Geothermal Heat Pump:Type,Efficiency,Benefit,Maintenance

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By Debarghya Roy


Geothermal heat pumps utilize our planet’s free and renewable energy to efficiently provide heating, cooling, and hot water to homes. Geothermal heat is generated from below the earth’s surface by a series of pipes called loops.

Geothermal heat pump

A geothermal heat pump system transfers energy from these loops into the home for heating or cooling, making it much more efficient than traditional air conditioning systems.

Geothermal energy offers significant savings on electricity bills and emissions reductions compared to conventional means of heating and cooling buildings. 

By reading this blog, you will understand how GHP systems work to give homeowners better control over their temperature needs while saving money and reducing environmental costs.

Definition And Functionality of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) are HVAC systems that use underground thermal energy to provide efficient heating and cooling for spaces. A GHP comprises four main components: a refrigerant loop, a compressor, a condenser, and an evaporator.

The refrigerant loop consists of high-pressure coils running from the ground into the building’s interior environment via pipes, passing through the compressor coil exchanger to capture or release thermal energy as necessary.

When heating is needed inside, this process will cause refrigerant within these coils to become warm. The coils then transfer the resulting heat into indoor space while colder fluid flows back down into a collector in the earth below; this creates what is known as a “closed loop system” since no new air comes inside.

Types Of Geothermal Heat Pump Systems

The several types of geothermal heat pump systems available, which include closed-loop systems (horizontal, vertical, and pond/lake), open-loop systems, hybrid systems, packaged geothermal heat pumps, and split system geothermal heat pumps, are mentioned in the table below:

System TypeKey FeaturesAdvantagesDisadvantagesTypical Energy Efficiency Ratings (EER)Typical Coefficient of Performance (COP)
Closed-Loop Systems (Horizontal, Vertical, Pond/Lake)Uses an underground piping loop filled with a water/glycol mixture. Horizontal loops buried at least 5ft (1.5m) underground. Vertical loops use deep holes and a well-field layout.The most common type is effective in both summer and winter.Installation might be complex due to the need for buried pipes.14-243-4.5
Open-Loop SystemDraws groundwater from a nearby well or surface body and circulates it through the heat exchanger inside the unit.More efficient energy transfer, the simpler installation process.Requires proximity to a reliable water source.16-303.5-5
Hybrid SystemsBlends ground source and air source heat pumps. Can switch between traditional air conditioning units and geothermal heating.Cost-effective, efficient, and can save up to $2,000 annually, with no emissions.It might require additional installation of air conditioning units.16-22 (air source), 14-24 (ground source)3-4.5
Packaged Geothermal Heat PumpsAll components are installed outdoors in a single package. Quieter units.Higher energy efficiency ratings reduce both utility bills and carbon footprint.It might only be suitable for some building types.14-243-4.5
Split System Geothermal Heat PumpsUses steady underground or water body temperatures for heating and cooling, transferred indoors through fan coils and furnaces.High EER (up to 29.1) and COP (up to 5.2) can be installed in new and retrofit situations.It might require a more complex installation compared to other systems.Up to 29.1Up to 5.2

The Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) measures how efficiently a cooling system will operate when the outdoor temperature is at a specific level (usually 95°F). The higher the EER, the more efficient the system.

The Coefficient of Performance (COP) measures efficiency, which signifies the ratio of useful heating or cooling provided to electrical energy consumed. Higher COPs equate to lower operating costs.

Geothermal heat pumps Vs traditional heat pumps

A comparison between geothermal heat pumps and traditional heating and cooling systems can be presented in table format to illustrate their differences in efficiency, environmental impact, and operating costs.


Geothermal heat pumps are known for their exceptional efficiency, outperforming traditional heating and cooling systems in energy consumption and cost. To better understand the efficiency of geothermal heat pumps, let’s compare them to traditional systems through the following table:

System TypeCoefficient of Performance (COP)Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE)
Geothermal Heat Pump3.5 – 5.015 – 30+8 – 10+N/A
High Efficiency Gas FurnaceN/AN/AN/A90 – 98%
Air-source Heat Pump1.5 – 3.013 – 23+7 – 9+N/A
Standard Gas FurnaceN/AN/AN/A80 – 83%

As seen in the table, geothermal heat pumps have higher Coefficient of Performance (COP), Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) values compared to air-source heat pumps and gas furnaces. These metrics serve as a measure of efficiency for the respective systems. 

