Geothermal Ground Loops: An Essential Part Of Green Energy

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By Debarghya Roy

Geothermal ground loops provide an energy-efficient and reliable way to manage the heating, cooling, and hot water needs for homes or commercial spaces. 

This blog post examines how geothermal ground loops work, offers design considerations, cost comparison with other HVAC systems as well as financial incentives available.

Key Takeaways

  • Geothermal ground loops consist of a series of pipes and fittings that form a ground – coupled heat exchanger, with closed loop or open loop set ups.
  • Advantages include increased energy efficiency (up to 50% higher than traditional systems) , reduced carbon footprint, greater durability and longer lifespan (25+ years), improved air quality and comfort as well as environmental protections such as reduced emissions due to no combustion involved.
  • There are two types of geothermal systems: Open Loop System which uses nearby water sources pumped directly from the natural source to geothermal heat pump, versus Closed Loop Systems where coils of plastic piping are buried underground for heat exchange with the earth brought into/outofa building.
  • Financial savings can be realized over time through installation cost comparison with other HVAC systems plus incentives available from various governments in certain regions across US & Canada making it a popular choice for homeowners looking for renewable energy sources.

Definition Of Geothermal Ground Loop

Geothermal ground loops are networks of pipes and fittings that form a ground-coupled heat exchanger

These systems, which enable the transfer of energy from the ground to geothermal heat pumps, contain either a closed loop or an open loop setup.

geothermal ground loop

Explanation Of Geothermal Ground Loop

Geothermal heat pumps have loops of pipe buried in the ground filled with liquid where they absorb energy from the earth’s surface and use it to further power their operations through heat exchange mechanisms.

The four main types of geothermal ground loops are horizontal, vertical, pond/lake, and open loop. Generally speaking, in vertical systems pipes are driven down into the ground while horizontal lengths get buried at two or more depths below grade level; 

Whereas ponds/lakes leverage existing body water as partoftheresourcedsystemandopenloopsgetfedbyaquiferousgroundwaterfroma well drilled deep underground.

Types Of Geothermal Ground Loop Systems

Closed loop and open loop systems are the two primary types of geothermal ground loop systems. 

The closed loop system is a sealed underground cycle that takes advantage of the natural temperature of the soil below the surface to heat and cool an area. 

The mechanism within this type of system utilizes a large coil composed of either piping or plastic tubing which is buried beneath 3 to 400 feet, depending on climate conditions of the area. 

Open loop systems utilize water directly from a nearby source such as a pond, lake, or aquifer as their main source for heat exchange and cooling. 

These systems contain two pipes that carry the water to be heated around the house via coils installed above ground attached directly to your air conditioning/heating units. 

Additionally, since open loop systems require more maintenance than other types, they need regular monitoring and care for optimal performance.

Closed Loop Vs. Open Loop Geothermal Ground Systems

Geothermal systems use a network of pipes to exchange heat with the earth in order to obtain an energy source for heating and cooling buildings. 

There are two types of geothermal systems that can be used: 

CriteriaOpen loopClosed loop
WorkingOpen loop systems pipe clean groundwater directly from its natural source such as nearby lakes or rivers to a geothermal heat pump.Closed loop system uses coils of plastic piping buried underground to exchange heat with the earth and transfer it into or out of a building.
EfficiencyOpen loop systems are generally more efficient due to the constant temperature of the groundwater but may degrade over time because they rely on surface water.Closed Loop Systems are initially more expensive and less efficient because they require digging wells deep enough to access relatively constant temperatures.
MaintenanceIt could contain dissolved minerals or suspended particles that can damage the system components.If left unchecked resulting in increased costs associated with maintenance and repairs.Using them entails less maintenance and provides greater reliability.Overall when properly installed with thicker plastic piping material that can withstand greater differential pressures over longer periods.

Examples include commercial HVAC applications involving fifteen well points drilled each up-to 400m deep along several kilometers long polyethylene lines filled with propylene glycol mixture to prevent corrosion.

Advantages Of Geothermal Ground Loop Systems

Geothermal ground loops offer many benefits both for homeowners and the environment. Here are a few of the advantages to installing geothermal heat pumps:

Increased energy efficiency

Geothermal heat pumps are highly efficient, with up to 50% higher efficiencies than traditional systems; they use 25-50% less electricity than typical HVAC systems.

Reduced carbon footprint

Because geothermal technology relies on renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal heat pumps create less carbon emissions compared to other heating and cooling methods such as natural gas or coal burning furnaces, which produce significant quantities of CO2 into our atmosphere per year.

