Q: What is a geothermal heat pump?
A: A geothermal or “ground-source”
heat pump is an electrically powered device that uses the natural heat storage ability of the earth and/or the earth’s
groundwater to heat and cool your home or business.
Q: How does it work?
A: Like any type of heat pump, it
simply moves heat energy form one place to another. Your refrigerator works using the same scientific principle. (See “How
is a geothermal heat pump like a refrigerator?” on page 6.) By using refrigeration, the geothermal heat pump removes
heat energy stored in the earth and/ or the earth’s groundwater and transfers it to the home.
Q: How is
heat transferred between the earth and the home?
A: The earth has the ability to absorb and store heat energy. To use
that stored energy, heat is extracted from the earth through a liquid medium (water or an anti-freeze solution) and is pumped
to the heat pump heat exchanger. There, the heat is used to heat your home. In summer the process is reversed and indoor heat
is extracted from your home and transferred to the earth through the liquid.
Q: You mentioned heating and cooling.
Does it do both?
A: One of the things that makes a heat pump so versatile is its ability to be a heating and cooling
system in one. You can change from one mode to another with a simple flick of a switch on your indoor thermostat. Plus, a
geothermal heat pump can assist in heating hot water year-round.
Q: Do I need separate ground loops for heating
A: No. The same loop works for both. All that happens when changing from heating to cooling, or vise versa,
is that the flow of heat is reversed inside the unit.
Q: What types of loops are available?
A: There are
two main types: open and closed. Both of these loops will be addressed later in the brochure.
Q: Does the underground
pipe system really work?
A: The buried pipe, or “ground loop”, is the biggest technical advancement in heat
pump technology to date. The idea to bury pipe in the ground to gather heat energy began in the 1940s. But it’s only
been in the last twenty-five years that new heat pump designs and improved pipe materials have been combined to make geothermal
heat pumps the most efficient heating and cooling systems available.
Geothermal heat pumps: closed-loop systems
Q: What is a closed-loop system?
A: The term “closed-loop” is used to describe a geothermal heat
pump system that uses a continuous loop of special buried plastic pipe as a heat exchanger. The pipe is connected to the indoor
heat pump to form a sealed, underground loop through which water or an anti-freeze solution - depending on where you live
- is circulated. Unlike an open-loop system that consumes water from a well, a closed-loop system recirculates its heat transferring
solution in pressurized pipe.
Q: Where can this loop be located?
A: That depends on land availability and
terrain. Closed-loops are trenched horizontally in yards adjacent to the home if the yard is large enough. Or, for smaller
yards, the loops can be installed vertically using a drill rig, much like a water well installation.
Q: How deep
and long will my horizontal trenches be?
A: Trenches are normally four to six feet deep [1.2 - 1.8 meters]. One of the
advantages of a horizontal loop system is being able to lay the trenches according to the shape of the land. As a rule of
thumb, 125 - 300 feet of trench are required per ton of heat pump capacity [11 - 27 meters per kW of capacity].
How many pipes are in a trench?
A: Anywhere from 1 to 6 pipes per trench may be used, depending upon the optimal design
for the yard. More pipe per trench shortens the total amount of trench required.
Q: What if I don’t have
enough room for a horizontal loop?
A: Closed-loop systems can also be vertical. Holes are bored to about 150 - 300 feet
per ton of heat pump capacity [13 - 27 meters per kW of capacity]. U-shaped loops of pipe are inserted in the holes. The holes
are then back-filled with a sealing solution (grouting material).
Q: How long will the loop pipe last?
Closed-loop systems should only be installed using the appropriate high-density polyethylene pipe. Properly installed, these
pipes will last over 50 years. They are inert to chemicals normally found in soil and have good heat conducting properties.
PVC pipe should not be used under any circumstances.
Q: How are the buried pipe sections of the loop joined?
A: The only acceptable method to connect pipe sections is by thermal fusion. Pipe connections are heated and fused together
to form a joint stronger than the original pipe. Mechanical joining of underground pipe for an earth loop is never an accepted
practice. The use of barbed fittings, clamps and glued joints is certain to result in loop failure due to leaks.
Will an earth loop affect my lawn or landscape?
A: No. Research has proven that loops have no adverse effect on grass,
trees or shrubs. Most horizontal loop installations use trenches about 3 feet [1 meter] or less wide. This, of course, will
leave temporary bare areas that can be restored with grass seed or sod. Vertical loops require little space and result in
minimal lawn damage.
Q: Can I reclaim heat from my septic system disposal field?
A: No. Depending upon your
geographic location, an earth loop will reach temperatures below freezing during extreme conditions and may freeze your septic
system. Such usage is banned in many areas.