COP measures the ratio of heating or cooling provided by the system to the energy consumed, while SEER and HSPF represent the cooling and heating efficiency of heat pumps and air conditioners over an entire season, respectively. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is a metric for gas furnaces, measuring the percentage of fuel that’s converted into usable heat.

The higher values of COP, SEER, and HSPF for geothermal heat pumps indicate their superior energy efficiency and lower operating costs compared to traditional systems. When considering the installation of a new heating and cooling system, it’s essential to weigh the long-term benefits of the various options available, with geothermal heat pumps offering a clear advantage in efficiency and cost savings.

Environmental Impact

Geothermal heat pumps offer significant environmental benefits when compared to traditional HVAC systems. The following table illustrates the environmental impact of both systems, highlighting key differences and factors to consider when choosing an environmentally friendly heating and cooling solution.

FactorGeothermal Heat PumpsTraditional HVAC Systems
Energy UsageGeothermal heat pumps use much less energy, as they rely on the Earth’s constant temperature to heat and cool spaces.Traditional systems consume more energy, as they require electricity or natural gas to generate heating and cooling.
Carbon FootprintLower carbon footprint due to reduced energy consumption and reliance on renewable energy sources.Higher carbon footprint, as they generate greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels or electricity consumption.
Water UsageGeothermal heat pumps have reduced water usage, especially in closed-loop systems where water is continuously circulated and reused.Traditional cooling systems, such as cooling towers, require a significant amount of water for their operation.
Environmental Impact MitigationPrimary forms of impact can be mitigated with proper installation, maintenance, and loop system design.Efforts to reduce environmental impact may include energy efficiency upgrades and switching to cleaner energy sources, but these may not be as effective as a geothermal system.
Energy IndependenceGeothermal heat pumps contribute to energy independence by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and electricity from the grid.Traditional systems are usually more dependent on external energy sources, such as natural gas pipelines and electricity from power plants.

In conclusion, geothermal heat pumps present a more environmentally friendly option for heating and cooling compared to traditional HVAC systems. By considering the factors outlined in the table, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions about adopting geothermal heat pumps to minimize their environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Operating Costs

  • Geothermal heat pumps offer cost and energy-saving benefits over traditional HVAC systems, making them suitable for commercial and residential applications.
  • The overall cost of installing a geothermal heat pump system can range from $10,000 to $40,000 depending on factors such as the system’s energy efficiency rating, unit size, and property location.
  • Systems with higher energy efficiency ratings generally require less input energy, leading to lower costs over time. Geothermal units are typically 75% more efficient than conventional HVAC systems.
  • Installation costs may be higher for larger units due to more required excavation work, especially in land-constrained areas. However, they usually provide superior performance.
  • Climate plays a role in cost, with colder areas requiring additional equipment and labor, increasing the initial investment. However, these areas can also see greater cost savings in the long term due to lower operational expenses and reduced maintenance needs.
  • When comparing operating costs of traditional HVAC systems and geothermal heat pumps, many factors come into play, including user requirements and regional conditions. It’s crucial to balance projected performance expectations against total capital and operational expenditures over time to financially optimize results.

