When you consider the simplicity and efficiency of a geothermal heat pump, it’s a wonder more people haven’t switched to this home heating and cooling technology. The technology taps into the constant heat of the subsurface to heat and cool a home. Geothermal heat pumps are recognized as the most energy efficient heating and cooling system available and reduce energy costs by 30 to 70 percent.
In West Virginia, just six feet underground, the subsurface remains at a constant temperature of about 52 degrees. A geothermal system taps into that heat, unlike a traditional furnace, which works solely against the outside ambient air temperature
Geothermal heating uses a piping system, called a loop. Fluid circulates in underground loops of pipe, picking up the natural heat of the Earth. The fluid is pumped to an electrically-driven compressor and heat exchanger, which concentrates the heat. The heat is then distributed by ductwork or other methods to different rooms of the house.
Installation of a geothermal system can be more expensive than a traditional furnace, but the additional costs are recovered in energy savings, on average, within five to 10 years. Plus, a geothermal heat pump provides energy-efficient air conditioning during the summer.
The system life of a geothermal heat unit is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and 50-plus years for the ground loop. There are approximately 50,000 geothermal heat pumps installed in the United States each year.
Jonah Bauserman is in the final phase of installing a geothermal heat pump in his Bartow home.
“They seem like they are very energy-efficient and kind of a clean type of heat, as well,” he said. “We’ve always heated with wood heat and you can always tell, when you fire up the wood stove here in the house, your allergies start to flare up, at least mine do.”
Bauserman said geothermal equipment is a bit more expensive.
“The overall expense is a little bit more than an outdoor wood stove – that was one option I was looking at,” he said. “Maybe two thousand dollars more. But over the long haul, I think the geothermal will certainly pay for itself.”
Bauserman saved a lot of money by excavating a trench with his own tractor. Not everybody will be able to do that and will incur additional cost for an excavation contractor, or an equipment rental. For the popular slinky-loop system, like Bauserman installed, a trench seven feet deep and up to 125-feet long is required, depending on home size. In areas where horizontal trenching is impractical, geothermal pipes can be installed in a vertical hole, like one drilled for a water well.
“The trench that I dug was about seventy feet long, three-feet wide, and I tried to go as deep as I possibly could with my tractor,” said Bauserman. “I got down about seven feet, on average. The deeper, the better, probably, but once you get down to a certain point, it may not matter too much.”
The federal government provides a generous tax incentive for geothermal heat pump systems installed in homes between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2016. The incentive is available for taxpayers installing systems at their primary residence or a second home, but not for a rental property. For more information, see www.energystar.gov.