Geothermal Heat Pumps – The Earth Saves You Money
Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) are a relatively new technology that can save homeowners money. These ground-source heat pumps use the natural heat storage capacity of the earth or ground water to provide energy efficient heating and cooling. Geothermal heat pumps should not be confused with air-source heat pumps that rely on heated air.
Geothermal heat pumps use the relatively constant temperature of the ground or water several feet below the earth’s surface as source of heating and cooling. Geothermal heat pumps are appropriate for retrofit or new homes, where both heating and cooling are desired. In addition to heating and cooling, geothermal heat pumps can provide domestic hot water. They can be used for virtually any size home or lot in any region of the U.S.
A geothermal heat pump system consists of indoor heat pump equipment, a ground loop, and a flow center to connect the indoor and outdoor equipment. The heat pump equipment works like a reversible refrigerator by removing heat from one location and depositing it in another location. The ground loop, which is invisible after installation, allows the exchange of heat between the earth and the heat pump.
Geothermal heat pumps can be open- or closed-loop. Open-loop systems draw well water for use as the heat source or heat sink, and after use, return the well water to a drainage field or another well. Closed-loop or earth-coupled systems use a water and antifreeze solution, circulated in a ground loop of pipe to extract heat from the earth.
Ground loops can be installed in a vertical well or a horizontal loop. Vertical wells are usually more expensive and used where space is limited. The length of loop pipe required will vary with soil type, loop configuration, and system capacity. Loop length can range from 250 to 1,000 feet per ton of capacity.
Special heat pump features can include variable speed blowers and multiple-speed compressors. These features can improve comfort and efficiency in areas where heating and cooling loads are quite different. Add-on features include the capability to produce hot water.
Superheaters can be added to supplement the production of domestic hot water when there is a demand for space heating or cooling. These devices make use of excess heat during the cooling cycle and use some of the heat during the heating cycle to supplement hot water production. Dedicated water heaters can be added which operate whenever there is a demand for hot water.
Geothermal heating can be more efficient than electric resistance heating. These systems are also typically more efficient than gas or oil-fired heating systems. They are more energy efficient than air-source heat pumps because they draw heat from, or release heat to, the earth, which has moderate temperatures year round, rather than to the air (which is generally colder in winter and warmer in summer than the earth, resulting in less effective heat transfer).