Pros and Cons of Ground Source Heating for Homes

Whether you already own your home, or are looking to build a new one, you want to choose the best option for heating your house. Ideally, your heating system should be reliable, cost-effective, low maintenance and energy efficient. While there are a number of heating systems available for residential homes, a geothermal heating system provides unparalleled benefits when compared to conventional heating systems. Whether a geothermal system is right for your home depends on a number of factors, such as climate conditions, size of your land, soil conditions, and installation costs. Investing in a geothermal heating system is a major financial commitment, therefore it is important to understand exactly how these systems function, as well as their pros and cons.


How does a geothermal heating system work?

You may not have guessed it, but regardless of what the temperature is outside, a few feet below ground the temperature remains constant year round. Depending on the latitude, these ground temperatures can range from 45-74 degrees F. This means that during winter months, the temperature underground will be warmer than the temperature outside. Conversely, during the summer, the temperature underground will be cooler than then temperature outside. A geothermal heating system uses this constant ground temperature to exchange heat with the earth through a ground heat exchanger.

What are the different types of geothermal heating systems available?

There are four basic types of geothermal heating systems. The first three are horizontal, vertical and pond systems, all of which have closed circulation loops. The fourth type is an open-loop system, which uses well or surface water as the heat exchange fluid that circulates through the system. Typically, the horizontal closed loop system is most cost-effective for residential installations, specifically for new construction where sufficient land is available. However, because there are a variety of factors that need to be considered, you need to hire an experienced professional geothermal contractor in your area to determine which of the systems would be most efficient and cost effective for your home.

What are the PROS of a geothermal heating system?

1. The biggest benefit of geothermal heating is that the system uses 25-50% less electricity than conventional heating systems. Typical annual energy savings for a geothermal heating system range from 30-60%.

2. The system is highly durable and reliable. Since the system has few moving parts and these parts are either underground or inside the building, they have a lifespan that far exceeds other heating systems. The underground pipes carry warranties of 25-50 years and the heat pumps themselves typically last over 20 years.

3. Geothermal heat pumps are low maintenance and easy to take care of. Since the components inside the living space are easily accessible, it is possible to do all the necessary upkeep in a timely fashion.

4. There is great design flexibility with a geothermal heating system, which allows it to be easily installed both in new construction and in an inhabited house. Moreover, geothermal hardware requires less space than conventional systems, which means that the equipment room can be scaled down in size, freeing up a lot of extra space in the house.

5. Geothermal heat pumps make a positive impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions up to 40%.

6. The system provides “zone” space conditioning, which allows you to cool and heat different parts of your house depending on your personal needs and preferences.

7. Geothermal heating system improves humidity control by maintaining approximately 50% relative indoor humidity. Consequently, these systems are highly effective if you live in a humid area.

8. The system is very quiet, and does not disturb people inside the house with any noise when its operating.

9. A geothermal system can also be designed to supply your home with hot water. This can reduce water heating costs in the winter by 50%.

10. There are tax rebates available that will pay up to 30% of your geothermal heating system cost.


What are the CONS of a geothermal heating system?

1. One potential disadvantage is that geothermal heat pumps require several hundred feet of open space for the trenches, or bore holes as an alternative for the piping.

2. The biggest drawback to installing a geothermal heating system is its initial high price tag as compared to conventional heating systems. Depending on the size of the home, a geothermal heating system can cost in the range of $10,000-30,000. However, when you consider the monthly energy savings, low maintenance and operating costs, all of which save you money, it becomes clear that the geothermal heating system pays for itself over time.
The reason for such a steep price is mostly the cost of installation. A geothermal heating system requires that trenches be dug to lay out the pipes, boring holes in the ground for the system, as well as special installation of the geothermal pipes and desuperheaters.

It is estimated that on a retrofit, a geothermal heating system pays for itself in about 5-10 years. However, if you are building a new home, you can include the price of a geothermal heating system into your mortgage, and while your monthly mortgage payment will not be significantly higher, you will have immediate monthly energy savings for your home. There are special energy efficient mortgages and loans available that can cover the cost of a geothermal heating system as well as other energy-saving home improvements that are worth looking into.


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