Are you interested in the cutting edge of energy efficiency? For most households, the top-of-the-line when it comes to slashing heating and cooling bills is a geothermal heat pump. Take advantage of underground temperatures to heat your home in the winter, cool it in the summer and even supplement your hot water heater, all for a minimum cost. If you’ve got the means to install a geothermal heat pump, you can cut your fuel spending down dramatically.
Ground Heat, not Magma
Despite the name, geothermal heat pumps actually have nothing to do with lava or volcanos. While there are technologies that use heat from deep underground either directly or to create electricity, when it comes to household use the term geothermal only applies to the temperatures in the first ten feet or so of dirt below the ground. The technology works by taking advantage of steady ground temperatures throughout the year, which maintain a range between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The heat pump works via a series of pipes or tubes, which can be installed under the house vertically, horizontally, or in a body of water. Water, antifreeze or another fluid circulates through the tubes. In the winter, the fluid coming from the house is colder than the ground, so it picks up heat and brings it back inside. In the summer, the opposite process occurs, when warm fluid from the house is cooled down by its journey underground. A heat exchanger then uses the fluid to warm or cool the air and distribute it throughout the house.
Some geothermal heat pumps also work in conjunction with a desuperheater, which piggybacks off the heat exchange to warm up your household water in the wintertime, and takes advantage of the heat leaving your house to do the same in the summer.
Costs and Benefits
Installing a geothermal heat pump carries a hefty price tag. Total startup costs can approach and exceed $25,000. However, you can get federal tax credits to recoup up to a third of your costs at least until the end of 2016. Furthermore, you can make up the initial cash outlay over time with savings in your fuel bills. You still have to pay for electricity to run the pump, but the total bills for wintertime should be substantially less than using a standard furnace or boiler. The exact savings vary greatly depending on where you live, how big your house is, what fuel you use and the specific model of heat pump you have installed.
The federal ENERGY STAR program maintains a list of heat pumps that meet the strictest efficiency standards, so you know you’re getting the most bang for your buck. If a geothermal heat pump sounds right to you, call up an HVAC professional to assess your house and help you calculate your potential costs and savings. Next winter, you could sleep soundly at night knowing that you are being kept warm by the power of the earth.
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