Advantages Of Using A Geothermal Heat Pump 

The use of geothermal heat pumps comes with several benefits, both economic and environmental. Here are some of the key advantages to be aware of:

  1. Geothermal heat pump systems use 25 to 50 percent less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems.
  2. Geothermal systems can be installed in spaces where traditional systems cannot be fitted, like underneath patios or walkways.
  3. Operating costs for geothermal systems are significantly lower, leading to a high return on investment: 30 to 60 percent lower cost for heating and 20 to 50 percent lower costs for cooling.
  4. Geothermal units require minimal maintenance and have a longer lifespan compared to non-geothermal units that require regular servicing.
  5. The use of geothermal technology reduces dependence on electric grids that rely on fossil fuels.
  6. Water requirements decrease with the use of closed-loop geothermal systems, as there’s no evaporation-based output demand during hot months, unlike vapor compression machines.
  7. Geothermal technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions as it runs on clean energy derived directly from the Earth.
  8. Geothermal energy utilization is increasing in residential areas and businesses due to its environmental benefits.
  9. Absorption chiller technologies that combine renewable solar energy from photovoltaic panels are being used increasingly to control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Efficiency And Cost Savings Of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps provide superior energy efficiency ratings and long-term performance, meaning reduced operating costs for the user compared to traditional heating/cooling systems.

Energy Efficiency Ratings And Performance

Geothermal heat pumps have an impressive efficiency rating known as a coefficient of performance (COP). This number is calculated by comparing the energy output from the system compared to how much electricity it takes to run.

A higher COP means more efficient operation with lower operating costs for homeowners. Compared to traditional HVAC systems that rely on the combustion of fossil fuels for heating and cooling, geothermal heat pump systems are up to 60 percent more efficient in terms of energy usage necessary per BTU produced or removed from your home.

This makes them one of the most cost-effective forms of heating/cooling available today since they can reduce operating costs significantly while providing cleaner air inside your home.

Reduced Operating Costs

Geothermal heat pumps offer significant savings in heating and cooling costs compared to conventional HVAC systems by reducing energy consumption by 44%. This translates into an average of 30%-60% less in heating costs and a 20-50% reduction in cooling costs.

The initial investment can be high as proper installation requires working with a qualified contractor; however, long-term benefits are considerable. Geothermal systems have energy efficiency ratings several times higher than other heating and cooling unit types due to their ability to draw on stored thermal energy beneath the earth’s surface, which reduces energy consumption significantly.

In addition, over time, the system pays for itself as it will last much longer than traditional HVAC units while its operation is nearly maintenance-free.

ROI Calculations

When considering a geothermal heat pump system, the potential return on investment (ROI) is crucial. This metric indicates how much money an owner could save by investing in the installation of such a system.

When calculating ROI for geothermal heating and cooling systems, several factors must be considered. The cost savings from energy efficiency should be regarded as first compared to traditional HVAC systems; most sources report that geothermal heat pumps can achieve up to 70-90% energy savings over their life cycles.

Additional financial incentives may also be available depending on local laws or regulations that help reduce costs further; these can even include available rebates from utility companies with specific incentive programs.

In addition, it’s vital to recognize upfront costs as well. At the same time, they’re typically higher than those associated with standard HVAC systems due to the labor and excavation involved in loop installations. This cost can sometimes be defrayed if families take out loans or use other financing options when purchasing equipment through qualified installers.

Residential And Commercial Applications Of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps provide different heating, cooling, and hot water solutions for homes and businesses. With their energy efficiency, savings on bills, and environmental benefits, geothermal heat pumps are ideal for residential and commercial applications.

Heating And Cooling Applications

Geothermal heat pumps are cost-effective and energy-efficient for heating and cooling buildings such as commercial buildings, industrial facilities, schools, nursing homes, police stations, and farmers’ markets. Geothermal heat pump systems utilize the consistent temperature of the earth to provide efficient climate control year-round.

Geothermal heat pumps offer considerable potential savings on energy costs related to heating or cooling by using nearly 50% less electricity than standard HVAC systems. They are also environmentally friendly because they do not combust fuel or create harmful carbon emissions like traditional HVAC systems. Additionally, geothermal units require minimal maintenance compared to other heating/cooling equipment types.

Examples of successful installations include:

1) A 500-ton geothermal ground source system was installed at a cruise line terminal in New York City;

2) A 150-ton water furnace geothermal unit with eight ground loops serves an apartment building in California;

3) An above-ground horizontal closed loop system with high-efficiency Air Handling Units (AHUs), fan coil units (FCUs), and Thermostatic Expansion Valves (TXVs) provides comfort for about 30 fire stations throughout Florida;

4) A hybrid design consisting of water furnaces and conventional natural gas furnaces is installed at an office building located in North Carolina; And

5) In Las Vegas., two 0.75 MW vertical probe fields serve over 40 city buildings providing 100 tons per hour air conditioning during peak periods while saving all users 21%.

