Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems: The Next Big Thing

Geothermal heat pump systems (also known as GeoExchange, ground-source, water-source heat pumps, earth-coupled heat pump, heat pump ground-source, or ground-coupled heat pump) are without question one of the most exciting products in the world’s quest for alternative and renewable energy sources. A geothermal unit will reduce your homes carbon footprint, and reliably warm and cool your home for many years. Best of all, a geothermal heat pump system can save you 70% or more per year on home heating and cooling bills!

A geothermal heat pump system can save you 70% or more per year on home heating and cooling bills!

With home heating oil reaching $5.00 a gallon, it’s not uncommon for a family in the northern parts of the country to spend $4,000 or more heating their homes during the cold winter season. In the warmer southern areas, electricity bills of $300-$400 a month are not unusual as families battle the heat with inefficient air conditioning systems.

As the name suggests, geothermal systems heat or cool your home using the relatively constant 55-60 deg temperatures found only a few feet below the ground. Even in Northern Maine, where the temperatures routinely dip below zero in the winter time, you can find temperatures of 55 deg (F) just below the surface, more than adequate for the installation of a geothermal unit.

How Do Geothermal Heat Systems Heat?
Geothermal heat pumps create heat in the winter by circulating radiant heat trapped in the earth (via a closed water loop) into you home. The heat is extracted from the water via a special heat exchanger (similar in size to a central air unit) where the temperature is “compressed” another 10-15 degs warmer and distributed throughout the house. The heat can be distributed utilizing your home’s existing radiant, baseboard, or forced air systems with only minor modifications. There are absolutely no fossil fuels to burn, only a marginal amount of electricity to run the transfer pumps and compressors.


How Do Geothermal Heat Systems Cool?
During periods of warmer weather, the system operates in reverse. Cold water is drawn up from the ground into the heat exchanger where it is then distributed throughout the home cooling it off. The water then carries the heat away from the home back into the ground where it is cooled and the process repeats.


How Much Do Geothermal Heating Systems Cost?
As you may expect, residential geothermal heating systems are more expensive than traditional heating and cooling systems (complete systems run about $2500 to $3500 per 500 square ft of living space). However, with the rising price of oil, gas, and electricity, a properly installed geothermal heat pump system can literally pay for itself in only few years. Furthermore, you will begin reaping environmental benefits as soon as the system is brought online.

Buyer’s Assistance Programs
Purchasing a $15K to $20K system is a huge financial investment. Many homeowners simply can’t afford such a large investment to convert to a more energy efficient geothermal system. The good news is that many states offer financial incentives to individuals and families looking to make their homes more energy efficient. These incentives range from low interest loans to comprehensive grants that cover all costs. To find if your state offers these programs, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), click your state and the site will display your state’s specific incentive programs along with how to apply.

Finding a Contractor
The key to hiring a good contractor (especially in this relatively new field)is asking for recommendations. Ask for a client list from a prospective contractor and don’t hesitate to call them. My buddy’s wife actually visited the homes of her contractor’s previous clients before deciding on his geothermal system.

Related Articles:
An Explanation of how Geothermal Heat Pump Systems Work
Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF): Green Building Technology
Do It Yourself (DIY) Geothermal Cooling System
Should You Pre-Buy Your Home Heating Oil This Year?
Do It Yourself Home Energy Audits
36 Ways to Reduce Your Home’s Energy Use

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