Longevity and durability

The lifespan of a geothermal system is about twice that of an air source unit (25+ years vs 12-15 years). With so little wear from time and longer cycle times between operation, these units require significantly fewer repairs over their lifetime compared to traditional air conditioners or furnaces.

Comfort and Air quality

Geothermal Ground Loops provide even temperatures throughout your home during all seasons without suffering temperature spikes while delivering clean fresh air ideal for those who suffer allergies or anyone seeking better indoor air quality in their home or office space 

Environmental Benefits

Geothermal Ground Loops can reduce net greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by replacing certain fuels used in conventional heating venting systems . 

Moreover , they help conserve precious resources since no additional fuel needs be burned beyond what’s already stored in the land below your property . 

Lastly , they contribute towards green world initiatives with smaller footprints due to negligible noise levels when running comparing it best condensing boilers & gas fired furnaces .

How Does A Geothermal Ground Loop Work?

A geothermal ground loop works by running a series of pipes around a large coil that is buried beneath the earth and transfers heat from inside or outside to an area for use in heating, cooling, or other applications.

Heat Transfer Process

Geothermal ground loops work by taking advantage of the relatively constant temperature in the underground soil

When used for heating and cooling, liquid is circulated through an interconnected series of pipes horizontally installed a few feet below the earth’s surface.

As this liquid runs through the loop it absorbs heat from or dissipates heat to the surrounding ground, depending on whether it is being used for heating or cooling. 

The geothermal heat pump present inside the building uses these thermal exchanges to move air in and out of various parts of a structure, thus controlling indoor conditions as required.

The flow from within these underground loops constantly circulates around closed-loop systems that join together at one point with a transferal system that consists of electro-mechanical equipment such as pumps and compressors which pass energy throughout different areas simultaneously depending upon internal controls settings to cool down temperatures even further or increase them if needed when dealing with warm air controlled regions during summer months.

Increased Energy Efficiency

Geothermal ground loops are becoming increasingly popular for commercial HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems as they can drastically improve system efficiency compared to traditional heating and cooling methods.

Geothermal heat pumps draw energy from the naturally occurring underground temperatures, taking advantage of the earth’s capacity as an efficient thermal storage unit. 

This allows for maximum heat exchange between these two sources while consuming minimal electricity in order to transfer this warmth throughout your house. 

The high efficiency provided by them provides economical benefits over time.

Since less energy is required for regular operation such systems often offer huge long-term savings on operational costs despite their higher initial capital expenditure relative to other solutions.

Design Considerations For Geothermal Ground Loops

Geothermal ground loops require consideration of many factors, such as its ideal depth of installation, loop size calculation and selection of suitable piping materials. 

Researching these various aspects is essential to ensure a successful geothermal ground loop system design for the best performance outcomes.

Ideal Depth

When building a geothermal ground loop, the depth at which they are placed is an incredibly important factor in their effectiveness. 

In order to maximize energy efficiency and reduce costs, it’s essential to design your system with appropriate depths for your given application.

The composition and properties of the soil and rock can significantly impact heat transfer rates, meaning that rules of thumb such as one loop per ton at 200 feet per ton depth for vertical loops may not be suitable for all situations.

With horizontal loops, the recommended minimum depth should be 3-5 feet below the frost line to ensure optimal performance through warmer seasons when temperatures fluctuate most rapidly from day to night.

Sizing Considerations

When installing a geothermal ground loop, it is important to ensure that the size of the loop matches the size of its corresponding heat pump

For example, 

Plastic piping installed within trenches is typically more efficient than copper in most soil types because it has better insulation properties due to lower thermal conductivity which leads to higher peak temperatures and greater efficiency during operation.

Piping Materials

When creating a geothermal ground loop, it is important to consider the types of material that will be used to create effective heat exchange for efficient operations. 

Of all the available materials, three are especially effective when constructing a geothermal heating and cooling system: 

  • High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX)
  • Polybutylene (PB)

HDPE piping has high durability and robustness, making it highly resistant to UV rays and capable of maintaining good flexibility even in extreme temperatures. 

It is also relatively easy to install compared with alternative pipe materials like copper or steel.

PEX tubing offers superior flexibility and can be bent around corners without leakage while still maintaining pressure control over the entire line length; however, its sensitivity to chlorine requires careful maintenance and flushing of systems.

Installation Of Geothermal Ground Loops

From careful site analysis to choosing the right system and drilling/excavation processes to loop configuration and heat pump installation.

These are all important steps in setting up this efficient energy solution for Eco-friendly home comfort.

