Geothermal Heat Pumps: Your Questions Answered

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The earliest geothermal prototype took off during the 1960s as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) implemented geothermal on a large scale.

 

Today, geothermal is used widely to heat and cool both industrial and residential buildings.

Although geothermal is gaining more traction, there’s still a lot that many people don’t know about geothermal heat pumps. If you’re curious but have some questions, we’re here to clear things up for you. Here are your burning geothermal heat pump questions answered. 

Do geothermal heat pumps work in cold climates?

Among the common misconceptions around geothermal heat pumps is that they don’t stand a chance through the dead-cold winter of northern climates. If the ground is cold, how can a heat pump possibly extract heat from it to warm your home?

The answer here is surprising, but that’s because you probably don’t typically dig below the frost line when it’s 27 degrees outside. Just a few feet below the surface of the earth, the ground is a steady 55 degrees all year round.

A ground-source geothermal heat pump (the one Dandelion uses) always has access to this constant temperature. The way this works is through ground loops, a short loop of pipes underground, circulating fluid that absorbs the heat from the ground. This is moved into the heat pump and the heat is extracted. From there, the heat pump can adjust the temperature inside your home as needed.

What’s the difference between a ground-source and air-source heat pumps?

As we touched on, ground-source heat pumps use latent thermal energy from the earth’s 55-degree temperature to absorb the starting point for heating your entire home with zero emissions.

Extracting energy from the ground isn’t the only way geothermal heat pumps function. Another common geothermal heat pump is known as an air-source pump. You might guess from the name, but air-source heat pumps draw from the air surrounding a home rather than the ground.

This can work very well in moderate climates where the heat pump doesn't have as much of a gap to fill between the surrounding air temperature and the temperature homeowners want inside the house.

How efficient are geothermal heat pumps in general?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that geothermal systems are, on average, 48 percent more efficient than furnaces using gas, and 75 percent more efficient than furnaces using oil. This is a remarkable difference, especially considering the benefit of heating your home without the use of fumes to tarnish the air in your home.

Though both forms of geothermal energy work well, the ground-source heat pump is more efficient. An air-source heat pump generally has a lot more work to do than a ground-source heat pump in making up differences in temperature.

To understand how efficient a geothermal heat pump is, let’s go into a little more detail about how these systems work. Both air-source and ground-source heat pumps collect the temperature from either underground or the air with heat-conducting fluid circulating through a loop of pipes beneath your home.

The pump moves the liquid around, heating your home as much as you like. It can also work in reverse and remove heat from your inside air, acting as a natural air conditioner.

How long do geothermal systems last?

In general, the inside components of geothermal heating and cooling systems are expected to last for an estimated 12-15 years, while the ground loop system will last for over 50 years.

Dandelion has upped the game for geothermal. Our system components will last for 20 years and our ground-loop lifespan is also 50-plus years.

Upgrading these components is easier than the underground system, and is even easier once you have the ground-loop foundation in place.

How long does it take to install a geothermal system? 

Once the permitting and approval are complete, many geothermal systems can take several days to several weeks to install.

Dandelion takes about two hours to survey the site, just one to two days to install the ground-loop system, and another one to two days to install and commission the Dandelion Air system. This is because we’ve streamlined geothermal in a revolutionary way. This also brings down the cost. 

Do geothermal heat pumps require a lot of complicated maintenance?

Thankfully, geothermal heat pumps and other parts of the system are extremely low maintenance. This is especially true when your system is installed by a qualified technician who does the job right from the start.

Routine maintenance can be done by HVAC technicians periodically to replace the air filter, check the heat-conducting liquid in the pipes, clear any debris or dirt from components, and make sure ductwork pathways are clear. Pipes below ground generally require no maintenance.

Are geothermal heat pumps safe?

Yes! In fact, geothermal is one of the safest ways to heat and cool your home. This is because it completely avoids combustion, the use of any combustive materials, and there are no side effects, such as fumes invading your home or potential explosions.

At Dandelion, we use a closed-loop system, which means the liquid in your pipes won’t mingle with any other piping or water supplies. Taking safety even further, we also use a food-grade antifreeze in the underground pipe loop system. Though it’s extremely unlikely, if the pipes leak, the liquid inside them will not affect the ground or groundwater in any way.

How much money can I save by switching to geothermal?

Heating and cooling costs are some of the most significant for homeowners across the country. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that homeowners spend 47 percent of their utility bills on heating and cooling costs.

These costs continue to rise as limited combustible resources, such as coal and oil, become rarer. Your monthly utility rates may vary by season and will probably climb every year. By switching to a geothermal heating and cooling system, you’ll eliminate the need for gas and heating oil.

Your heating and cooling costs will consolidate into one low electricity rate, including running the system. At Dandelion, our customers find they pay just $70 per month to run the system if they purchase it up front. Or, if you prefer to finance the system, you can do so for as little as $135 per month with no upfront costs.

 

Read more about exactly how geothermal heating and cooling works here.

 

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Sources:

1. https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/geothermalenergyhistory.php

2. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/9100NXOW.txt?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1991%20Thru%201994&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&UseQField=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5CZYFILES%5CINDEX%20DATA%5C91THRU94%5CTXT%5C00000024%5C9100NXOW.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1

3. https://www.epa.gov/rhc/geothermal-heating-and-cooling-technologies

4. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-and-cool/heat-pump-systems/geothermal-heat-pumps

5. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/09/f18/61628_BK_EERE-EnergySavers_w150.pdf?kbid=118190&gclid=