Geothermal heat pumps are a hot topic these days – and there’s a good reason for that. Not only are they comfortable and energy efficient, they’re also a renewable resource that lasts for decades. Whether you’re a new homeowner who just bought a fixer-upper and you’re looking to upgrade the clanky old HVAC system or if you’re a baby boomer building your dream home, geothermal heating and cooling just works, no matter where you are in your life.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation out there about how geothermal heat pumps work and whether they are right for you. It’s hard to find the answers to your questions, especially if the HVAC contractor you’re talking to isn’t an expert. With that in mind, we decided to contact our top geothermal heat pump installers and ask them:
What’s the #1 question you’re asked about geothermal heat pumps?
Of course, they were more than happy to oblige because these are questions they hear day in, and day out. Now, for the first time, we have a resource that will answer the commonly asked questions. To find out what the geothermal experts think you should know about heat pumps, keep reading. If you’ve got friends who might be interested in the answers to these questions, feel free to share this post using the buttons to the right. Now let’s dive into Question #1.
Question: Why choose a geothermal heat pump over a mini split or ductless heat pump?
Answer: Two reasons: efficiency and comfort. While mini split heat pumps are relatively easy and cost effective to install, they aren’t as efficient as a geothermal heat pump. This is because mini splits collect heat from the outdoor air, whereas geothermal heat pumps collect heat from the ground. While the outdoor air temperature varies greatly season by season, the ground temperature stays consistently high. This makes geothermal heat pumps much more efficient, saving you more money.
The second reason geothermal heat pumps are superior to mini splits is comfort. Mini splits deliver heating and cooling from a central point, usually in the main living area of the home. This leaves bedrooms or spaces located far away from that central point colder or hotter, depending on the season. A water to air heat pump, in contrast, delivers centralized heating and cooling through ductwork. This means every room stays at a consistent temperature, year-round.
Question: What can you do with the heat once your harvest it?
Answer: Once we harvest the heat, we can distribute it with either air or water (or both). Air is a good option, but with a well-designed hydronic distribution system, we can ramp up the efficiency and the comfort of the system substantially. With appropriate design, we can minimize the lift (the temperature difference between incoming liquid on the source side and leaving liquid on the load side). Until you crunch the numbers, it’s hard to appreciate what a difference that can make!
Question: What kind of maintenance is required on a geothermal system?
Answer: Geothermal systems require little to no maintenance. In fact, geothermal has been rated as the most reliable space conditioning system requiring the least amount of maintenance compared to any other heating or cooling system. Because the system operates without combustion, there is no risk of common furnace problems such as pilot lights going out, gas burners getting dirty, and more seriously, carbon monoxide poisoning.
All geothermal components are either buried deep in the ground or sheltered inside the house, which eliminates exposure from the harsh elements. A water to air heat pump requires an air filter change, preferably twice a year. Water-to-water heat pumps require no maintenance. As with any mechanical equipment, it is smart to do an occasional service check-up.
Question: Can I get domestic hot water out of my geothermal heat pump?
Answer: Yes, you can get a good percentage of you hot water with the desuperheater which is an additional heat exchanger that will heat your domestic hot water whenever your unit is running. This device does not cost anything to operate as your compressor is already running to heat or cool your building. As a result this is a very efficient way to use geothermal heat to preheat your domestic hot water and will result in about 55% savings year round.
Question: How long do geothermal heat pumps last?
Answer: As geothermal heat pump manufacturers in Canada, we design Nordic Heat Pumps to withstand the harshest Canadian winters. Unlike air source heat pumps or mini splits, geothermal heat pumps are housed indoors, usually in your basement or mechanical room. This means that the heat pump isn’t subjected to harsh outdoor weather, which increases the machine’s longevity. There is no combustion and few moving parts which means wear and tear on the machine is minimal. We expect our geothermal heat pumps to last up to two decades, but we have received calls from happy customers with 30-year-old machines that are still working great.
In addition, the ground loop that supplies heat to the geothermal heat pump is a closed system of plastic piping buried underground. It has no moving parts and should last the life of the building. So even if you need to replace your heat pump after 20 years, you won’t need to touch the ground loop.
Do you have questions that weren’t answered in this blog post? Post them in the comments below, ask us on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet and we’ll get them answered in the next edition of Ask the Geothermal Experts!