What Are Geothermal Heat Pumps?

air conditioning and geothermics in basement

Tapping into Earth as an energy resource is an age-old practice, not just something read about in sci-fi literature. Geothermal heat pumps, also known as ground source heat pumps (GSHP), do just this to heat and cool homes in a highly efficient manner. 

So just what is a heat pump? A heat pump is different than more traditional heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, like forced-air systems, in that it transfers heat from location to location, like from outdoors here in St. Joseph to indoors, instead of creating its own heat or cool air. 

At Precise Heating, we know what it takes to keep you comfortable in your home. And a heat pump could be an ideal solution for you.

How Do They Work?

The earth remains at a constant temperature, and down about six to 10 feet below the surface the temperature is steadily reading between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on its location. Tapping into this temperature allows geothermal heat pumps to operate in most any climate for heating and cooling. 

In the cooler months, the geothermal heat pump takes its heat from the ground and transfers it indoors to warm your house. In the warmer months, it extracts the warm air from your home and dumps it outdoors to the cooler ground. All this earth heat exchange is conducted via the outdoor ground heat exchanger.

The ground heat exchanger is one of three parts in a geothermal heat pump system. The other two parts are the indoor heat pump unit and the ductwork, or the air-delivery system. The ground heat exchanger is the system of pipes used in either an open-loop or closed-loop system. The majority of the systems installed in the United States used a closed-loop system with their geothermal heat pumps. 

The difference between an open-loop and closed-loop system is the use of ground water. An open-loop system connects directly to a ground water source, like a pond or a well, and pumps the water directly to the heat pump for heating and cooling. A closed-loop system is comprised of a series of looping pipes underground filled with a heat-exchanging liquid that continually travels through the pipes. These pipes either can be installed vertically or horizontally, depending on your Minnesota yard.  

In an open-loop geothermal heat pump, the ground-sourced water is directly pumped to the heat pump. The heat is extracted from the water and transferred to a refrigerant, processed by the heat pump, and sent into your home. 

When the water is cooled, it returns to its source through a separate discharge well, or it’s pumped back to the pond. When cool air is needed, the heat is extracted from your home’s air and then cooled by the source water.

In a closed-loop system, the fluid that runs through the underground-buried piping, usually plastic, absorbs the heat from the earth and travels to the indoor heat pump and compressor. They concentrate the heat, then the indoor coil disperses it into your home. 

Once the fluid is cooled, it circulates back through the piping again to absorb more heat. When the temperatures inside your home are hotter and cool air is what’s wanted, just like with the open-loop system, the heat is extracted. But here, the cool earth absorbs the heat.

In both these systems, the warmer or cooler air is distributed throughout your home by your ductwork. 

Do They Have Any Advantages?

Though these heat pumps are more costly to install, they have several advantages to compensate for their initial costs that are worth considering:

  • They can be installed in most any climate due to the constant temperature of the below-surface earth.
  • These heat pumps are extremely efficient and can save up to 25 to 50 percent on energy per year compared to more traditional heating and cooling systems.
  • Because much of these systems are located underground, their maintenance is extremely low beyond filter changes and periodic checks. 
  • When properly maintained, depending on the type of system installed, you can expect a system life span of more than 20 years.
  • Their environmental footprint is extremely small. They don’t use fossil fuels to operate nor do they expel any fumes, odors, flames, or carbon monoxide.
  • These systems heat and cool your home evenly, not producing the uneven hot and cold air blasts associated with more traditional systems. They are also quieter than other systems––usually about the same level of noise as your refrigerator.

Contact Us Today

Our Precise Heating team members here in St. Joseph, MN, are experts at installing, repairing, and maintaining geothermal heat pumps. Call 320-363-7401 or request service online to speak with one of our professionals today if you have any questions or are considering installing one of these heating and cooling systems.

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