Geothermal Electricity Generation 

Geothermal energy has the potential to be an environmentally-friendly and reliable source of renewable power. By harnessing the natural heat generated by the Earth, geothermal electricity can be generated in different types of power plants. Geothermal power plants use steam from hot water reservoirs beneath the Earth’s surface to generate electricity. In contrast, flash steam plants use hot water to create higher-pressure steam, which can then be used to turn a turbine and produce electricity. Binary cycle power plants are typically used in areas where temperatures are lower since they have a much lower temperature requirement for operation at around 100֯C (212 F). The most common type of binary cycle plant is a direct-heat exchanger that uses hot fluid below the surface to heat secondary liquids such as isopentane or pentane before running it through turbines to generate electricity.

Advantages of using geothermal energy for electricity generation compared to conventional sources include:

  • No emissions of pollutants created.
  • Limited noise level.
  • Small geographic footprint.
  • Reduced operating costs.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Long service life with low maintenance requirements.

However, some challenges are associated with using geothermal energy, such as high start-up investment costs and significant risk when drilling deep into the Earth’s surface.

There have been many successful examples of geothermal power plants around the world, including The Geysers in California – one of the oldest and largest geothermal fields in the United States, producing over 725 megawatts (MW) of renewable electrical capacity; Larderello in Italy – first commercial geothermal power plant built in 1904 and currently still generating over 200 MW; Reykjanes Power Plant located in Iceland – generates over 270 MW utilizing both flash steam and binary cycle technology.

Environmental Benefits Of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps reduce energy usage, reducing carbon footprint and creating greater energy independence.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Geothermal heat pumps provide an efficient and sustainable way to reduce the carbon footprints of both residential and commercial buildings. Using the earth’s stable underground temperatures, geothermal systems can effectively supply steady heating and cooling with less overall energy requirements than traditional HVAC systems.

The lowered electricity demand from a GSHP system results in fewer emissions released into the atmosphere by power plants that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other harmful gases to meet increased energy demands created by inefficient air conditioners or furnaces.

According to Energy Star certified analysis, households can save up to 50%-70% on their total annual source energy use depending on climate conditions if they install geothermal heat pumps instead of conventional methods like electric resistance heating or split-system cooling.

Geothermal systems also require minimal natural resources such as oil, unlike comparable HVAC options, which tend to have a much larger reliance on such fuels depending on location.

Additionally, due to their inherent low maintenance costs over extended periods, these cost savings will often still be seen even after considering installation fees vis-a-vis more traditional options.

Energy Independence

Geothermal heat pumps are an efficient, sustainable way of heating and cooling buildings as they take advantage of the relatively constant temperatures near the Earth’s surface to exchange energy.

Geothermal energy does not depend on oil or gas burning, meaning that a geothermal heat pump system can provide long-term comfort solutions without relying on non-renewable energy sources.

These systems don’t use fuel, so there are no emissions, only a discreet indoor unit that requires minimal maintenance for proper operation.

These benefits make geothermal an excellent solution for remote locations which may otherwise be unable to access natural gas lines or electricity service due to cost constraints or land availability issues – thus providing greater access to reliable climate control solutions and contributing to increased isolation resilience in areas where external means may be unstable during times of crises such as hurricanes or civil unrest.

Reduced Water Usage

Geothermal heat pumps can reduce water consumption compared to traditional HVAC systems, as they don’t require evaporative condensers that consume an average of 1,224 gallons a month.

With geothermal technology, all energy and thermic exchange is done via fluid circulation inside a closed-loop circuit within the ground. This loop does not need additional fluids or compounds, making it much more efficient than traditional HVAC systems when saving on water usage.

Furthermore, due to this lack of evaporation in the system, geothermal heat pumps tend to last longer since no liquid wear is involved in operating them.

