Top 14 Myths About Geothermal Heating & Cooling
Geothermal heat pumps are not nearly as complicated or expensive as some people think, and they’re a lot more accessible than most people expect. In this blog post, we’ll break down the 14 most common myths about geothermal heating and cooling so that you can make an informed decision for your family.
Myth: Geothermal can’t be retrofitted to an existing home
FACT: It certainly wouldn’t hurt to install geothermal from the get-go, but installing a new geothermal system in an existing home isn’t difficult either.
Dandelion Geothermal connects directly with the ductwork that’s already inside your home to distribute the heat and AC. As a result, the geothermal retrofitting process is not only possible, it’s fairly straightforward.
Things can get complicated if you don’t have ductwork. Many geothermal systems, like Dandelion, are only compatible with homes that use ductwork to heat or cool. Sadly, installing ductwork can be complicated, invasive, and expensive. It isn’t practical for everyone, especially people with more historic homes. If you don’t already have ductwork and you aren’t dead set on getting it, Dandelion Geothermal probably isn’t right for you, right now.
Myth: Geothermal installation can take months or even years
FACT: It’s true that months may pass between your initial estimate and your final installation, but the installation process alone shouldn’t take more than a few weeks, regardless of your installer.
Dandelion’s process from beginning to end currently takes roughly three months. The majority of this time is spent on behind-the-scenes coordination, design, permitting, and planning work, which takes place off-site.
Once all that is done, the actual installation process takes place in 3 stages — drilling, trenching, and installing the indoor heat pump. Each phase of the installation can take anywhere from about 2 days to up to 2 weeks to complete depending on geology, topography, weather, the mobilization of heavy equipment, project design, and project layout.
Myth: Geothermal installation requires a large yard
FACT: You may have heard that you need a large yard to install geothermal. That’s sometimes true…but it’s also false. Let’s explain.
In order to get geothermal, you need to install a series of underground pipes below your yard called ground loops. These fluid-filled pipes absorb the heat stored in the ground and carry it to your indoor heat pump.
There are 2 main types of geothermal systems, and they’re differentiated by whether or not the ground loops are positioned vertically or horizontally.
A horizontal ground loop requires A LOT of space. It’s installed over a wide area of land and requires enough space to dig shallow trenches hundreds of feet long and 6-10 feet deep.
A vertical ground loop, on the other hand, is installed in one or more holes about 200 to 600 feet deep in the ground, and each hole is only 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Most importantly, the drilling rig has to be able to fit in the property and get set up. This type of geothermal system is ideal for urban or suburban areas across the Hudson Valley and Capital Region where space is at a premium.
Dandelion exclusively installs vertical ground loops.
Myth: Geothermal heating doesn’t work in cold climates
FACT: Geothermal ground-source heat pumps have no trouble generating heat in cold climates — as long as they’re properly sized, designed, and installed.
This is because the ground fifteen feet below the surface maintains a constant temperature year round. This constant earth temperature is higher than average winter temperatures, and lower than average summer temperatures. Geothermal works kind of like a fridge does, moving heat from one place to another to cool and heat, respectively. Have you ever wondered whether or not fridges can keep food cold in, say, Florida? Probably not.
During summer, the geothermal system draws heat from the air in your home and transfers it to the ground. During winter, it draws heat from the ground and transfers it to your home.
Air-source heat pumps do have their work cut out for them in colder climates, but they are still capable of generating heat and warming the home. Ground-source heat pumps are more efficient, but both options can work well even in cold climates.
Myth: Geothermal is too expensive
FACT: Geothermal WAS once a luxury for only the wealthiest of homeowners, but it’s now affordable for many more people.
What was once a very complicated and inaccessible installation process has been simplified to be more efficient and affordable. Dandelion is proud to be leading the way in standardizing the geothermal industry and making it more affordable for homeowners.
Traditionally, geothermal installation was a long and complicated process. Homeowners had to make their own arrangements for contracting designers and installers separately, and are left on their own to figure out how the permitting and payment processes work.
Dandelion is the future of geothermal installation. Unlike previous (and existing) geothermal companies, we’ve vertically integrated all of those moving parts for your convenience. We have our own employees who help you through every step of the process, our own proprietary technology, and payment options that include loans and financing.
Dandelion’s own heat pump seamlessly connects to your existing ductwork to make the installation process inside the home as neat and fast as possible. Outside your home, our own drilling rig uses sonic technology to effortlessly drill through bedrock to create space for the ground loops.
