|Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal heat pumps (sometimes referred to as GeoExchange, earth-coupled, ground-source, or water-source heat pumps) have been in use since the late 1940s. Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) use the constant temperature of the earth as the exchange medium instead of the outside air temperature. This allows the system to reach fairly high efficiencies (300%-600%) on the coldest of winter nights, compared to 175%-250% for air-source heat pumps on cool days.
While many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes—from scorching heat in the summer to sub-zero cold in the winter—a few feet below the earth's surface the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Depending on latitude, ground temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C). Like a cave, this ground temperature is warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler than the air in the summer. The GHP takes advantage of this by exchanging heat with the earth through a ground heat exchanger.
As with any heat pump, geothermal and water-source heat pumps are able to heat, cool, and, if so equipped, supply the house with hot water. Some models of geothermal systems are available with two-speed compressors and variable fans for more comfort and energy savings. Relative to air-source heat pumps, they are quieter, last longer, need little maintenance, and do not depend on the temperature of the outside air. Even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5–10 years. System life is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and 50+ years for the ground loop. There are approximately 50,000 geothermal heat pumps installed in the United States each year. This cost has been offset with the new tax credit. Call us for details.
TYPES OF SYSTEMS
There are four basic types of ground loop systems. Three of these—horizontal, vertical, and pond/lake—are closed-loop systems. The fourth type of system is the open-loop option. A good water quality is required and manufacture warranties require water testing be done. Which one of these is best depends on the climate, soil conditions, available land, and local installation costs at the site. All of these approaches can be used for residential and commercial building applications.
BENEFITS OF A GEOTHERMAL HEAT PUMP SYSTEM
The biggest benefit of GHPs is that they use 25%–50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems. This translates into a GHP using one unit of electricity to move three units of heat from the earth. According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy consumption—and corresponding emissions—up to 44% compared to air-source heat pumps and up to 72% compared to electric resistance heating with standard air conditioning equipment. GHPs also improve humidity control by maintaining about 50% relative indoor humidity, making GHPs very effective in humid areas.
Geothermal heat pump systems allow for design flexibility and can be installed in both new and retrofit situations. Because the hardware requires less space than that needed by conventional HVAC systems, the equipment rooms can be greatly scaled down in size, freeing space for productive use. GHP systems also provide excellent "zone" space conditioning, allowing different parts of your home to be heated or cooled to different temperatures.
Because GHP systems have relatively few moving parts, and because those parts are sheltered inside a building, they are durable and highly reliable. The underground piping often carries warranties of 25–50 years, and the heat pumps often last 20 years or more. Since they usually have no outdoor compressors, GHPs are not susceptible to vandalism. On the other hand, the components in the living space are easily accessible, which increases the convenience factor and helps ensure that the upkeep is done on a timely basis.
Because they have no outside condensing units like air conditioners, there's no concern about noise outside the home. A two-speed GHP system is so quiet inside a house that users do not know it is operating: there are no tell-tale blasts of cold or hot air.
SELECTING AND INSTALLING
Because of the technical knowledge and equipment needed to properly install the piping, a GHP system installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Contact AEPCOR Geothermal, we will be happy to assist you in finding a qualified installer. Ask for references, especially for owners of systems that are several years old, and check them.
The ground heat exchanger in a GHP system is made up of a closed or open loop pipe system. Most common is the closed loop, in which high density polyethylene pipe is buried horizontally at 4-6 feet deep or vertically at 100 to 400 feet deep. These pipes are filled with an environmentally friendly antifreeze/water solution that acts as a heat exchanger. In the winter, the fluid in the pipes extracts heat from the earth and carries it into the building. In the summer, the system reverses and takes heat from the building and deposits it to the cooler ground.
The air delivery ductwork distributes the heated or cooled air through the house's duct work, just like conventional systems. The box that contains the indoor coil and fan is sometimes called the air handler because it moves house air through the heat pump for heating or cooling. The air handler contains a large blower and a filter just like conventional air conditioners.
Most geothermal heat pumps are automatically covered under your homeowners insurance policy. Contact your insurance provider to find out what its policy is. Even if your provider will cover your system, it is best to inform them in writing that you own a new system.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
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