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Common Questions about Geothermal
What does Geothermal mean?
“Geothermal” and “ground source” heat may be new terms to you or you may have heard them lately in the news.  They refer to simple concepts that everyone knows.  When you sit in the sun, you know it warms all that it touches.  Our earth is warmed everyday by the sun and stores the sun's energy.

What is a heat pump?
“Heat pump” may also be new to you.  It is a term often used with “geothermal" and “ground source”.   Refrigerator and air conditioner are more familiar heat pumps..  All of them use electrical energy to move heat from one place to the other.  The refrigerator removes heat from our food and beverages and puts it into the room.  The conventional air conditioner removes the heat from our buildings and puts it outside.  Geothermal heat pumps use the same physics to move heat from the earth and put it into our home, or move heat from our home and put it back in the earth.  There is nothing new here.

Where does the energy come from?

The energy to heat and cool your home comes from solar energy stored in the earth via a “loop”. 

A closed loop can be placed horizontally 8 to 20 feet below the earth's surface or vertically in bore holes (dry wells) as deep as required, usually about 200 feet.  Each flow path (polyethylene tube) will be 400 to 800 feet in length. Trenches will be 200 to 300 feet in length.  Loops are added to meet the load.  The heat pump removes or adds heat energy to, or removes heat energy from the liquid in the loop.  The liquid then travels back into the earth to absorb or reject more heat energy.

An open loop receives water from a reliable well.  The heat pump removes or adds heat energy to, or removes heat energy from the water and discharges it to the surface.  One and one half to 2 gallons of water per minute, per ton, are required when the heat pump runs.

How long will the ground loop pipe last?
Closed-loop systems should only be installed using the appropriate high-density polyethylene pipe. Properly installed, these pipes will last over 100 years. They are inert to chemicals normally found in soil and have good heat conducting properties. PVC pipe should not be used under any circumstances.

Will trench excavation ruin my lawn, garden or woodlands?
A method called directional drilling allows horizontal ground loops to be bored below the roots of your trees and under your lawn.  Minimal excavation is required at the entry point.

Who can install these systems?
Design and installation of geothermal systems should be done by an IGSHPA accredited installer. Accredited installers can be located at https://old.igshpa.org/business-directory. HVAC contractors listing "Geothermal" but do not have IGSHPA accreditation may not be your best choice.

 See our document "How to Choose a Geothermal Contractor".

How efficient is a geothermal heat pump?
Geothermal heat pumps are 3.5 - 5 times as 
efficient as the most efficient fossil fuel furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel to make heat, they simply move heat that already exists in the earth. By doing so, they provide 3.5 - 5 units of energy for every unit used to power the heat pump system.

Do you need backup furnace for a Geothermal system?
Not at all. Geothermal systems that are sized appropriately for the dimensions and insulation of your home, and climate, will easily provide 100% of your heating needs down to -20 degrees F.

When shopping for a Geothermal system, confirm the supplier you choose has followed the IGSHPA (International Ground Source Heat Pump Association) guidelines to insure the system has been properly sized.

How long will it take for the geothermal system to pay back its added cost?

Furnaces with an air conditioner have life of 15 to 20 years. Air source heat pump equipment life is also 15 to 20 years. Geothermal heat pumps are expected to function for 20 to 28 years. Tankless hot water heaters last 9-10 years. Initial cost for a geothermal heat pump is higher than other equipment, but they last longer so over the life of the equipment, so the costs per year are similar.  

Geothermal systems require in ground heat exchangers. Cost for heat exchanger range from $5000 to $12,000 depending on the home size. The ground heat exchanger provides the free energy that makes geothermal attractive. Fuel and electric costs vary, but this free energy can be worth $500 to $1400 per year. This resource should provide this yield over 100 years. Return on investment would be 9 to 14 percent.

A quality geothermal contractor will provide a payback estimate in his proposal.

Does it make sense to finance a geothermal system and is financing available?
An efficient heating and cooling system is an investment like: a new roof, a deck, or a second car.  It makes good sense to obtain 10 to 15 year financing on a system that is going to last 20 to 30 years. If a new home is financed for more than 10 years, the energy savings will generally be greater than the payment for the geo upgrade.  If you have budgeted to replace existing equipment at the end of its life, added financing can enable you to upgrade to the higher efficiency geo.  

Second mortgages or home equity loans can be available at you financial institution. 

Can smart thermostats be used with geothermal system so we can remotely monitor our home's temperature?
Yes. Over 80% of the geo systems Innovative Energy have installed since 2009 are wifi enabled. Not only can you use your smartphone to check your system, but so can we. It has become an important tool for us to quickly troubleshoot your system.

Are these system so complex they will be hard to find someone to service them?
Geo system use refrigeration technology that has been around for many years. Because the systems are completely inside there are no issues due to weather, seeds and dirt on condensers, crank case heaters, or snow and ice blocking coils or exhaust ports, Techs appreciate not having to work outside.

The majority of customers choose to have an emergency electric back up option added to their geo. The internet connectivity also makes the systems easier to service remotely. Innovative Energy provides free performance checks for the first 2 years. Beyond 2 years we do the checks for a nominal cost. We check systems and catch any issues before cold weather so you are warm and we don't have to come out in the cold.

Have there been any notable geo innovations?
Hot water generation is the second greatest energy consumer in American homes, even greater than air conditioning. Geo systems in the past have had desuperheaters that supplement hot water generation when the geo systems are heating or cooling. ClimateMaster's Trilogy variable speed forced air geo, and Enertech Global's water to water geo, make 100% of the domestic water year round with savings of 60% to 70% of the cost of conventional water heaters. This new source of cost saving will help you pay for the geo system.