Does Geothermal Heating Work In Cold Climates?

House buried in snow

If you’re just learning about geothermal heating, you might wonder if geothermal heating works in cold climates.

It’s easy to think that geothermal heating only operates well in tropical destinations. This is probably because of the common misconception that all geothermal energy comes from the steamy byproducts of geysers or the intense heat of volcanic activity.

There are plenty of examples of this kind of energy harnessing with geothermal. The Mayacama Mountains in Northern California capture geyser steam to generate geothermal power. In Iceland, supercritical water is captured from volcanos to generate energy.

Home geothermal heating is a completely different technology. First of all, geothermal heating generates heat for an individual home or business, while volcano and geyser-side geothermal systems generate electricity to distribute on a large scale.

Secondly, geothermal heating doesn’t rely on extraneous circumstances like a nearby geological feature, and therefore it’s accessible to everyone. This includes homeowners in neighborhoods even in the northernmost latitudes of the United States.

To understand this, let’s go into a little more detail on how exactly geothermal heating works.

How Geothermal Heat Pumps Work

Geothermal heat pumps are the heart of the geothermal system. They are connected to both the underground loop of pipes filled with heat-conducting fluid and to the air ductwork system in your home.

The fluid in the underground pipes circulates as much as the heat pump demands based on where you set the temperature in your home. When this happens, the fluid collects latent heat energy from the earth itself.

This is sent back to the heat pump, which distributes this natural form of heat throughout your home. Now you might still wonder, “Will heat pumps work in cold climates?” or “How does geothermal heating work in the winter?”

The answer to this is yes, geothermal heat pumps can and do work just fine in cold winter climates. This is possible because while we experience a huge change in temperature above ground as the autumn leaves turn to snowflakes and ice, the earth just a few feet below is unaffected.

This is because heat energy from the sun is stored in the earth. So, rain, shine, sleet, or snow, it’s always around 55 degrees Fahrenheit at about 10 feet below ground. This is as true in Minnesota as it is in Georgia. So, it’s always easy for geothermal heat pumps to absorb the heat energy they need to get started.

Sizing, Designing, and Installing Your Geothermal System

If you’re interested in having a geothermal heating system installed at home, it’s critically important to get a system that’s the right size and fit for your family. If you don’t have the right size and design installed, your heating system won’t work as well as it should. This translates to a huge waste of money and a lot of frustration for you. 

Manual J Calculation for heat gain/loss number

To avoid this, geothermal heating installers will generally do what is called a Manual J Calculation for space within your home. This is a somewhat complex process to figure out exactly how much heat is lost or gained in each room of your house.

This same formula is used by air conditioning technicians when sizing your home for a traditional air conditioner. 

Sizing the heat pump

Once the number of BTUs (a measurement of heat energy) needed to heat your home is known, the technicians can determine what size heat pump your home will need to operate effectively. 

Different sized heat pumps are designed to handle different loads. Once they have this number, a geothermal installer can accurately estimate which heat pump will do the job well.

Loop system size

The next important step in sizing a geothermal system is to determine how large the pipe loop system beneath the ground should be. One thing to determine this is how much liquid will be necessary to match the heat pump and heating needs of the home.

How deep the pipes should be buried and whether the loop system should be installed horizontally or vertically depends on a few factors. These are essentially:

  • How much space you have in your backyard
  • What consistency of soil you’re dealing with
  • Any slight adjustment in soil temperature if you live in a very cold climate

Sizing the heat duct system

Within your home, the final element of the design is determined by combining the calculation used earlier to determine the heat gain and loss in your home with another calculation for converting the heat from water to air.

These calculations must be done on a room-by-room basis to ensure that the heat is distributed evenly and not concentrated in one place or another. What you definitely don’t want is a bathroom that feels like a sauna and a living room where you’re always chilly. A nice steady distribution is key. 

Choosing An Experienced Geothermal Installer 

As you can see, choosing a geothermal installer who has a good amount of experience and satisfactory results is essential in your geothermal project success.

The best way to go about determining if the geothermal installer is up to par is to make sure they are certified and trained in geothermal design and installation. It’s also a good idea to check if they are bonded and insured.

Do a little research on your installers.

  • Are they experienced in geothermal heating?
  • Are they licensed, bonded, and insured?
  • Do they have a good track record online?
  • Are they certified in the required calculations to determine the best system size?
  • Can they provide any references or show you customer testimonials?
  • Can they give you an estimate of annual operating costs?
  • Are they willing to discuss the process and answer any questions you have to your satisfaction?

Once you can comfortably say yes to each of these questions, you can be confident in your decision to work with a particular geothermal installer.

At Dandelion, we’re more than qualified with over 100 combined years of geothermal experience. As the #1 New York geothermal installer by volume in 2018, we’re also a HeatSmart preferred geothermal contractor, thanks to our innovation and reliability. Of course, we’re also licensed bonded, and insured.

You can read about how our customers saved money and hassle here on the Dandelion blog. We’re happy to discuss these and any other questions you might have about geothermal heating. If you’d like to talk with us, reach out today.


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