Q: If the loop falls below freezing, will it hurt the system?
No. The antifreeze solution used in loops that operate at low temperatures will keep it from freezing down to about 15°F
[-9°C] fluid temperature. In the U.S. and Canada, three types of antifreeze solution are acceptable: propylene glycol,
methyl alcohol, and ethyl alcohol. Some states/provinces may require one type over another.
Q: Can I install an
earth loop myself?
A: It’s not recommended. In addition to thermal fusion of the pipe, good pipe-to-soil contact
is very important for successful loop operation. Nonprofessional installations may result in less than optimum heat pump performance.
Q: I have a pond near my home. Can I put a loop in it?
A: Yes, if it’s deep enough and large enough.
A minimum of 8 - 10 feet [2.5 - 3 meters] in depth at its lowest level during the year is needed for a pond to be considered.
In pond loops, polyethylene pipe must be used. Generally, a minimum of 1/2 acre [0.2 hectare] pond is required to provide
adequate surface area for heat transfer.
Geothermal heat pumps: open-loop systems
is an open-loop system?
A: The term “Open-Loop” is commonly used to describe a geothermal heat pump system
that uses groundwater from a conventional well as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer. The groundwater is pumped
through the heat pump where heat is extracted (in winter) or rejected (in summer) then the water is disposed of in an appropriate
manner. Since groundwater is a relatively constant temperature year-round, it is an excellent heat source/heat sink.
Q: What do I do with the discharge water?
A: There are a number of ways to dispose of water after it has passed through
the heat pump. The open discharge method is the easiest and least expensive. Open discharge simply involves releasing the
water into a stream, river, lake, pond, ditch or drainage tile. Obviously, one of these alternatives must be readily available
and must possess the capacity to accept the amount of water used by the heat pump before open discharge is feasible.
A second means of water discharge is the return well. A return well is a second well bore that returns the water to the
ground aquifer. A return well must have enough capacity to dispose of the water passed through the heat pump. A new return
well should be installed by a qualified well driller. Likewise, a professional should test the capacity of an existing well
before it is used as a return.
Q: How much groundwater does an open-loop system need?
A: Geothermal heat
pumps used in open-loop systems need differing amounts of water depending on the size of the unit. The water requirement of
a specific model is usually expressed in gallons per minute (l/s) and is listed in the specifications for that unit. Your
heating and cooling contractor should be able to provide this information. Generally, the average system will use 6-10 G.P.M.
[0.4 - 0.6 l/s] while operating. An extremely cold day might result in a usage of 6,000-10,000 gallons [23,000 - 38,000 liters]
Your well and pump combination should be large enough to supply the water needed by the heat pump in
addition to your domestic water requirements. You will probably need to enlarge your pressure tank or modify your plumbing
to supply adequate water to the heat pump.
Q: What problems can be caused by poor water quality?
water quality can cause serious problems in open-loop systems. Your water should be tested for hardness, acidity and iron
content before a heat pump is installed. Your contractor can tell you what level of water quality is acceptable.
Mineral deposits can build up inside the heat pump’s heat exchanger. Sometimes a periodic cleaning with a mild acid
solution is all that’s needed to remove the build-up.
Impurities, particularly iron, can eventually clog
a return well. If your water has a high iron content you should be sure that the discharge water is not aerated before it’s
injected into a return well.
Finally, you should opt against using water from a spring, pond, lake or river as
a source for your heat pump system unless it’s proven to be free of excessive particles and organic matter. They can
clog a heat pump system and make it inoperable in a short time.
If water quality is a concern, a closed-loop system
should be used.
Q: Does an open-loop system cause environmental damage?
A: No. They are pollution free. The
heat pump merely removes heat from or adds heat to the water. No pollutants are added whatsoever. The only change in the water
returned to the environment is a slight increase or decrease in temperature.
Q: Are there any laws that apply to
A: In some localities, all or parts of the installation may be subject to local ordinances,
codes, covenants or licensing requirements. Check with local authorities to determine if any restrictions apply in your area.
Geothermal heat pumps: parts of the system
Q: What are the components of a geothermal heat pump system?
A: The three main parts are the heat pump unit, the liquid heat exchange medium (open or close loop), and the air delivery
Q: Are all geothermal heat pumps alike?
A: No. There are different kinds of geothermal
heat pumps designed for specific applications. Many geothermal heat pumps, for example, are intended for use only with higher
temperature ground water encountered in open-loop systems. Others will operate at entering water temperatures as low as 20°F
[-7°C] which is required for closed-loop systems.
