If you are planning to live “off the grid” or just minimize your carbon footprint, you may be thinking about adding solar panels to your roof. Perhaps you want to install a storage battery in your basement as well, so you can charge up for free on sunny days and use that stored electricity for your own personal use later.
Those are good steps to take, but you still have to provide for heating and cooling your home. For that, the most energy efficient system you can buy is a geothermal heat pump. Yes, such a system will cost more than a traditional system powered by oil, propane, natural gas or electricity. But it will more than pay for itself after a few years and put money in your pocket every year thereafter. It will also add value to your house when it comes time to sell.
What is a geothermal heat pump? It is a system that takes advantage of the fact that the temperature of the earth around your home only varies a few degrees with the seasons. By contrast, an atmospheric heat pump has to deal with ambient temperatures that may be more than 100 degrees in the summer or below zero in the winter. Normal atmospheric heat pumps aren’t very useful at temperatures below freezing, so they need an auxiliary furnace during cold weather.
There are two kinds of geothermal systems. One, called a horizontal system, involves digging a series of trenches about 6 feet deep around your property. Pipes are laid in the trenches then covered over with dirt. Water is circulated through the pipes where it is heated or cooled to the temperature of the earth. Then it is pumped to the heat pump mounted inside the house. In North America, the temperature of the earth is usually between 45 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
A vertical system uses a number of holes bored up to 80 feet deep into the ground. Pipes are then installed in the holes and fed through the foundation to the heat pump located inside. In either system, the temperature of the water coming in from outside remains nearly constant throughout the year, allowing the heat pump to operate as efficiently as possible.
Heating and cooling costs are often 50% less with a geothermal heat pump system. And because you already have that marvelous solar energy system on your roof, you can operate the heat pump almost for free, saving even more money. The more you know about a geothermal heat pump system, the more sense — and cents — it may make to install one for your home.
And speaking of saving money, don’t forget to upgrade the windows and insulation in your home to save even more money and reduce your carbon footprint even further. Using modern caulking can cut air infiltration (and energy loss) by another 4%.
With some careful planning, you can reduce the energy need to heat and cool your home significantly. That’s not only good for your wallet, it’s good for the environment as well.