How Does Geothermal Heating Work? 11 Things (2023) You Have to Know

What if I told you there was a way you could use the temperature of the Earth to naturally heat and cool your home? I’m talking about good ol’ geothermal heating!

It’s a practical solution that not only benefits the pockets of homeowners who use it, but the environment too.

But how does geothermal heating work?

Great question.

The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you are likely expecting.

So, why don’t we take a deep dive into this practical heating (and cooling) system?

If you are considering installing a geothermal heating system for your home, well then, this article is going to be your guiding light as you go through the decision-making process.

So, let’s see what the Earth has to offer and how we can harness its energy.

1. What Is Geothermal Heating?

Geothermal heating refers to a system that pulls the heat energy from the Earth below a house or building and turns that energy into warm air to heat a space.

The process only requires a small amount of electricity, much less than what a standard heater requires, but is able to effectively warm a house.

But that’s not all.

Geothermal technology can also be used to cool a house during the hot summer months.

Since these systems run so efficiently, homeowners who use them see a drastic decrease in their electricity bills.

The technology seems a bit too good to be true, right?

Well, it’s not.

Geothermal heating (and cooling) is a wonderful way to warm and cool a house, and it can be used in virtually any climate.

Since the temperature under the Earth’s surface is, on average, warmer than the outside air in the summer and cooler in the winter, everyone everywhere can benefit from using the technology.

So, how does geothermal heating work exactly?

2. How Does Geothermal Heating Work?

Geothermal heating technology works by installing below-ground pipes that are filled with water–usually, the water is mixed with an antifreeze solution.

The temperature underground typically stays around 55°F throughout the year, and that energy can be accessed through these pipes.

As the liquid is pumped through the series of pipes, it begins to match the temperature underground.

The liquid then travels to the geothermal system above ground, where the heat from the liquid warms the air, gets condensed to become hotter, and is then distributed throughout the house.

In the hot summer months, the opposite occurs.

The cold temperature of the water in the pipes is converted into cool air and distributed throughout the house.

In some rare cases, geothermal heating may not be enough to completely heat a home, but that’s okay.

Homeowners can then use their standard heaters or air conditioners to a much smaller degree to heat and cool their homes.

If a home is located next to a pond or lake, these natural bodies of water can be excellent sources of heat that geothermal technology can harness and distribute throughout a home.

3. How Are Geothermal Heating Systems Installed?

So, how in the world are you supposed to install geothermal heating?

Well, that will be left for the professionals because the process requires machinery and precise planning.

The type of geothermal piping system being used will determine the installation process; however, a series of holes (or trenches) will be dug up around the house.

Pipes going in a vertical or horizontal direction (known as geothermal loops) will then be placed in the trenches and attached to the main geothermal system inside the home.

Once everything is in place and liquid has been added to the piping, all the holes or trenches will be refilled with dirt.

The entire process can take up to two months.

Why so long?

Well, homeowners first have to get permission and approval on the proposed design, which can be the lengthiest part of the process.

Then, workers have to begin drilling, digging trenches, making piping connections, installing air ducts, making electrical connections, and setting up the geothermal system that links up with the house.

It’s a big project.

So, don’t expect to have your geothermal heating system up and running just a few days after you decide to have it installed.

4. What Are the Advantages of Geothermal Heating?

Geothermal comes with a lot of benefits.

When you install a system that works by using a natural source of energy, there are typically more pros than cons.

So, let’s take a closer look at all the advantages of geothermal heating.

bulletReduced Electricity Bills

Running a geothermal heating system requires little energy, and it will greatly cut back on the amount homeowners have to use traditional heating and cooling systems–it is possible that the geothermal system could make those traditional systems obsolete.

Thus, homeowners will see a steep decrease in their overall energy bills.

Who doesn’t like saving money?

bulletLow Maintenance

Geothermal heating systems only need to be serviced once a year.

The company that installs the system will schedule a yearly check-up to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

These systems typically don’t require big repairs, and they may just need a few small tune-ups to ensure everything is working properly.

However, it’s very important that homeowners don’t delay in scheduling these check-ups.

Small problems that aren’t discovered early can turn into lengthy, expensive problems.

bulletEnvironmentally Friendly

Using less electricity also means that the environment benefits.

Electricity, in most cases, is created through the burning of fossil fuels.

The less of it you use, the better it is for the planet.

If homeowners want to power their geothermal heating systems with renewable energy, solar panels are a great addition.

Solar panels would further reduce total electricity bills as well.

bulletHeating and Cooling Abilities

Geothermal heating systems don’t only warm homes; they also cool them.

When a geothermal system is installed, homeowners will be able to use the temperature below the Earth’s surface throughout the year.

Oftentimes, geothermal systems will be enough to provide all the warm or cool air needed to keep the temperature inside a home comfortable.

5. What Are the Disadvantages of Geothermal Heating?

Geothermal heating systems are, without a doubt, efficient and environmentally friendly options; however, any system that requires deep trenches to be dug up around the house is going to come with a few downfalls.

So, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of geothermal heating.

bulletHigh Start-Up Costs

Geothermal heating systems will save homeowners money on electricity, but the initial investment is going to set a person back between $4,000 and $24,000.

So, in this case, you have to spend money to save money.

Not everyone has this much money lying around, which means a lot of people will be priced out from installing a geothermal heating system in their homes.

bulletSpecific Land Requirements

In order for these systems to work, there has to be enough land.

A home with a small plot might not have the necessary ground for the piping.

The good news is that vertical piping can be installed instead of horizontal piping, reducing the amount of land needed.

But even if there is enough space, things like piping for gasoline and other plumbing can make the process difficult, if not impossible.

bulletLarge-Scale Excavation Process

For homeowners who want to add a geothermal heating system to their property, it’s going to require a large-scale excavation process.

Certain areas of the yard will have to be completely dug up, which could mean trees, gardens, and other landscaping will have to be stripped.

The installation process is much easier for new homes as there is no preexisting landscaping to worry about.

bulletPotential Costly Repairs

If something were to go wrong with the piping deep underground, it could lead to some costly repairs.

The installation company would have to excavate the area in order to get down to the problem, which isn’t an easy task.

Luckily, these systems are fairly straightforward, and big repair jobs are far and few between, but they can happen, and they can be pricy.

6. Does Geothermal Run All the Time?

The length of time a geothermal heating system runs depends on a few factors.

If the weather is particularly cold (or warm), then the system will need to run continuously in order to meet the desired indoor temperature.

During milder parts of the year, it may not be necessary to constantly run the system.

These systems typically work best when they are set to one temperature, and the owner does not consistently fiddle with the gauge.

When the temperature gauge is constantly being adjusted, the system will be working harder, leading to less efficiency and a higher likelihood for problems to arise.

Ultimately, how long these systems run depends on the homeowner and the desired results.

Keep in mind that if you do decide to continuously run your geothermal heating system, it should not negatively impact it.

7. How Deep Does Geothermal Piping Have to be Buried?

The depth that the piping for a geothermal heating system has to be buried depends on if it is a horizontal or vertical system.

A horizontal system only needs to be buried between four and six feet.

Although those measurements may not seem very deep, remember that an entire trench will have to be dug up, stretching dozens and dozens of feet.

A vertical system has to be buried between one hundred and four hundred feet deep.

Big difference, right?

Not as much surface area is required for vertical systems, but digging so deep is no easy feat, and the installation process is still quite laborious.

8. How Warm Can You Heat Your House with Geothermal?

So, the average temperature underground is about 55°F.

Does that mean that’s the only temperature geothermal heating systems can provide?

Nope!

When the warm energy is collected and converted into warm air, it creates a vapor that goes through a condenser that raises the temperature of the air.

A solid system should be able to produce heat at temperatures of 100 to 120°F.

Standard heating systems operate at a higher temperature of around 180°F.

So, although a geothermal heating system might not produce the same amount of heat, it should be adequate to warm an entire home.

In more extreme conditions, the heat produced by a geothermal system could be paired with a standard heating system.

9. Is Geothermal Good in the Winter?

Geothermal heating systems are an excellent source of heat during the winter.

It may seem like pulling heat from the ground would be more difficult when the temperature drops during the winter months; however, the temperature beneath the surface fluctuates far less than the outside air.

On chilly days and nights, it is nearly guaranteed that the temperature just a few feet underground is warmer.

So, if you live in a cold winter climate, don’t worry!

Your geothermal heating system will be able to provide you with sufficient heat during the coldest parts of the year!

10. What is the Average Cost of a Geothermal System?

The average cost of a geothermal system is between $4,000 and $24,000.

A pretty penny, to say the least.

The price is so high because the installation process is so technical and labor-intensive.

Whoever is installing the system has to diligently map out where trenches are going to be dug and where preexisting plumbing exists.

Once the work begins, it will take a full crew to excavate the land, install the piping, wire the electrical parts, and refill the land.

Even though vertical systems require less land area and less piping, they are far more expensive than horizontal systems.

However, vertical systems are able to provide more heat for a home.

So, if you are thinking about installing a geothermal heating system, talk to a professional about which type of system would be best for your home.

11. What is the Life Expectancy of a Geothermal System?

If you’re going to invest thousands of dollars, these systems better last a long time–shouldn’t they?

Well, I am happy to report that the main geothermal system (the part above ground) will last around 25 years.

The piping underground can last for more than 50 years.

Some energy companies suggest that these can even last for 100 years.

As long as the system is being properly serviced, there’s no reason not to get the maximum lifespan out of a geothermal heating unit.

Final Thoughts

So, how does geothermal heating work?

Do you feel like you can answer the question now?

The heating system in a house is an important feature, especially for those who live in cold climates.

When a heater is constantly running, it can cause extreme spikes in electricity bills.

Well, people that use geothermal heating systems will be able to use far less electricity to heat their homes and still be able to generate enough warmth to live comfortably.

These systems are highly efficient and a wonderful option for anyone looking to live as environmentally friendly as possible.

So, if you’re interested in having a geothermal system installed for your home, have a professional come out, assess your property, and recommend the right system for you.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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