There’s never been a better time to access all the financial incentives offered for renewable energy makes geothermal installation even more accessible. Currently, the federal government offers a 26% percent tax credit to homeowners who install geothermal this year. There are even more incentives for geothermal on the state and local utilities levels. After several years, your geothermal heat pump will save you enough money in heating and cooling bills that you break even from your initial investment.
After this payback period, your geothermal heat pump essentially pays for itself. In the long term, installing geothermal to heat and cool your home pays dividends over the unpredictable but increasing costs of nonrenewable energy sources like fuel oil, natural gas, propane, and coal. But even if you plan on leaving your home in the short-term, geothermal still adds equity into your home.
There won’t be any additional unanticipated costs, either. Dandelion includes two warranties and a remote 24/7 monitoring software system with each of our installed heat pumps, so you don’t need to worry about out of pocket maintenance expenses during the payback period.
Installing geothermal is only marginally more expensive than replacing your furnace and AC, and you’re no longer paying for frequent maintenance, repairs, or heating fuel.
Myth: Geothermal only works with ducted homes
FACT: Geothermal heat pumps come in two forms: water to water, and water to air. Water to water systems are only compatible with homes that have radiators or radiant floor heating. Water to water systems tend to be less popular because they can only provide heating, not AC, but they definitely still exist.
The more popular geothermal heat pumps are water to air systems because they provide heating, AC, and even a supplemental supply of pre-heated warm water. Water to air systems are only compatible with ducted homes that use forced air heating and/or central AC, and they are the likely root of the misconception that geothermal is only for ducted homes. Dandelion exclusively installs these water to air heat pumps for homes that already have ductwork for heating and/or AC.
Myth: Geothermal is only for heating, not AC
FACT: Technically, it’s true to say that water to water geothermal systems can only provide heating, but they aren’t the only type of geothermal out there. It would be false to say that all geothermal systems can only produce heating, because water to air heat pumps are also geothermal systems.
Water to air systems are three in one: they produce heating, AC, and even a supplemental supply of hot water. In fact, geothermal is even more efficient at cooling than central AC is!
Dandelion exclusively installs water to air heat pumps in homes that already have ductwork for heating and/or AC.
Myth: Geothermal heat pumps require too much maintenance and break down all the time
FACT: The Dandelion Geothermal system is designed to require as little maintenance as possible.
Unlike conventional HVAC equipment like condensers, all parts of a geothermal HVAC system are underground or indoors and well-protected from the elements. Conventional HVAC equipment frequently suffer seasonal weather damage and are more likely to require regular maintenance and repairs by a professional.
However, there are some key things to ensure the system continues to run well:
Every three to six months: change the air filters. If you run the fan continuously, have pets, or live in a dust-prone environment, you’ll need to change your air filters more frequently.
Every five years: have a qualified service technician perform a basic inspection of the system.
Myth: My area has a lot of bedrock, so I can’t install geothermal
FACT: One of the biggest misconceptions about geothermal is that having shallow bedrock, ledge or shale could make it more costly or impossible to install geothermal on your property. Not only is it possible, it’s often faster and easier for our crews to drill into solid rock to install geothermal.
During the drilling and installation process, hard bedrock actually helps stabilize the bore hole. This means that we can skip the steel casing reinforcements that are usually necessary for drilling into soft soil and clay, and finish the job faster than normal.
Bedrock also transfers heat easily, so your ground loops are able to transfer heat between the ground and your home even more efficiently than otherwise.
Myth: Geothermal only heats your home to 55°F
FACT: To debunk this myth, let’s explore exactly how geothermal heat pumps work using the vapor-compression cycle.
The purpose of a heat pump is to move heat from where it is, to where we want it. For a heat pump to move heat, there must be a difference in temperature between where the heat is (the ground), and where we want it to go (your home). The heat pump is the middle man in a system containing a low temperature sink, a high temperature source, and the heat pump itself. The heat pump moves energy from the source to the sink using a ‘working’ fluid (refrigerant). The working fluid is inside the heat pump and it is the fluid that the heat pump directly works on.
Geothermal heat pumps have 2 main parts:
- Buried pipe systems (called ground loops) that circulate heat transfer fluid, which connect to…
- A heat pump inside your home (usually in place of your traditional system)
The ground fifteen feet below the surface maintains a constant temperature year round. This constant earth temperature is higher than average winter temperatures, and lower than average summer temperatures. In upstate NY, it’s usually about 50-55°F.
The underground loops circulate a water-based fluid to facilitate the transfer of heat between the ground and heat pump. The fluid is pumped through the ground loops where it absorbs heat from the ground.
The water-based fluid enters a heat exchanger where it exchanges its heat with a cooler refrigerant. That’s because heat naturally flows in one direction– from warmer spaces to cooler ones.
