Are Geothermal Heat Pumps Worth Installing?

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Thinking about investing in a geothermal heat pump, but not sure is it worth it?

This article will provide some useful tips about geothermal heat pumps, what you can expect, and how you can benefit from installing one.

Just as there are different heat sources for your home, there are also different heat pumps you can use, not only for heating but also for cooling needs. Air-source heat pumps are not the only option for heating or cooling your home.

Geothermal heat pumps (also known as ground-source) are another option, though they are not as common as air source heat pumps. Not many homes use geothermal heat pumps due to their high cost, complexity, and feasibility.

However, it would be good to consider installing one if you have the capacity. Despite being expensive and not common, a geothermal heat pump is an excellent long-term investment and eco-friendly option. 

Here are some good reasons to install one.

Should I install a geothermal heat pump?

Firstly, how do geothermal (ground-source) heat pumps work? 

As the name implies, they draw heat from the ground (also water) for home heating and transferring heat to the earth or water when cooling your home. When heating, the liquid inside the system (usually water or antifreeze) pulls heat from the ground through the underground coils. The heat then passes through refrigerant coils and is distributed to your home through air handlers.

No matter the weather conditions outside, geothermal heat pumps perform consistently and reliably throughout the year, providing comfortable living with significant savings.

If you're going to install a ground-source heat pump, evaluate the site where you can install the heat pump. Just like how air-source heat pumps need fresh air to work, geothermal heat pumps require a fair amount of land or water to draw heat from. 

Consider the following factors when choosing the site for the heat pump installation:

Land availability and area

Location and available space are very important considerations when installing a geothermal heat pump. The land area needed for geothermal heat pumps depends on how much heating your home needs. Soil quality also matters because the effectiveness of heat transfer depends on it. These factors also determine what type of loops will be used for your heat pump and, consequently, the unit's cost, which will be discussed later.

For reference, here's a quick rundown of the types of geothermal heat pump loops and where they are best used:

Horizontal loops – these are cheaper than vertical loops, but they need a lot of space. Horizontal loops are either coiled or straight and are usually installed 6 feet underground trenches.

Vertical loops – these are best used for homes with limited space. Two connected pipes go around 100 to 400 feet deep into the ground.

Pond system – as the name implies, you need a nearby water source for the unit to draw heat from. This system has the lowest cost among the three, but only if you have a pond or a lake near your home.

Upfront costs and residence

Geothermal heat pumps are costlier than air-source heat pumps. However, this usually applies during installation. Electricity bills also usually spike when geothermal heat pumps are newly-installed. But that's commonplace for all other HVAC units, especially if there are extra devices along with it.

Consider your residence as well, as they can contribute to high expenses if you plan on installing. The best times to install geothermal heat pumps if you want to save money are:

If your house is newly-built and you're willing to pay more for a geothermal heat pump. This is more cost-effective as it will save you money in the long run.

If you're staying in that house for several years to a decade or so (retrofit). Otherwise, an air-source heat pump is more advisable. The only downside is that your landscape has to be modified for the pipework.

Keeping these in mind will help you cut back on unnecessary costs. Again, the upfront costs are only high upon installation, which usually dissuades homeowners from buying one. Should you still install one? It all depends on your capacity to buy one. However, geothermal heat pumps are still great long-term investments.

According to some reports, installing a geothermal heat pump is expensive and goes from $10,000, or more than double than a typical HVAC system. But what is cool about these systems is the variety of rebates, incentives, and financing available.

Consult a local expert to estimate how much it will cost to design, install, and service the system.

Why invest in geothermal heat pumps

Despite the high installation costs, here are some reasons why it is worthy of investing in ground-source heat pumps. We will compare geothermal and air-source heat pumps in some parts.

Energy efficiency

Both air-source and geothermal heat pumps are more efficient than conventional HVAC units. However, there are slight differences, such as their heat sources and how they draw heat.

As their names imply, air-source heat pumps draw heat from the air while geothermal systems draw heat from the ground or water. The ground is a steadier heat source than the air due to relatively constant temperatures through all seasons. 

Air-source heat pumps will have to work harder to draw heat if the outside temperature drops. Besides changing temperatures, air-source heat pumps are more susceptible to debris and frosting. All these affect the efficiency and the condition of the heat pump.

Geothermal heat pumps, on the other hand, are installed underground, protecting them from the elements. The heat coming from the earth is consistent and renewable, making the output relatively more stable. They also don't have defrost cycles, which helps in saving energy. Additionally, you can also use water from the ground or the surface for this kind of heat pump if applicable.

When it comes to energy consumption, geothermal heat pumps transfer more heat than air-source ones with the same input. For every unit of electricity consumed, geothermal units transfer up to five units of heat, whereas air-source units only transfer three units of heat.

Actual energy savings depend on several factors such as; your home location and climate, unit efficiency, fuel costs, the size of a unit, and labor costs.

Durability, maintenance, and noise

When it comes to lifespan, geothermal heat pumps no doubt last much longer than air-source heat pumps. Air-source heat pumps usually last up to 15 years on average. Geothermal units can last up to 25 years or so, and the underground loops can last for 50 years or even more.

Maintenance-wise, geothermal units require relatively less maintenance than air-source units. These characteristics can be attributed to their locations. Geothermal heat pumps are more sheltered than air-source ones. This means more protection from outside elements. Additionally, geothermal heat pumps have fewer moving parts. They don't have outdoor air compressors or fans like air-source heat pumps do. This makes ground-source heat pumps a lot quieter and non-disruptive to your neighbors.

However, this doesn't mean that geothermal heat pumps don't need maintenance. The indoor component still has air handlers and ductwork, making it susceptible to dirt and debris. It's advisable to have a technician check and regularly clean those parts. Don't forget to check the unit's liquid and underground piping for leaks.

These are some of the reasons why ground-source heat pumps can be a good investment.

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Eco-friendly

Since gas combustion is not involved, there is no greenhouse gas emission or carbon monoxide exposure risk. Also, electricity is not directly utilized for heating, while it is used to run some components, such as the compressor, pump, fan, or valves.

Due to effective dehumidification and fresh air intake, geothermal systems can improve indoor air quality inside your home. And due to small fluctuation in temperature and humidity, the heat is uniform.

Overall, geothermal systems use free and renewable energy from the earth, making it safe and clean to use.

Geothermal heat pump installation tips

Before installation, pick the best time to install the heat pump. Aside from the considerations mentioned earlier, the season is another important factor. Some suggestions include installing the heat pump in gentler seasons like spring or fall, depending on where you live. More preferably, you can have it installed at the tail end of the harsher seasons.

However, note that you can't install a geothermal heat pump by yourself. You need a qualified technician to install the heat pump. They'll help determine the kind of heat pump most suited for your home and the corresponding cost. Remember that geothermal heat pumps may cost more or less, depending on what your technician says. That is why it is recommended to collect at least three quotes before hiring a professional.

You can also seek other ground-source heat pump users for recommended technicians and companies.

High costs may seem daunting, and there are many things to consider. But in the long run, geothermal heat pumps are a worthy long-time investment with many benefits.

Conclusion

Before installing a geothermal heat pump, it is recommended to compare it to other systems and determine which one makes the most sense for your home. 

Here are the highlights of the geothermal heat pump's advantages over other systems.

High energy savings and low carbon footprint. Check out Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) and Coefficient of Performance (COP).

Durable and reliable. Geothermal systems can last over 15 years and do not require a lot of maintenance.

Geothermal saves money. Due to the high efficiency, utility rebates, and government grants, homeowners can save a lot over the system's lifespan.

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