It’s not every day that you hear someone talking about installing a geothermal heat pump at home. In fact, unless you’re already in the conservation, HVAC, or energy industry, you might not have ever heard this term in a casual conversation. So, if you’re sitting there wondering just what the heck is a geothermal heat pump, you’re definitely not alone.

Believe it or not, installing a geothermal heat pump at home could be an incredibly valuable investment if it’s time for an HVAC upgrade. It’s our mission at WattDoesItUse to break down the complicated, intricate stuff that surrounds innovations like this to open up the world of opportunities for you to save energy and money! This is because at the end of the day, if you’re not aware of the best energy-saving technologies and strategies out there, you’re not equipped to save money and minimize your home’s energy footprint.

With that in mind, this post is all about zeroing in on the nitty-gritty of geothermal heat pumps. We’ll introduce what they are, how they work, where they’re most effective, and—best of all—need-to-know tips for installing a geothermal heat pump at home if you do decide it could be a good fit!

So great ready. We’re about to crank up the heat on the geothermal conversation!

It’s OK, You Can Ask: What’s a Geothermal Heat Pump?

We’re going to repeat ourselves here, but it’s for a good reason. It’s 100 percent OK if you’ve never heard this term before. It’s not the most common piece of equipment.

That’s why we’re starting from scratch to help you break down geothermal and paint a clear picture of what a geothermal heat pump is in the first place. Then, once you’re in the know, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not this type of heater is a good choice for your home!

Geothermal heat pumps are often also referred to as “ground source heat pumps”—or GHPS or GeoExchange or ground-source or earth-coupled heat pumps. They’ve got a lot of different names, but no matter what you call them, the concept is the same.

A geothermal heat pump is a highly efficient source of renewable energy that leverages the consistency of our ground temperature in order to provide heating, cooling, and even water heating for residential and commercial spaces.

A growing number of people are installing a geothermal heat pump at home become aware of the synergies between energy-efficiency and conservation and balancing a home budget. But it’s by no means a new idea. In fact, geothermal heat pumps have been used since the 1940s and can cut energy bills substantially when compared to traditional HVAC units. We’re talking up to 65 percent savings!

How does a Geothermal Heat Pump Work?

In theory, the idea of a geothermal heating system probably seems like it makes sense. But when you get down to it, do you really understand the process? And further, do you have a strong grasp on why this type of heating process is a more sustainable and economic option?

The basic idea of a geothermal heat pump is this: below the frost line in the ground (about 10 feet, give or take), the earth retains a constant temperature of about 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the winter, the air is typically cooler than the temperature below the ground. And during the summer, the air is typically warmer. A geothermal heat pump sits partially below ground and is attached to a looped system of pipes filled with a water or water and anti-freeze solution—called a heat exchanger—that serves as the medium for heat exchange.

A geothermal heat pump circulates that water solution over and over to absorb the temperature of the earth, bringing it to the surface and transferring it to a heat pump. That heat pump then regulates the air to a comfortable temperature for your home, and your air ducts help circulate that delightfully temperate air—cool in the summer, warm in the winter—to the rooms in your home.

Still feeling a little iffy about this geothermal heat thing is and how it works? Don’t get overheated a (see what we did there? Just a little geothermal heat humor!). We love and recommend this super helpful video from the U.S. Department of Energy, which visually maps out the operation of a geothermal heat pump.

Go ahead and give it a watch—we’ll be here waiting for you when you’re done.

What are the Benefits of Geothermal Heat Pumps?

Okay, you’ve watched the video, you’ve read the text, and you’ve got a pretty good grip on the whole geothermal heating thing, right? Good.

But, that doesn’t mean you’ve had all of your questions answered. You’re probably wondering things like, what’s the upside of investing a geothermal heat pump versus a traditional system? Where would a geothermal heat pump be most effective? If I’m interested, where do I start?

Again, we’ve got you covered.

