What is Geothermal Heating & Cooling?

The earth absorbs and stores about half of the sun’s energy. Due to this massive absorption, the earth maintains a fairly constant temperature of 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 6 feet. Nevertheless, air temperatures fluctuate from winter to summer, rendering the conventional heating and cooling systems ineffective at the time of need. This is where geothermal heating and cooling comes in.

Basically, geothermal heating and cooling systems work a lot differently than the traditional systems. Traditional systems involve some form of combustion, typically natural gas, propane or oil to produce heat. Geothermal heating and cooling systems don’t involve any form of combustion; instead, they tap into the heat underneath the earth through a series of buried, high-density polyethylene pipes known as the earth loop system and redistribute it throughout the building.


All joints and connections of the earth loop system are heat fused to create a single continuous link of pipe. The heat fusing process doesn’t need application of glue, and this adds to the strengthen durability of the loop system. The earth loop system is greatly advantageous since all the loop piping comes with an impressive 50-year warranty.

The earth loops installation comes in a wide range of configurations depending on the site chosen. The configurations include horizontal loops, vertical loops, pond loops open loops.

Geothermal heat pump is used to harness geothermal energy from inside the earth to heap our homes or to use that heat for industrial purposes. Geothermal heat pumps are built on the same basic premise as regular heat pumps. The difference is that the geothermal type draws heat from the earth instead of from outdoor air. The heat from the earth is considered to be stable and even. In addition to providing heating for your home, this type of energy can also provide air conditioning and in most cases, hot water.

How Geothermal Heating & Cooling System Works?

Geothermal heating and cooling should not be confused with geothermal power plant. A geothermal power plant extracts hot water from the hot water reservoir below the earth’s surface, converts the hot water into steam, and directs the steam to turn a turbine. The turbine is connected to a generator through a shaft. The turning of the turbine triggers the generator to produce electricity. Geothermal heating and cooling as we have seen above, taps into the heat within the earth to heat and cool a home. There is no generation of electricity in geothermal heating and cooling.

For complete operation of any geothermal heating and cooling system, there must be a geothermal heat pump installed in the building and ground loops. A geothermal heat pump, also called ground source heat pump is a centralized heating and cooling system installed in buildings and transmits heat to and from the ground. Its main heat source during winter is the earth, while during summer; it taps heat from a heat sink. Ground loops are the pipes buried under the earth and connected to the geothermal heat pump.

How geothermal heating and cooling systems operate during winter

The underground pipes or the earth loops circulate water throughout the pipes buried underground. The water absorbs the heat from the ground through the pipes. After the water is heated up, it’s pumped back to the heat pump in the building. The geothermal heat pump then harnesses the heat from the heated water and distributes it throughout your home in the form of warm air. After the heat is extracted from the water, it’s allowed to flow back to the underground loops to get heated up again, and the cycle continues.

How geothermal heating and cooling systems operate during summer

During summer, the geothermal heat pump operates exactly the opposite as winter. It extracts the hot air from your house and gets rid of the heat, leaving behind a cool air to be circulated via vents as air conditioning. The extracted heat from the air is forced back into the ground via the ground loops. This means when the water leaves the building, it’s warmer than when it’s pumped back because heat has been extracted from it.

This whole process may sound sophisticated, but it’s not. In fact, in most Europeans nations, geothermal heating and cooling is a standard practice. In nations such as Switzerland and Sweden, over 75% of homes have installed geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Advantages of Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

The fact that geothermal heating and cooling systems are able to keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter, as well as slash your energy bills by as much as 50% percent, makes them deal breakers. Here are the advantages accrued from installing geothermal heating and cooling systems.

  1. Lowers your utility bills substantially

Homeowners who have installed geothermal heating and cooling systems typically achieve energy savings ranging from 25% to 50% compared to traditional heat pump systems. To be precise, a 200 square feet home can spend only $1 to heat and cool the whole day. Also, geothermal heating and cooling systems can supplement your home’s traditional water heater, thereby saving up to 30% of your hot water bills each year.

  1. Environmentally friendly

Geothermal heating and cooling systems do not involve any form of combustion like fossil fuels. They tap into the heat occurring beneath the earth to cool and heat your home. This means no emission of greenhouse gasses that cause pollution, global warming and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma.

  1. Durable

Geothermal heating and cooling systems are far more durable than their conventional counterparts. Conventional cooling and heating systems have a lifespan of 8 years. Geothermal heating and cooling systems, on the other hand, have an incredible 50-year lifespan.

  1. Alleviate extraordinary maintenance costs

Geothermal heating and cooling systems come with an impressive warranty of between 25 and 50 years. This guarantees that the system will function efficiently for a long time, eliminating the extraordinary maintenance costs associated with traditional heating and cooling systems.

  1. Uniquely reliable

The heat occurring beneath the earth is always there whether it’s winter or summer. This means that your geothermal heating and cooling system will work all year round, making your home comfortable all the time.

  1. Low operating costs

The most efficient conventional heating and cooling system delivers 98% efficiency. Geothermal heating and cooling systems have an incredible efficiency rating of 400%. This, essentially, implies that for each 4 units of energy delivered, 1 unit of electrical energy is used. This efficient utilization of energy translates to low operational costs.

  1. They don’t produce noise

Geothermal heat pumps operate quietly. Their mode of operation can be related to refrigerators. Quiet operation means they will not cause inconveniences in your home or bring conflict with neighbors.

  1. Impressive return on investment

Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems may be costly initially, but the long-term gains are simply unmatched. The energy savings for the first couple of months will offset the total cost of geothermal system installation. Averagely, homeowners with geothermal heating and cooling systems would witness a 30 to 70% reduction in their energy costs. The savings, over time, including rebates, plus Federal and State tax incentives would generate pretty good return on investment within 3 years.

  1. Enhance the overall value of any property

Statistics have shown that homes installed with geothermal heating and cooling systems are highly priced than homes without. In this day and age where individuals are looking to live green lifestyles and significantly dial back on their energy bills, homes installed with geothermal systems sell faster when placed on the market.

  1. Flexible

Geothermal systems are highly flexible. They can be effortlessly and inexpensively dismantled or expanded to conform to any building’s remodeling needs. They are specifically well-suited to ‘’tenant finish” installations.

  1. Use little electricity

Geothermal heating and cooling systems need electricity to operate. However, they use far less electricity (25% -50%) than traditional heating and cooling systems, reducing emissions by 44% in the process.

The main advantage of geothermal heating and cooling is that it does not use fuel or chemicals to regulate the temperature. Central air conditioning devices use materials that can be harmful to the environment. They also create carbon emissions that pollute the atmosphere. With the average home producing 5,550 tons of emissions each year according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, geothermal cooling is a viable option to cut greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining a comfortable home environment.

References: EPA , ThisOldHouse
Image credit: flickr


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.