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More Information > FAQs
Geothermal Heat Pumps
  • Are all geothermal heat pumps alike?
  • How does a geothermal heat pump work?
  • Does a geothermal system heat and cool?
  • Will the minimum entering water temperature affect which geothermal heat pump I buy?
  • Can a geothermal system also heat water?

Are all geothermal heat pumps alike?
No. There are different kinds of geothermal heat pumps designed for specific applications. Many geothermal heat pumps, for example, are intended for use only with higher temperature ground water encountered in open-loop systems. Others will operate at entering water temperatures as low as 25° F , which are possible in closed-loop systems. Most geothermal heat pumps provide summer air conditioning, but a few brands are designed only for winter heating. Geothermal heat pumps also can differ in the way they are designed. Self-contained units combine the blower, compressor, heat exchanger and coil in a single cabinet. Split systems (such as the WaterFurnace ES Split) allow the coil to be added to a forced-air furnace and utilize the existing blower.

How does a geothermal heat pump work?
Anyone with a refrigerator or an air conditioner has witnessed the operation of a heat pump, even though the term heat pump may be unfamiliar. All of these machines, rather than making heat, take existing heat and move it from a lower-temperature location to a higher-temperature location. Refrigerators and air conditioners are heat pumps that remove heat from colder interior spaces to warmer exterior spaces for cooling purposes. Heat pumps also move heat from a low-temperature source to a high-temperature space for heating.

An air-source heat pump, for example, extracts heat from outdoor air and pumps it indoors. A geothermal heat pump works the same way, except that its heat source is the warmth of the earth. The process of elevating low-temperature heat to over 100° F and transferring it indoors involves a cycle of evaporation, compression, condensation and expansion. A refrigerant is used as the heat-transfer medium which circulates within the heat pump. The cycle starts as the cold liquid refrigerant passes through a heat exchanger (evaporator) and absorbs heat from the low-temperature source (fluid from the ground loop). The refrigerant evaporates as heat is absorbed.

The gaseous refrigerant then passes through a compressor where the refrigerant is pressurized, raising its temperature to more than 180° F . The hot gas then circulates through a refrigerant-to-air heat exchanger where heat is removed and pumped into the building at about 100° F . When it loses the heat, the refrigerant changes back to a liquid. The liquid is cooled as it passes through an expansion valve and begins the process again. To work as an air conditioner, the system's flow is reversed.

Does a geothermal system heat and cool?
One thing that makes a geothermal heat pump so versatile is its ability to be a heating and cooling system in one. With a simple flick of a switch on your indoor thermostat, you can change from one mode to another. In the cooling mode, a geothermal heat pump takes heat from indoors and transfers it to the cooler earth through either groundwater or an underground earth loop system. In the heating mode, the process is reversed.

Will the minimum entering water temperature affect which geothermal heat pump I buy?
Yes. If you have an open loop system, your entering water temperatures (EWTs) may range from the 70s in the southern United States to the 40s in Canada. All heat pumps can handle temperatures in the moderate-to-warm range. A closed loop system, on the other hand, may encounter EWTs below freezing. Not all geothermal heat pumps will operate efficiently at those temperatures. It's important to know what EWTs at which your heat pump will operate most efficiently.

Can a geothermal system also heat water?
Yes. Some geothermal heat pumps can provide all of your hot water needs on demand at the same high efficiencies as the heating/cooling cycles. An option called a desuperheater can be added to most heat pumps. It will provide significant savings by heating water before it enters your hot water tank.


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