Geothermal heating: A green energy solution for Atlanta residents

As the warmer months in Atlanta get longer, the summers more sweltering, and the winter months cooler,...

As the warmer months in Atlanta get longer, the summers more sweltering, and the winter months cooler, many are in the market for energy-efficient heating and cooling upgrades. If you are one of those people, geothermal heating is one the most energy-efficient heating and cooling systems available. These are green energy solutions that use the earth's natural heat as an energy source for heating, cooling and water heating. As a result, more and more homeowners are investing in this option for their household energy needs.

What makes up a geothermal system?

There are two major parts to every geothermal system: an underground loop field and a geothermal heat pump. Read further details about each of these below:

Loop field: The kind of loop system used for your residence will depend on the climate, soil conditions and acreage. The loop system typically consists of pipes and tubes buried underground that go to and from the home. There are four basic loop systems: horizontal, vertical, pond/lake and open-loop. It is the layout of these systems that denote their differences. The most common loop system for residential application is the horizontal loop system. This is a closed-loop system with two horizontal pipes concealed within the ground with a series of tubes. The pipes are either buried several feet deep in the ground one on top of each other or side-by-side in wider, shallower trenches.

Geothermal heat pump: The heat pump, alternatively, is indoors and does the mechanical work for the system. It is a ground source heat pump that essentially pumps heat to and from the ground.

How is the Earth used as an energy source?

The heat source for a geothermal system appears to come from ground heat, but technically it is from solar energy. The sun heats the Earth's surface, and that heat transfers deep into the ground. The temperature rises with the increased depth. The ground maintains a stable form of heat with minimal temperature fluctuations; this is why it such a good source of energy.

How does a geothermal system operate?

With the loop system in place, the indoor heat pump cycles water through the piping and uses the earth's temperature to warm and cool the refrigerant. Through the use of a thermostat, you can switch modes from heating to cooling. The thermostat changes liquid flow by either circulating heated or cooled fluid. The ground basically either cools heated water or heats cooler water depending on the mode. For water heating, you can opt to get a heat pump with a water heater addition. The water heater captures the excess refrigerant heat and uses it to heat the household water supply.

What are the benefits of geothermal heating?

There are several advantages to having a geothermal system for your residence, making them an excellent upgrade choice. Benefits include the following:

  • Durability and reliability: This kind of system has fewer mechanical parts that can become worn or defective. Thus, repair and maintenance costs are kept to a minimum.
  • Functionality: They are safe, quiet running units because they lack noisy fan and mechanical components.
  • Compatibility: A geothermal system commonly uses existing ductwork, if available, to work. Usually, this ductwork only requires minimal adjusting to work with the new system.
  • Environmentally friendly: These units are environmentally friendly since they use ground heat, and thus, they produce very low-level emissions.
  • Financial sensibility: Since most of the energy comes from the ground, there are low operation costs; so, you will see cost savings in your utility bills. Further, there are tax-credits available for installation of energy-efficient solutions.

Cost of installation

There is a significant upfront cost of installation, but long-term you will see a cost savings on utility bills and maintenance fees. The installation cost is directly affected by both the indoor heat pump unit and the underground piping loop system. The cost of the indoor portion depends on the size of the home and its insulation, the size of the heat pump necessary and the changes needed to make the existing ductwork work with the new system. The cost of the outdoor loop system depends on the size, the amount of materials needed, ground conditions and the depth/width of the burial. Typically, the system will need both a drilling/trenching contractor, electrical contractor and an HVAC specialist.

Installation of a geothermal system

Geothermal systems are rather complex, and setting up the loop field can get tricky. So, installation is best left to qualified experts, especially in Atlanta with our infamous Georgia red clay. An experienced professional will be able to conduct an energy audit, evaluating your needs and helping you decide on the best option of installation for your residence. Further, he can offer workmanship guarantees. Always make sure you hire a reputable HVAC contractor by checking credentials and references.

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