Although it’s been around for a number of years, “Geothermal” is becoming an increasingly popular buzz word these days as more and more homeowners are looking for an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly heating and cooling solution. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of switching to this type of system is the high cost of installation when compared to conventional systems. When evaluating that cost, remember to factor in your savings on monthly energy expenses with and the annual maintenance on your current system to determine if geothermal will be a sound investment for your home.
So How Does Geothermal Work?
The answer lies right under your feet. Geothermal systems tap into the unused, renewable solar energy that’s stored four to six feet underground. Rather than creating heat, a geothermal heat pump exchanges heat with the earth. While temperatures can vary greatly through the seasons, they remain at a relatively consistent temperature a few feet below the earth’s surface. Similar to a cave, the temperature remains cooler underground during the summer months, and warmer during the winter months than the outside air. In the winter, heat is collected through a series of pipes, called a loop, which are installed below the surface of the ground or submersed in a nearby pond or lake. Fluid circulates through the loop and carries the heat into the house, where an electric compressor and heat exchanger concentrate the earth’s energy and release it at a higher temperature. Ductwork then distributes it throughout the home. In the summer this process is reversed and the underground loop draws the excess heat out, allowing it to be absorbed by the earth. The system cools your home the same way a refrigerator keeps your food cool – by drawing heat from the interior, not by blowing cold air.
Benefits of Geothermal
Geothermal systems are very durable and practically maintenance free. The outside piping is below ground and protected from exposure to the elements, while the fan, compressor and pump are housed indoors. Periodic checks and filter changes are usually the only required maintenance on these systems. Another advantage of geothermal is the quietness of the system. If you have a larger home that requires multiple heating and air conditioning systems, geothermal is a good option to consider as there are no large, noisy outdoor blower units to bother your household or detract from the appearance of your yard. Also, keep in mind that a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit of 30% of the total investment is available to homeowners who install geothermal systems. Additionally, geothermal can offer a higher level of comfort compared to conventional heat pumps due to the naturally higher air temperature the pump extracts.
Proper Insulation Goes a Long Way
No matter what type of energy source you use, proper insulation is a key factor in minimizing loss through the shell of your home. Ensure the attic and walls are well insulated and consider replacing older windows with more energy efficient ones. Historically significant homes that have restrictions placed on what modifications can be made may benefit from geothermal in this case, as they will require more hot or cold air to be pumping through to maintain a comfortable temperature. At a minimum, treat the drafts around your doors, windows and light fixtures – sealing these areas appropriately with caulk, spray foam, or weather-stripping is a simple but impactful step. There are many factors to consider when choosing a heating or cooling system, such as initial purchase and installation costs, availability and cost of fuel or energy source, heating and cooling efficiency, as well as environmental impact. An experienced design build company with an expertise in green remodeling can help assess which type of system would be most beneficial to your home and family.