According to an article on Energy.gov, geothermal heat pumps use significantly less electricity than comparable systems-25 to 50 percent less. (That small amount of electricity moves the heat transfer liquid through the system’s pipes.) Consequently, geothermal heat pumps have a smaller carbon footprint than HVAC systems and boilers.
- Humidity control. The amount of water in the air, or the relative humidity, affects how cold or hot air feels. In addition to heating or cooling your home, a geothermal heat pump also influences the relative humidity indoors, helping your house maintain a more consistent and comfortable temperature.
- Durability. Although geothermal heat pumps are a relatively new technology, they have a long working life. This longevity occurs because the system has few moving parts, meaning less wear and tear overall. Plus, most of the system (except the parts underground) is placed inside your home, rather than outside where weather or vandalism could damage it. These systems can easily last 20 years or longer.
Based on these benefits, it’s easy to see why scientists, government agencies, and home heating professionals consider geothermal heat pumps a viable way to reduce our reliance on less renewable forms of energy.
Costs and Considerations
Although geothermal heat pumps have many advantages, there are several factors that affect how quickly homeowners adopt this green form of heating and cooling:
- Installation price. The price to install a geothermal heat pump is higher than the price to install more traditional heating systems, such as furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners. However, the higher initial investment can be made up in lower utility bills. Energy.gov estimates that for many who switch to geothermal heat pumps, the installation costs can be recovered in 2 to 10 years.
- Retrofitting. For homeowners who live in a house that is already several years old, switching to a geothermal heat pump may seem inconvenient. Installing a heat pump involves digging into soil and disturbing existing landscaping. However, these systems can be retrofitted into existing houses, and some only affect a small portion of the home’s yard space.
While a geothermal heat pump may not be within the budget of every homeowner right now, many are likely to adopt this technology in the next several years, including homeowners who live in existing houses.
Geothermal Heating in the Future
As people continue to search for greener, renewable forms of energy, geothermal heating looks to become a
major player. More than a million geothermal heat pumps already operate within the United States, and these systems can be installed practically everywhere.
Are you curious about how your home would benefit from a geothermal heat pump? Speak to the professionals at Getzchman-we proudly consult with homeowners who are interested in this cutting-edge heating and cooling method.