Geothermal Home Heating: What You Need to Know

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Choosing a renewable power source to heat your home lessens your environmental footprint. Renewable energy (such as solar and wind power) is nearly infinite, while nonrenewable (burning coal or natural gas) will become depleted and generally creates more pollution. Today, we're talking about geothermal home heating and cooling. These innovative heating systems harness the earth's natural ability to stay at a consistent temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit just a few feet underground. Use this information to help you decide if this home HVAC source is right for you!

A Bit of Geothermal History

Iceland is an island created from volcanic activity. The nation is known for its many natural hot springs—and for 90 percent of its homes using geothermal heating, as the Iceland National Energy Authority reports. The country uses this natural heat to their advantage in a cold climate to heat homes and businesses, generate electricity, heat pools and spas, keep streets ice-free, and grow produce.

Americans don't have the same amount of hot springs as Iceland, but we did gain insight into this form of energy when European settlers happened upon the Yellowstone area in 1807, as the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) outlines. Relaxing in hot spring baths instantly became a popular recreational activity! It wasn't until the Hot Lake Hotel was constructed in 1864 in Oregon that the natural heat was used to warm an indoor space. From there, utility districts started popping up to heat cities and geothermal power plants were built to make energy.

There are both individual home heating systems that use geothermal energy and power plants that create electricity using geothermal. These power plants can both generate electricity and heat buildings. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to increase our nation's potential for using geothermal.

Aerial view of Iceland

How Geothermal Home Heating and Cooling Works

Geothermal home heating systems generate heating and cooling on-site and can also provide hot water to the home. The system itself involves a small indoor handling system and a series of buried pipes filled with water that loop to and from the home. The water is moved through the loop, picking up heat from the ground (or cooling in the summer) and moving it back into the indoor system. Some systems can use warm lake water or aquifers to heat the water or sometimes exchange the water, but most are closed-loop systems that use soil as the constant temperature.

Each geothermal home heating system is custom-built on-site. The system is a long-term investment and some of these home heating system components last twenty-five years and other parts last for up to fifty years, as the EERE reports. The energy is renewable, clean, and costs up to 65 percent less than other systems in the long run.

Is Geothermal Energy Right for Your Home?

Are you interested in using geothermal for your home? While the far western region of the United States has the most geothermal power plants and geothermal potential, systems can be built virtually anywhere, and steps are being taken to introduce this renewable energy source throughout the entire country.

Check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Geothermal Prospector interactive map to explore your area. According to the EERE, geothermal home heating can be installed in any climate. The site reports that the top ten states that installed systems in 2009 include both warm states, such as Texas and Florida, and colder climate states, such as Ohio and Minnesota.

Requirements for a geothermal home system on your property include space to install the ground source heat pumps. This can be minimal, about a quarter of an acre. Additionally, the installation crew needs to be able to access the area—the topography and property size matters. A geothermal handling system takes up about the same amount of space as most conventional systems.

System costs depend on labor costs, home size, choice of pumps and equipment, as well as soil type. The total installation cost varies depending on your property size, so you'll want to get an individual quote. Additionally, the United States government does provide tax rebates for newly installed systems (a 22% rebate for equipment installed in 2021, according to the IRS).

Geothermal lowers energy costs, reduces energy generation pollution, and makes a very comfortable home HVAC system. If you are looking to replace your current home HVAC, it's a great eco-friendly option.

Neighborhood

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Why It's Good

Geothermal energy is a bit like sharing energy with the Earth. It allows you to harness the power of nature all while having a more sustainable HVAC system. Talk about natural!