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Is a Geothermal Heat Pump Right For Me?

What Is A Geothermal Heat Pump

Geothermal heat pumps use the energy that is absorbed by and stored in the earth to heat and cool your home in one of the most energy-efficient ways possible. At depths of 5 feet or lower, the earth stays a pretty consistent 50-55 degrees in Elkhart, South Bend and the surrounding areas. While this may seem pretty cool compared to where the temperature you keep your thermostat set to, it is much warmer than the air outside during the coldest parts of the winter.

In the heating mode, a geothermal heat pump will absorb some of the heat from the earth, compress it (to make it hotter), and then transfer that heat to the air in your home. In cooling mode, it does just the opposite: it takes the heat from your home and discharges it into the relatively cool earth. Because it is not burning any fossil fuels and so energy efficient, a geothermal heat pump is more environmentally friendly than many other types heating & cooling systems.

How Much Does a Geothermal System Cost

Replacing an existing geothermal heat pump costs about the same as a high-end gas furnace and air conditioner. If you are installing a geothermal system for the first time, you may also need to install a ground loop — which can add an extra $4,000-$10,000 to the cost of the project. At the time of writing this article, though, there are some very generous tax credits (through December 31, 2016) that can cover up to 30% of the cost to install a geothermal system.

Is A Geothermal Heat Pump Right For Me?

There are a number things to consider when determining whether or not a geothermal system is right for your home.

  • Do You Have Enough Space?

    The “geo” in geothermal means that the system has to be linked to the earth in order to work. The least costly way to accomplish this is to use water from your well to run through the system. Depending on your well, type and age of pump, and water conditions, this may or may not be the best way to go.

    The other option is to install a ground loop — a series of pipes buried in the earth through which the heat pump circulates an antifreeze solution to absorb or discharge heat. There are two types of ground loops: horizontal and vertical.

    Horizontal ground loops need quite a bit of space: as much as 2,000 square feet of lawn area for each 12,000 BTUs of system capacity. With many homes needing 36,000-60,000 BTUs of capacity, the space requirements really up! Vertical ground loops, on the other hand, only require about 100 square feet of space per 12,000 BTUs of capacity, but can cost 2-3 times more to install.

  • Is My Electrical Panel Big Enough?

    A geothermal heating system doesn’t uses electricity to operate rather than burning fossil fuels. Depending on the particulars of your home, it may be necessary to have a system that also has auxiliary electric heaters (installed inside the geothermal unit or the duct work) to keep your home comfortable during the most extreme wintertime temperatures. These heaters don’t operate often, but when they do, they can require a tremendous amount of power. You’ll likely need to consult with a professional to determine if your electrical panel has the capacity required to handle the extra demand.

  • Can I Afford It?

    Because of the ground loop requirement, the up-front cost for a geothermal heat pump can be daunting — even with the federal tax credits. Many homeowners choose to install a geothermal system when building or refinancing their home so that the costs can be rolled into the mortgage. With interest rates at near-record lows, a typical first time geothermal heating and cooling system will add just $50-$150 per month to a typical 30-year mortgage, making it much more affordable.