Installation Process Of Geothermal Heat Pumps

In order to install the system, licensed technicians will prepare the selected site and excavation by digging trenches or utilizing a horizontal loop layout depending on space availability.

The installation of the loops –filled with an antifreeze solution– is then done in order to exchange heat between the building and underground temperature.

Finding A Qualified Installer

It is essential to find qualified installers when planning a geothermal heat pump system installation. An improperly installed system may not achieve the desired energy savings and comfort level, wasting money, time, and resources.

Working with certified professionals familiar with local geology and regulations is essential.

The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) administers an accreditation program for contractors installing geothermal heating-cooling products. It ensures that members are up-to-date on current technologies, industry standards, and regulations.

The Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) also has a certification program specifically designed for highly trained technicians skilled at constructing, maintaining, and repairing ground source heat pumps (GSHPs).

Energy Star also certifies GSHP products effectively meeting specific performance criteria related to system efficiency.

Location Selection And Excavation 

Location selection for geothermal heat pump installation is crucial and depends on subsoil quality, soil type, and depth, groundwater level, nearby obstructions, and landscaping features. The system size should also be considered during location selection to ensure maximum efficiency.

Excavation, either as horizontal trenches or vertical boreholes, is required to install the ground loop system. Horizontal loops require more land but less excavation, while vertical bores require deeper holes but less surface area.

Pond/lake loops, which utilize natural convection flow, can be used where access to water sources like ponds or lakes is available. All trenching or excavation must comply with local government regulations, which specify depths according to the temperature zone of specific areas.

Installation Of Loop System

A geothermal heat pump installer must decide which ground or below-ground loop system is appropriate for the particular building and climate conditions. The two main options are open-loop systems, also known as sound systems, and closed-loop systems, which can be horizontal, vertical, pond/lake, or hybrid.

  • Open Loop System: An open-loop system utilizes water from an aquifer (underground body of water) as its energy source. This system extracts moisture from the aquifer and uses it to heat or cool the building, then recharges it back into the aquifer after use. The primary benefit of an open-loop system is that it requires relatively little space for installation. However, this type of system may only be suitable for some climates and soil types due to groundwater availability and underground temperatures.
  • Closed Loop Systems: Closed loop systems are usually installed by digging trenches or holes in several locations on the property. It utilizes specially designed pipes that run through these trenches or holes to circulate a liquid heat transfer medium that absorbs energy from the ground, passes through a heat exchanger to increase or decrease its temperature, then returns it to the trenches/holes after use. Because ground temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year regardless of season, a closed loop system provides more consistent thermal performance than an open loop one. It can be adapted to a variety of climates and soil types. 

Horizontal loops involve significant excavation, while vertical loops require deep boreholes; both provide effective temperature exchange capabilities with minimal disturbance to landscaping features such as walkways and driveways.

Pond/lake loops are often used in applications near natural bodies of water such as creeks, rivers, or lakes; they involve burying pipelines close to shorelines to absorb thermal energy from the surface water before being returned after use. 

Hybrid systems combine one type of closed loop system with another. They commonly combine horizontal trenches with either vertical boreholes or pond/lake systems in areas where soils are too shallow for excavations but possess enough depth under enough grade for borehole installations near open bodies of freshwater sources.

  • Packaged Geothermal Heat Pumps: A packaged geothermal heat pump consists primarily of two parts: an outdoor unit containing compressors, cooling fans, expansion valves, reversing valves, etc., and an indoor unit containing indoor cooling coil/s for air handling purposes connected via underground conduit transporting refrigerant between the units using a refrigeration cycle.
  • Split System Geothermal Heat Pumps: Split system geothermal heat pumps allow multiple indoor units to be connected to one outdoor unit, thus minimizing potential noise intrusion compared to a single package version providing a typical living environment without loss in efficiency.

Indoor Unit Installation

Proper indoor unit installation is essential to ensure a geothermal heat pump’s optimal efficiency and functionality in both homes and commercial applications. The steps involved include electrical connections, ensuring all wiring is connected correctly and insulated, ensuring proper ductwork has been installed, double-checking all equipment for leaks, contamination checks, and establishing communication between the air handler/furnace and thermostat.

