"Understanding Your Home" by Building Inspector Mark Visser
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In short
A geothermal heat pump or ground source heat pump (GSHP) is a central heating and/or cooling system that pumps heat to or from the ground. It uses the earth as a heat source (in the winter) or a heat sink (in the summer). This design takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems, and may be combined with solar heating to form a geosolar system with even greater efficiency.
Geothermal heat pumps are also known by a variety of other names, including geoexchange, earth-coupled, earth energy or water-source heat pumps.

Life cycle

Geothermal energy systems have a lower life cycle cost than conventional systems, even in sub-arctic and arctic regions where the demand for heating is high.
They also have a long equipment life span, systems are often warranted for 25 years and ground loops for up to 50 years.

Geothermal heating/cooling systems are virtually maintenance free.
However, it is recommended to inspect or replace the air filter monthly and to make sure that supply and return air vents are clear.
The system should be checked once a year by a certified service technician.


Geothermal Heating and Cooling

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Geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Geothermal Heat Pump systems are able to provide heating and cooling for your home at great savings compared to other heating systems.
During the year, above ground temperatures change with the seasons but the underground temperature below the frost line is very stable. Tapping into the earth stored energy and using it for heating and cooling is not a new concept, it has been done "forever".
The geothermal heating system is able to provide comfortable heat, even in the dead of winter, at great savings. Depending on who manufactures the geothermal heat pump system, heating and hot water costs can be reduced by 25-70% compared to other heating systems, while cooling costs may be reduced by up to 50%. Because it uses less energy the system is environmentally friendly as well.
The system has two main components, the ground loop system in the earth and the geothermal heat pump in the house.

Ground loop system
There are basically two loop systems available, namely "open loop" and "closed loop".

Open loop systems use the naturally occurring ground water we call well water as a "tap" to the natural energy of the earth. The water in the earth retains the same temperature as the earth itself. The open loop system uses a pump to move some of this water out of the earth and deliver it to the geothermal unit. There the geothermal unit either removes or adds BTU's to the water (depending on what needs to be done to the comfort level in the building) and releases that water back to the earth to again attain the temperature of the earth. This is a very simple system especially in areas where the ground water is plentiful.
Closed loop systems are mainly used for residential homes especially in areas where there is no well water available. In this system a series of polyethylene plastic piping filled with an antifreeze solution, are buried directly in the earth well below the frost line. The geothermal unit either adds or removes BTU's from the solution depending on what needs to be done to the comfort in the home. After leaving the geothermal unit, the solution flows through the loops and the earth tries to bring it back its natural temperature.

The size and lengths of the loops determine how well the earth can get this job accomplished. The loops can be installed horizontally (if the property is big enough) or vertically which can be very expensive to install due to high drilling costs.

Geothermal heat pump
This heat pump is basically the same as the regular heat pump found in many North American homes. The only difference is that the regular heat pump extracts heat from the outside air while geothermal heat pumps extract heat, indirectly, from the earth.

During the winter a geothermal heat pump extracts the heat from the piping and distributes the warm air throughout the house. During the summer the system is reversed and the warm air is taken from the house and returned to the earth where is will cool down enough to provide air conditioning for the home.
When buying new equipment, sizing and installation are as important as product quality. A good contractor will not size your equipment solely on the square footage of your house but will also take in account your home's heat loss during cold weather and heat gains during warm weather.

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