Geothermal heat pumps can also differ in the way they are
designed. Self-contained units combine the blower, compressor, water heat exchanger and air coil in a single cabinet. Split
systems allow the coil to be added to a forced-air furnace and utilize the existing blower.
Q: Will I have to
add insulation to my home if I install one of these systems?
A: Geothermal heat pumps will reduce your heating and cooling
costs regardless of how well your home is insulated. However, insulating and weatherizing are key factors in realizing the
most savings from any type of heating and cooling system.
Q: Can a geothermal heat pump also heat water for my
A: Yes. Using what’s called a Hot Water Generator (HWG), some types of geothermal heat pumps can save you
up to 50 percent on your water heating bill by pre-heating tank water. The HWG is a factory-installed option.
Is a geothermal heat pump difficult to install?
A: Most units are easy to install, especially when they are replacing
another forced-air system. They can be installed in areas unsuitable for fossil fuel furnaces because there is no combustion,
thus, no need to vent exhaust gases.
Ductwork must be installed in homes that don’t have an existing air
distribution system. The difficulty of installing ductwork will vary and should be assessed by a contractor.
Can a geothermal heat pump be added to my fossil fuel (Gas, oil, propane) furnace?
A: Split systems can easily be added
to existing furnaces for those wishing to have a dual-fuel system. Use the heat pump as the main heating source and a furnace
as a supplement in extremely cold weather if additional heat is needed.
Q: I have ductwork, but will it work with
A: In all probability, yes. Your installing contractor should be able to determine ductwork requirements
and any minor modifications, if needed.
Q: Do I need to increase the size of my electric service?
heat pumps don’t use large amounts of resistance heat, so your existing service may be adequate. Generally, a 200-amp
service will have enough capacity, and smaller amp services may be large enough in some cases. Your electric utility or contractor
can determine your service needs.
Q: Should I buy a heat pump large enough to heat my home with no supplemental
A: Your contractor should provide a heating and cooling load calculation (Heat Loss/Heat Gain) to guide your equipment
selection. Geothermal heat pumps are sized to meet all your cooling requirements. Depending on your heating needs, a geothermal
heat pump will supply 80-100 percent of your designed heating load. Sizing the heat pump to handle your entire heating needs
may result in slightly lower heating costs, but the savings may not offset the added cost of the larger heat pump unit. Also,
some oversized units can cause dehumidification problems during the cooling mode, resulting in a loss of summer comfort.
Geothermal heat pumps: the major benefits
Q: How efficient is a geothermal heat pump?
heat pumps are 3.5 - 5 times as efficient as the most efficient fossil fuel furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel
to make heat, they simply move heat that already exists. By doing so, they provide 3.5 - 5 units of energy for every unit
used to power the heat-pump system.
Q: What does a system like this cost?
A: A system for the typical home
will cost more than if you bought a separate forced-air furnace and central air conditioning system. But you wouldn’t
be comparing “apples to apples”. To get an accurate comparison of costs you need to consider the following:
• Payback, or how long it takes to recover the difference in costs between the two systems using energy savings. Payback
for most geothermal heat pump systems runs three to five years.
• Energy efficiency of the two systems. To get
an accurate picture, make sure efficiency claims are substantiated. Your lifestyle and how well your home is insulated affect
how economical a system will be.
• Total operating savings from heating, cooling and domestic hot water must be
combined to get an accurate picture of total energy savings.
• Energy costs and availability, both present and
• Maintenance costs and system reliability.
• System lifespan.
• ClimateMaster GeoDesigner
software can calculate annual operating costs for geothermal systems and compare to other technologies.
A: In winter, a geothermal heat pump system moves warm air (90° - 105°F) [32° - 41°C]
throughout your home via a standard duct network. Typically, a very even comfort level is found throughout the home. This
is because the warm air is moved in slightly higher volumes and, therefore, saturates the home with warmth more evenly. This
even helps out hot or cold spots and eliminates the hot air blasts common with fossil fuel furnaces.
cool, dehumidified air is dispersed through the same duct network.
It’s also a great comfort to know that
you’ve reduced your energy consumption while using an inexhaustible energy source - the earth.
Q: Can I
get a tax credit for installing this system?
A: On Tuesday Feb. 17, 2009 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of
2009, H.R. 1, was signed and became law. The bill further expanded the incentive for geothermal heat pumps. The limit was
increased to a tax credit of 30% of the total investment for all ground loop or ground water geothermal heat pump installations.
Q: Which system is best, open- or closed-loop?
A: The net results in operating cost and efficiency are virtually
the same. Which system to choose depends mainly on whether you have an adequate groundwater supply and means of disposal.
