As the world moves towards an eco-friendly approach and continues to embrace renewable energy, geothermal technology is becoming an increasingly common option for heating and cooling a house. While geothermal heating is already the standard in some European countries, it’s starting to gain traction in the United States as well. It is estimated that over a million homes in the U.S. currently use geothermal heat pumps, and given that geothermal heating is even mandated for new housing developments in some areas, this number will continue to grow.
While geothermal technology is a bit expensive to install in a house, its benefits provide a great return on investment. Opting for a geothermal heat pump could be a compelling option for a prospective homeowner. But how does geothermal technology work?
The main idea behind a geothermal heat pump is that the temperature below the Earth’s surface remains relatively constant. Throughout the United States, the temperature three feet beneath the ground remains between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. A ground source heat pump takes advantage of this fact by either drawing heat from the ground in the winter, or transferring it into the ground during the summer.
Ground pumps generally transfer heat by circulating water or a refrigerant through a loop of underground pipes. The pipes can be oriented in a number of ways depending on building size, cost, and terrain. The most common schemes include a horizontal loop in which the pipes are arranged six to ten feet below the ground, or a vertical loop in which the pipes are bored hundreds of feet into the Earth. In addition, the system can be an open loop, which can only use groundwater to transfer heat, or a closed loop, which allows for the use of a refrigerant. The pipe system is connected to the house via the pump and a heat exchanger, which are usually placed in the basement. The pump itself is inexpensive--it’s the complex pipe system that costs the most to build. Additionally, since they are a more cost-effective option, horizontal loops are typically the scheme chosen for houses.
The actual process in which a ground pump circulates heat is straightforward. During the summer months when the temperature of the air is higher than the temperature underground, the heat exchanger will absorb heat from the air and transfer it to the water in the pump. The water is then sent down into the ground where its heat is dissipated throughout the colder soil. Once the heat has been transferred to the ground, the water returns to the surface to repeat the process over again. The reverse occurs during the winter months; heated water is drawn from the ground and circulated throughout the house. Strangely enough, in this system, more hot water is available during the summer than the winter.
There are several reasons why geothermal technology is a great system to include in a house. Compared with air source pumps, geothermal heat pumps are much more efficient, save a ton of money down the line, and are very environmentally friendly. Geothermal heat pump systems only use electricity to transfer heat, and don’t use any extra resources to generate it. Furthermore, geothermal technology is relatively silent and out of sight, which can be an added bonus if you’re not a fan of noisy air conditioning units.
However, despite the many benefits that come with a geothermal heat pump system, the amount of water involved poses a flooding risk. The pipe loops involved with geothermal technology are very complicated, and a leak could occur at any point in the system. What’s worse, since horizontal loops are the standard orientation for houses, any potential leak would happen much closer to the surface. If a leak occurs in the pipes underground, it is possible that it will go unnoticed before serious damage is done. Although leaks aren’t common with geothermal technology, there’s always an inherent risk with a system of this nature. There’s also a way to protect your home.
DriBot is a new home appliance that combines an advanced pump system with smart home technology. Optional leak detection and water monitoring mean that leaks in your home’s water supply are brought to your attention via text, email, or through our DriBot app. So while geothermal technology offers a range of enticing benefits for a homeowner, with DriBot, the risk of flooding shouldn’t deter you from enjoying them.