The benefits of a geothermal heat pump system are pretty endless, but here are the most prominent benefits:

Financial Savings
  • A geothermal system doesn’t need to work as hard as traditional systems to ensure that people inside the house (that’s you) are warm and cozy. This translates to major shavings off of your heating bill. Geothermal heat pumps can be up to 65 percent more energy-efficient than a traditional system.
  • Geothermal heat pumps can last far longer than traditional furnaces. Their 25- to 50-year lifetime can offset the sometimes-high installation costs that are associated with GHPs.
Environmental Activism
  • Did you a traditional HVAC system is responsible for more than half of the average household’s energy consumption?! That means it uses as much energy—and is associated with as many greenhouse gas emissions—as your water heating, lighting, refrigeration, and all your other electronic devices, COMBINED! Alternately, the constant heat in the earth’s surface is a sustainable resource—it’s a clean energy source that’s right there and ready for us to leverage!
  • Geothermal heat systems can be used pretty much anywhere, no matter the climate, because most areas have constant shallow-ground temperatures. That being said—not every area will provide the same amount of efficiency or cost-savings when it comes to this type of heating.
  • GHPs can be installed in a few different ways, which means, barring any serious circumstances, it’s more than likely a GHP can work for your home.

Pro Tips for At-Home Geothermal Heat Pump Installation

You’ve read this far, so we’re going to assume you’re intrigued about installing a geothermal heat pump at home. We don’t blame you—we think they’re pretty hot, too (we’re not even sorry for all the heating puns!).

If you’re ready to hop on the geothermal bandwagon, it can still be intimidating to know where to start. With that in mind, we have included some must-know tips before you start digging up the backyard:

Tip #1: Do a Thorough Evaluation of Your Site

While it’s likely that you can install a GHP on your site no matter where you live, it’s always important to check on several different factors before you commit to your system:

  • Take a look at things like geology, hydrology, and land availability and ask questions. Do you have the space for a vertical installation, or will you need a more compact, horizontal installation?
  • What about the ground availability—what type of depth, volume, and water quality are you working with?
  • Have you checked on the rock and soil properties of your land? The amount of soil available will contribute to the system design and will certainly dictate what type of GHP loop you end up with.

While you can certainly do this on your own, we suggest hiring a professional who is certified via the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association and has previous design and installation experience.

Tip #2: Open- vs. Closed-Loop & Vertical vs. Horizontal

Part of the reason that initial evaluation is so important is that you’ll need it to figure out what type of GHP you should install.

There are both open-loop and closed-loop systems. Open loop ground source systems can provide benefits, but closed-loop systems are typically more reliable and require less maintenance over the long-term. Within closed-loop systems, you can choose horizontal or vertical installation depending on the the amount of space available in your yard.

Tip #3: Hire a Specialized Team with Qualified Installers

As we mentioned in the first tip, installing a geothermal heat pump at home is a complex project. So unless you’ve got a technical background in this area, it’s a good idea to make sure you work with a professional. Typically, a ground-source heat pump installation is not a do-it-yourself type of project. The good news? There are plenty of qualified installers around. Check with the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium or the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association to interview teams that have the know-how you need. 

Tip #4: Make Sure Your Geothermal Heat Pump Is Covered Under Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy

Because a geothermal heat pump is such a big investment for your home, make sure your homeowners insurance policy will cover this valuable equipment. Even if you think your current policy won’t cover the system, it’s still important to let your insurer know that you’re installing it.

Time to Go Green

Jazzed about your new geothermal heat pump knowledge? If you’ve installed a GHP in your commercial or residential property, we want to hear about it! Leave a comment right here on this article and let your neighbors know how it went (feel free to leave your pro tips, too!).

If you’re looking for more renewable energy tips, energy efficiency strategies for your home, heating tips, or even regular updates on how you can save money through energy conservation, you’re in the right place! Share this article on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog to keep up and stay in-the-know!