If you do, an open loop can be used very effectively. If not, either a horizontal or vertical closed-loop system is your best
Over a period of years, a closed-loop system will require less maintenance because it’s sealed and
pressurized, eliminating the possible build-up of minerals or iron deposits.
Geothermal heat pumps: Questions
you should ask about a new heating and cooling system
Regardless of the type of heating and cooling system you
may be considering for your home or business, there are specific questions you should ask the dealer/installer. These questions
deal with finding out the actual efficiency of the system, any operating limitations it may have, and the bottom line of operating
costs. The answers here are meant as a guide for what you should try to find out with your questions.
is the Btuh [kW] size of the geothermal heat pump or furnace that’s being proposed?
A: Heating systems are designed
to provide specific amounts of heat energy per hour. The term “Btuh” [kW] refers to how much heat can be produced
by the unit. Before you can know what size system you’ll need, you must have a heat loss/heat gain calculation done
on your home. From that, an accurate determination can be made on the size of the heating/cooling system. Many fossil fuel
furnaces are substantially oversized for home heating requirements, resulting in increased operating costs.
Is the efficiency rating actual or just a manufacturer’s average?
A: All types of heating and cooling systems have
a rated efficiency. Fossil fuel furnaces have a percentage efficiency rating. Natural gas, propane and fuel oil furnaces have
efficiency ratings based on laboratory conditions. To get an accurate installed efficiency rating, factors such as flue gas
heat losses, cycling losses caused by oversizing, blower fan electrical usage, etc., must be included.
are normally rated in SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). SEER and EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) cannot be directly compared
without the use of software.
Geothermal heat pumps, as well as all other types of heat pumps, have efficiencies
rated according to their Coefficient of Performance or COP for heating and EER for cooling. It’s a scientific way of
determining how much energy the system produces versus how much it uses.
Most geothermal heat pumps systems have
COPs of 3.5 - 5.0. That means for every one unit of energy used to power the system, 3.5 to 5 units are supplied as heat.
Whereas a fossil fuel furnace may be 80-90 percent efficient, a geothermal heat pump is about 450 percent efficient. Some
geothermal heat pump manufacturers and electric utilities use software to accurately determine the operating efficiency of
a system for your home. Software like ClimateMaster GeoDesigner allows comparisons in dollars to avoid the confusion of the
various rating systems.
Q: Will the minimum entering water temperature have an affect on which heat pump I buy?
A: Yes. If you have an open-loop system, your entering water temperatures (EWTs) may range from the 70s°F [20s°C]
in the southern United States to the 40s°F [single digits, °C] in Canada. All heat pumps can handle temperatures in
the moderate to warm ranges. A closed-loop system, on the other hand, may encounter EWTs below freezing. Not all ground-source
heat pumps will operate at those low temperatures. It’s important for you to know what EWTs your heat pump will handle.
Q: Are the dealer and loop installers qualified?
A: Don’t be afraid to ask for references from dealers.
A reputable dealer won’t hesitate to give you names and numbers to call to confirm his capabilities. The same applies
to the loop installer.
Q: Will open- or closed-loop be best for you?
A: That depends on several factors, as
stated earlier. A dealer should be willing to install what’s best for you, not for him.
Q: Will the loop
joints be heat fused?
A: The only acceptable method for joining buried sections of the special pipe used for closed loop
systems is heat fusion. Any other method will eventually result in the failure of the loop.
Q: How long is the
payback period for a ground-source heat pump system?
A: To figure this accurately, you must know how much per year you’ll
save in energy costs with a ground-source system, and the difference between it and a traditional heating system and central
air conditioner. As an example: if you’ll save $700 per year with a ground-source system and the costs difference is
$2,000, your payback would be less than three years.
Q: If a home has ceiling cable heat or baseboard heat, do
air ducts need to be installed in my home?
A: Not always. It may be desirable to install ground-source heat pump room
units. For some small homes, one room unit would provide most of the heating and cooling needs. Ceiling cable or baseboard
units could then be used for supplemental heat.
Q: Can I use a heat pump for radiant floor heating (warm floors)?
A: Yes. Water-to-Water heat pumps heat water instead of air. The principle is the same as far as loop piping is concerned.
Warm water is circulated through the floor to heat the home.
Q: If I want to know more about geothermal heat pumps,
whom should I contact?
A: Visiting climatemaster.com, or speaking with the dealer that provided this brochure can provide
you with a wealth of additional information about geothermal heat pumps.
One of the many resources provided at
climatemaster.com is a distributor locator to find the nearest ClimateMaster distributor. Your ClimateMaster distributor can
put you in touch with qualified installers in your area. Also, your local electric utility can provide you with more information.
Go to climatemaster.com to find a ClimateMaster dealer near you.