  1. Electrical Connections: Electricians should be consulted to recommend the safest methods to connect the indoor unit to the electricity supply. All wires should then be securely fastened with wire nuts and properly insulated or covered by a conduit before joining them to their destination.
  2. Ductwork: Properly installing the ductwork involves measuring ceiling heights, crawl spaces, attic spaces, firewalls, etc., and calculating square footage for each area that must be heated or cooled using ducts. Air ducts may need to be cleaned before installation for system efficiency not to suffer.
  3. Leak Detection & Contamination Check: A pressure tester must be used to check for leaks at every connection point, including any bend points or pipes that could require special repair kits if leakage occurs. Different sensitivities of reading can also determine any potential contamination within system parts due to gathered dirt or dust particles over time.
  4. Establishing Communication: Once all connections have been checked, communication details between the air handler/furnace and thermostat must be installed. This communication will include intermittently adjusting temperatures to keep your home comfortable while saving energy costs. Without an established communication process, specific components might work against each other, thus reducing system performance capacity drastically or even leading to complete system breakdowns until they are manually adjusted again.

Maintenance Of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Regular maintenance is required to ensure that geothermal heat pumps operate efficiently and reliably, as any other type of HVAC system.

  • Geothermal heat pumps are designed with longevity in mind and have much lower maintenance requirements than traditional HVAC systems. Despite these low maintenance requirements, it is still essential to maintain regular servicing of a geothermal system to ensure the system remains efficient and continues operating at its peak performance.
  • The critical areas for regular maintenance include checking the loop system for any possible leaks or clogs, inspecting the indoor unit, ensuring adequate airflow through the ductwork (replacing air filters where applicable), and implementing a professional tune-up every two years.
  • Moreover, electrical connections must be properly inspected and tightened occasionally. Depending on local climate conditions, some regions may require more frequent service intervals due to higher dust accumulation levels or other factors impairing efficiency over time.
  • Finally, sealing around edges should also be regularly checked each spring since they tend to loosen up after heavy winter winds or summer storms due when experiencing extreme climates like high humidity or cold spells.


1. What is a geothermal heat pump?

A geothermal heat pump (GHP) is a system that utilizes the Earth’s natural heat to provide heating, cooling, and water heating for residential and commercial buildings with greater energy efficiency than conventional systems. GHPs are installed beneath the surface of the Earth to transfer thermal energy between two distinct locations: indoors and outdoors.

2. How does a geothermal heat pump work?

Fluid circulates through an underground loop which absorbs natural heat from within the Earth during winter; conversely, it uses stored coolth from underground wells during summertime, so you’ll be comfortable all year round.

3. Are there any benefits of installing a geothermal system?

Yes, GHP systems offer several benefits, including cost savings due to their high-efficiency level, environmental friendliness since they use less electricity, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and quiet operation because air-source units typically make more noise when running. They can significantly reduce monthly utility bills compared to traditional HVAC systems before installation occurs!

4 . What types of spaces can I install a geothermal unit in?

Geothermal systems are ideal for both commercial & residential applications such as large office spaces, houses/apartments along community housing developments, etc., however depending on your property setup then, specific considerations (i.e., lot size ) may need addressing first before installation takes place successfully without potential disruptions occurring later down the line which may impact overall performance negatively too if not managed correctly ahead time accordingly!


Geothermal heat pumps offer many advantages, making them an attractive and increasingly popular choice for residential and commercial applications. Homeowners and businesses provide energy efficiency and cost savings that far exceed those of traditional heating systems while helping to reduce carbon emissions.

Very low maintenance requirements mean lower lifetime costs compared to conventional HVAC systems. What’s more, geothermal heat pumps can be used for multiple purposes, such as cooling spaces in summer and providing hot water year-round.

The potential of geothermal energy is vast, from safely extracting the Earth’s thermal energy to using it to generate electricity or power vehicles. There are various ways it can contribute to a sustainable future.

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