Site Analysis And Feasibility

Before installing a geothermal ground loop system, a feasibility study is necessary to evaluate the potential of geothermal energy under ideal conditions and determine whether there is enough minimal land available for installation.

Thermal conductivity of soil and rocksThis includes examining the thermal conductivity of soil and rocks which impacts the size of actual geothermal loops needed. 
Humidity levels or water availabilityEnvironmental factors such as humidity levels or water availability should also be taken into account when designing a geothermal system as they affect air conditioning efficiency and can influence overall environmental performance.
Site-specific analysesSite-specific analyses are typically required based on geographical variations in order to successfully install specific systems.
Local temperature rangesFactors like local temperature ranges need to be addressed, so that construction teams can design systems effectively.

Choosing The Right System

When selecting a geothermal ground loop system, there are several factors to consider in order to create a tailored system that meets your renewable energy and sustainability goals.

Size of the property and availability of yard space can determine whether choosing horizontal or vertical loops is the best option for you.

Typically, horizontal ground loop systems require 400-600 ft of pipe connected in U-shape configurations with shorter length requiring smaller radius turns; while vertical systems consist of multiple pipes drilled down into the earth.

On the other hand, horizontal installations will typically traverse an entire side or corner acres leaving behind fixtures, although it may take longer because furrow needs to be completed over time taking courses through different sections.

Vertical loops take up less space than horizontal loops but tend to cost more due their involvements like involving deep excavation activities such as blasts or using heavy machines like digger derrick trucks which add extra costs.

Whether you go with a closed-loop vertical/horizontal setup or an open/closed body water source operations —always remember that heat pump units must match accordingly regarding lifting capability dictated by height above sea level.

Drilling And Excavation

Installing a geothermal ground loop requires excavating the earth to bury loops of plastic piping in the ground. 

Depending on site conditions, this can range from simple trenching for horizontal systems or more complex operations such as using a drilling rig to create bore holes for vertical closed-loop systems down 150-250 feet per ton.

Vertical Closed Loops (VCLs) are beneficial because they require less surface area for construction than horizontally laid tubing systems and also take up less yard space with multiple well placement options without compromising performance.

Loop Configuration

Geothermal ground loops require one of four different configurations to be used effectively. 

Horizontal loops are the most widely used, as they guarantee optimal heat exchange from the greatest soil surface area.

These require trenches up to several hundred feet long and 6 to 10 feet deep, so ample space is needed previously for installation. 

A closed-loop system uses plastic pipes and fittings in a variety of configurations that rely on pump operation around a large coil buried six feet or more underground.

It can also be laid out vertically in small spaces, depending upon property requirements.

However, its main disadvantage lies in cold spots caused by uneven temperatures across the loop length during peak functioning times.

Heat Pump Installation

Installing a ground source or geoexchange system involves connecting the heat pump to a series of buried pipes. 

This process requires carefully planning and analyzing the site, as well as determining an ideal depth for the ground loops based on factors such as soil type, climate condition, annual temperatures etc.

For horizontal loops, trenches are excavated for running plastic tubing whilst vertical ones require drilling into the earth with either drilling rigs or manually. 

Heat pumps should be installed by professional technicians after all too often problems can arise due to improper sizing and installation mistakes which undermine energy savings potential.

Maintenance Of Geothermal Ground Loops

Regular maintenance of geothermal ground loops is essential to extend the system’s life and optimize its energy-saving potential, so take the time to understand what is required for keeping it in top shape.

It is essential to take necessary steps with regards to maintaining a geothermal ground loop system in order to ensure long-term efficiency and attractive return on investment. 

While geothermal systems require less maintenance than traditional HVAC systems, regular inspections are still crucial for optimum performance and longevity of any heating or cooling system. 

Small issues like corrosion, leaky pipes, and mineral deposits can be caught early by performing an annual inspection. 

Regular service should include checking the temperature of the input hot/cold water entering the heat pump, measuring pressure drop across each coil in the loop field as well as flushing out mineral deposits that may build up within them over time.

The most common tips for routine maintenance and upkeep of geothermal ground loops would include not overworking systems during summertime peak demand times and using programmable thermostats properly & regularly cleaning air filters within hot air furnaces.

Troubleshooting Common Issues Of Geothermal Ground Loops

Oftentimes, issues with geothermal ground loops have simple solutions and can be corrected through proper maintenance or repair. 

Below is a list of the most common problems associated with geothermal systems that can be easily identified and diagnosed:

Mineral Deposits

Mineral deposits can accumulate in the heat exchange coils of the geothermal system, reducing effective heat transfer and causing operational issues. 

