Everywhere you turn, people are talking about different ways to save energy and reduce costs. Some tips and techniques are gimmicky, while others offer real promise. Geothermal heating and cooling is one strategy that falls into the latter category.
How Geothermal Heating and Cooling Works
Also referred to as geothermal, geoexchange, and ground source heating and cooling, geothermal heating and cooling is a method by which homes and buildings are heated and cooled using the earth’s crust. This is not to be confused with the concept of geothermal power plants, which generate electricity by tapping into the earth’s core.
Geothermal heating and cooling isn’t a new concept, but it is experiencing a surge in popularity – especially in European nations. It works because ground temperatures maintain a steady 55 degrees year round, no matter what the weather is like on the earth’s surface. This means that the earth’s crust is warmer than the outside air during the winter months and cooler than the outside air during the summer months.
The beauty of geothermal systems is that no heat is created in the process. They simply use a series of small pipes that run between the home and the ground to transport heat. This means zero fuel is burned and everything operates at optimal efficiency.
A geothermal system has two major components: there’s the heat pump, which is the unit that goes inside the home, and the ground loop, which is the name for the underground pipes that attach to the heat pump.
During the winter months, the ground loop circulates water through its pipes. The water absorbs heat from the earth and then transfers it to the heat pump, which extracts the heat from the water and evenly distributes it throughout the home in the form of warm air. Once the heat is extracted, the water continues to recirculate and collect more heat.
During the summer months, the geothermal system works in the opposite capacity. The heat pump takes the hot air from the home and removes the heat. As a result, cooler air is left inside the house and is redistributed through the existing vent system to lower the temperature and provide relief. The extracted heat is then pushed back into the earth via the ground loop.
“This is not a new technology, this is not a science experiment, this not rocket science. In fact in many European nations geothermal heating and cooling is the standard. In Sweden and Switzerland more than 75% of new homes have geothermal,” Geothermal Genius explains. “The EPA has acknowledged geothermal systems as the most energy efficient, environmentally clean, & cost-effective space conditioning systems available.”
The Pros and Cons of Geothermal Heating and Cooling
If this is the first time you’ve heard about geothermal heating and cooling, you’re probably pretty intrigued. If you already have a geothermal system, then you’re well aware of how unique it is compared to the traditional HVAC systems typically found in the U.S. But in order to really understand geothermal heating and cooling, it’s necessary to analyze the advantages and disadvantages.
The Pros of Geothermal Heating and Cooling
The biggest benefit of geothermal heating and cooling is that it has an incredibly positive impact on the environment. According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a standard 3-ton geothermal system produces one less pound of CO2 for every hour of use (when compared to a conventional system). Over a period of 20 years, this is equivalent to converting 58,000 cars to zero emission vehicles or planting 120,000 acres of trees.
The second major benefit is the cost savings aspect. The average homeowner can expect to spend 30 to 70 percent less in heating and cooling costs when they use a geothermal system over a conventional system. For those that choose to utilize desuperheaters, which use the extracted heat to warm the household water supply, hot water costs can be cut by a third.
The Cons of Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Geothermal heating and cooling systems aren’t perfect, however. The biggest strike against them is the cost. Systems can be outrageously expensive, ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the size of the system and the technology you choose.
“There may be other energy efficiency upgrades you can do in your home that cost a similar amount but have as great or greater an impact on your energy bill over the next twenty years,” one expert points out. “If you live in a leaky, poorly insulated house, you may be better off spending that kind of money on better insulation and draft sealing, energy efficient windows and doors, and other upgrades that reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home.”
The second issue is that it’s difficult to install a system without some disruption or disturbance of the land around your house. If you have a heavily landscaped lot and unique features like swimming pools, bodies of water, and large rocks, this can make installation a challenge.
Because of the cost and invasiveness of installing a geothermal system, it’s much more realistic to go with geothermal when building a home (versus replacing a conventional system in an existing home).
Choosing the Right Filter for Your Geothermal System
If you do decide to install a geothermal system in your home – or buy a home that already has a geothermal system in place – an important maintenance task to be aware of is changing the air filters. Just as you would with a conventional system, a geothermal system needs clean filters in order to operate efficiently. The biggest issue is that they can be hard to find.
Geothermal air filters aren’t all that different from traditional filters – they just come in very unique sizes. At Atomic Filters, we clearly categorize all of our geothermal air filters and make it easy for you to buy in bulk for maximum savings. Feel free to look around and let us know if you have any questions or concerns!