As the refrigerant absorbs the ground’s heat, it boils, evaporates, and becomes a gas.
The evaporated refrigerant enters a compressor, which raises its pressure and temperature by squeezing the gas into a smaller space.
The hot refrigerant passes through the indoor unit’s heat exchanger (also called a condenser), where it transfers its heat to the indoor air. The warm air is blown through the home’s ductwork.
After the refrigerant gives away its heat, it’s returned to a high-pressure, liquid state. The liquid refrigerant is pumped into an expansion valve, where its volume increases and pressure decreases. This cools down the refrigerant’s temperature and turns it into a liquid/vapor mix.
The cooled refrigerant ends the evaporator, a heat exchanger coil where the refrigerant once again picks up heat from the ground and evaporates into a completely vapor phase before returning to the compressor.
The cycle continues until your home reaches the temperature set on your thermostat.
This process also works in reverse to cool your home!
Myth: Geothermal can cause radon in your home
FACT: Geothermal installation by itself should have no impact on radon levels inside the home, for better or worse.
If you have any concerns about radon in your home, we recommend you contact a mitigation professional.
Myth: Geothermal heat pumps can absorb all the heat from the earth’s interior
FACT: We’ll let you in on a secret. Geothermal heat pumps actually source heat from the solar heat that is stored in the earth’s crust, not from the magma in the earth’s interior. Technically speaking, so-called geothermal heat pumps are something of a misnomer because they’re not using geothermal energy in the traditional sense.
In fact, the heat source that they draw from ultimately comes from the solar energy that is beamed down onto the earth’s surface and stored beneath the frost line, not the geothermal energy that is produced inside the earth’s core.
Even though installing geothermal ground loops a few hundred feet into the earth may feel like a lot in human scales of measurement, this is nothing compared to the actual radius of the earth and planetary scales of measurement. It’s safe to say that your geothermal heat pump won’t absorb any of the heat from the earth’s interior, much less all of it.
Geothermal heat pumps essentially use a relatively small volume of earth close to the surface as a “battery” which stores warmth from the summer. That stored summer warmth can then be pumped into our houses in the winter. As an added bonus, in the summer we can actually pump heat back into the “battery” to use next winter (and cool our homes in the process!).
You don’t expect solar panels to swallow up all of the sun’s energy, and geothermal heat pumps won’t either. So, as long as the sun shines (which is expected to happen for the next five billion years), geothermal heat pumps will be just fine.
Myth: Installing geothermal heat pumps uses fracking
FACT: If anything, geothermal heat pumps help to prevent fracking. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is an invasive and environmentally-irresponsible drilling process that’s used for extracting hard-to-reach natural gas or oil from below the surface.
Conventional HVAC systems rely on natural gas and oil to produce heat despite the fact that these fossil fuels are becoming increasingly depleted. As a result, energy companies are resorting to more and more desperate measures to find natural gas and oil through fracking.
One way to resist fracking is to stop using natural gas and oil to heat your home. Geothermal heat pumps are a renewable alternative to conventional HVAC systems that perpetuate our reliance upon fossil fuels and fracking.
Myth: Geothermal runs on electricity, so it’s not renewable
FACT: Geothermal heat pumps DO use electricity, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for the environment. In fact, the U.S. EPA has called geothermal heat pumps “the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective systems for heating and cooling buildings.”
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reduce your carbon footprint completely; however, it’s definitely possible to reduce it significantly.
For example, you might not be able to stop driving entirely, but you’d still be cutting back on your carbon emissions by driving an electric or hybrid vehicle instead of a conventional gas-fueled car. Similarly, geothermal heat pumps might still produce a small carbon footprint, but it’s still far smaller than the carbon footprint produced from burning large quantities of fossil fuels in your home every year.
Geothermal heating and cooling produces 75% to 85% less carbon dioxide emissions than gas and oil produces. For example, a 1,500 square foot house in Westchester, NY heated with oil burns 750 gallons per year, which equates to an output of about 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. The same house heated with geothermal technology uses 7200-kilowatt hours of energy, equivalent to roughly 4,500 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s a yearly reduction of 12,500 pounds of Co2, the equivalent to removing one car off the road for an entire year.
It’s also possible to go completely carbon neutral on your home heating and cooling by coupling your geothermal heat pump with a renewable electricity source, such as solar or wind energy generated on-site.
Even if your home isn’t a good candidate for solar or wind, NY state allows consumers to choose how their electricity is produced, so you can still opt into community solar programs.
Is geothermal right for your home?
Now that you know the truth about these common myths, read more about exactly how geothermal heating and cooling works here!