To resolve this problem, an experienced technician should perform a thorough system flush using a specialized cleaner to remove these deposits.

Bad Blower Fan Motor

A malfunctioning blower fan motor is one of the most common faults in residential geothermal systems and can cause problems such as reduced airflow or strain on other components. 

The motor should be inspected for signs of wear or corrosion, and replaced if necessary.

Bad Geothermal Heat Pump

If the primary heat pump fails, all heating and cooling functions will cease until it has been repaired or replaced. 

Carefully inspect all visible components for damage or signs of wear, then contact a professional technician to evaluate the system and recommend repair/replacement options if needed.

Water Contamination

Over time, particulates may enter into the piping system due to leaking fittings or tanks, which can reduce performance and create circulatory blockages that impede flow or cause system failure. 

It’s important to thoroughly investigate any leaks or water accumulation in order to identify potential sources of contamination before they become severe issues.

Improper Ground Loop Pressure

Incorrect pressure levels within a ground loop can lead to performance issues such as inefficient temperature control, increased energy costs, and inadequately charged refrigerant lines in split systems. 

If you suspect an issue with improper pressure levels, contact a specialist who can measure line pressures to confirm correct functionality.

Cost Analysis Of Geothermal Ground Loops

The cost of geothermal ground loops is initially high, but the long-term savings make them an attractive option.

Installation Costs  Of Geothermal Ground Loops

The installation cost of a geothermal ground loop system can vary significantly depending on the type and size of the system, as well as site-specific factors such as land terrain.

Horizontal closed-loop systems are often more expensive than vertical systems, and typically range from $15,000 to $34,000 for an average-sized property. 

The cost of standard residential geothermal installations can be anywhere between $8,000 to $24,000.

The higher end ground source heat pumps used in commercial settings can exceed $45,000 with costs ranging between$30,00 to 45 000 for high end options.

Available Incentives And Rebates Of Geothermal Ground Loops

Ground source heat pump installations come with numerous financial incentives and rebates that make the switch even more appealing. 

The Internal Revenue Service offers a 26% tax credit for installation of a geothermal heating or cooling system, which can help reduce the cost by several thousands of dollars.

Additionally, depending on where one lives, local utility companies may offer additional discounts and rebates to encourage customers to invest in this green energy alternative.

For example, 

Xcel Energy offers up to $5,000 in total cash back rebates for installation of an approved geothermal system. 

On top of that there are other costs associated with installing such as ground loop fees pumping water into ponds which could range from $2,500 to $10,000 annually.

Geothermal Ground Loops Vs. Other Heating And Cooling Systems

The table below provides a clear and concise comparison of geothermal heating and cooling systems and traditional HVAC systems, highlighting their efficiency, installation costs, long-term savings, and environmental impact.

Heating and Cooling SystemGeothermal Ground LoopTraditional HVAC System
EfficiencyHigh efficiency, as it utilizes stable earth temperatures, not dependent on outside air.Lower efficiency, as it relies on variable outside air temperatures.
Installation CostExpensive upfront cost, but may be offset by incentives and rebates.Lower upfront cost, but may require more frequent replacements.
Long-term SavingsLower energy bills due to increased efficiency, long system lifespan (over 50 years).Higher energy bills due to lower efficiency, shorter system lifespan (15-20 years).
Environmental ImpactReduced carbon footprint, uses renewable energy sources.Higher carbon footprint, relies on fossil fuels or electricity from non-renewable sources.


Geothermal ground loops offer numerous environmental benefits and are becoming a popular choice for buildings and homes looking to reduce their carbon footprints while increasing energy efficiency.


 What is a geothermal ground loop?

A geothermal ground loop is a hydraulic circuit that utilizes the Earth’s constant temperature to exchange thermal energy between heat pumps and refrigerant in order to provide efficient heating and cooling for dwellings.

How does this process work?

This process works by circulating a fluid through closed-loop piping systems located below the surface of the Earth where temperatures remain relatively consistent year round regardless of outdoor air conditions typically between 50-70 degrees F at depths as shallow as 10ft. 

What are some advantages of installing a geothermal ground loop?

There are many advantages associated with installing a geothermal ground loop including lower maintenance costs compared to other conventional methods since there are fewer moving components used.

Increased longevity due overall durability & strength, improving indoor air quality since no fossil fuels burned within the unit itself.

Are there any drawbacks I should consider before investing in geothermal systems?

One major downside to these types of systems is initial cost associated with purchasing equipment required to make installation complete which can be prohibitive depending upon budget restrictions but incentives often available such & tax credits help offset final remaining outlay.

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