Geothermal heat pumps produce heat more efficiently than traditional methods such as furnaces and electric heaters by using the reasonably stable temperature of the ground, or in some climates of the water, as both a heat source and a cooling system, depending on the time of year. The system operates based on the principle that the ground is warmer than the air in the winter and cooler than the air in the summer.
Geothermal heating systems use long coils of tubing buried under the frost line or submerged in a nearby water source to exchange heat with the ground or water. Geothermal exchange systems are more efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems because they use a naturally occurring temperature source and just a small amount of electricity to help exchange the air throughout the home.
Ideally, the pipe can be laid in a horizontal arrangement of parallel rows, approximately six feet below ground. For homes with insufficient yard space, a vertical arrangement can also work, but is usually more expensive to implement since the system needs several hundred feet of tubing, requiring holes to a considerable depth.
The air exchanged throughout the home is clean, since the heat source is naturally occurring. In the warmer months, the geothermal exchange system actually cools the room by drawing heat from the air rather than blowing cool air.
Since electrical use is reduced and no fuel is burned to produce heat, geothermal exchange systems are environmentally friendly and cost effective. To further save costs, a geothermal system can be adapted to supplement hot water heating.
However, initial costs can be prohibitive, particularly for existing homes, since an extensive amount of tubing must be employed to make the system work, which can be disruptive to existing landscaping. To help offset this cost, many states have incentive plans in place to encourage the use of geothermal exchange systems, ranging from utility rebates to financing assistance.