Geothermal methodsThe inexorable decline in the supply of fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil will only get worse if the world continues to rely on this rapidly shrinking commodity. Prudent homeowners are already investigating and, in many cases installing, geothermal energy systems to alleviate some of the strain on their overburdened wallets due to rising utility costs.

While geothermal energy systems cannot completely relieve your fossil fuel dependence, they can significantly reduce your utility costs in summer as well as in winter.


Basic Principle

Geothermal energy systems rely on the basic fact that the Earth is far warmer near its core than it is at its surface. The initial formation of the Earth as well as continued radioactive decay fuels this difference and creates a temperature gradient. Fortunately, technologies, in the form of geothermal energy systems, exist that can exploit this temperature gradient.

In its most basic form, a geothermal energy system involves the use of ambient ground temperature to heat or power an external source. The geothermal pools that use places like Scandinavia and Iceland are a  perfect example. More modern uses include huge geothermal plants for producing electricity on a large scale.

The technology has progressed enough that it is now economically feasible to build and operate a geothermal energy source ona scale that is affordable to most private homeowners.


The Process

The installation of a geothermal energy system starts with the drilling of a hole down to approximately 200 feet. The  temperature of the ground at this depth remains at a relatively constant 55 degrees.

Once the hole is drilled a series of pipes and pumps are installed that will circulate water through the system. In summer, the pipes will force the relatively hot water inside the home into the ground where it will be cooled. The water is then pumped back to a heat exchanger located in the house. A fan then cools and circulates the air into the house by blowing it across the exchanger and through a series of air ducts.

In winter, the process is reversed and the result is a warm flow of air. Typically, 55 degree air is not warm enough for the average homeowner and the geothermal system only preheats the aur. Still, warming air from 55 degree to 70 instead of 30 degrees or less results in substantial energy and fuel savings.


The Equipment & Installation

As mentioned, a deep hole is initially drilled near the exterior of the home. Aside from the this process, the installation of the equipment is very similar to other heating systems. Most of the piping will be underground and therefore invisible to the homeowner and the pumps and fans are comparable in size to other HVAC and water heating appliances.

The pipes are usually guaranteed for 50 years while the operating equipment has a life expectancy of 20- 30 years. These units are ideal for replacement of older existing systems or for retrofitting a particularly costly one. They are suitable for any heating purpose including hot water, central air and radiant heating.

Lastly, there is no need for a series of exhaust ducts as the system has no need for them. Additionally, the system can use the existing set of  air ducts. This significantly reduces the cost of replacement or retrofitting.


Economic Benefits

The original systems required a vast infrastructure and were prohibitively expensive for residential homeowners. Current technologies, however, have lowered the price of a geothermal energy system to the pint where almost any homeowner can affordably install one.

Geothermal energy systems save on fuel costs throughout the year as they diminish both the heating and the cooling needs of your home. In addition, they have fewer mechanical parts and require less in the way of maintenance than other HVAC appliances.

Savings of 50% on your water heating bill and a cut in energy consumption of 30-50% are not uncommon. In addition, if you are financing, the fuel savings may well exceed the payments on the system. In any event, in the vast majority of  cases, a geothermal heating system will pay for itself in less than seven years. In addition, the addition of governmental subsidies can shrink this time by a significant degree.


Quality of Life

Since the heat exchange system requires no energy input and the water pumps are extremely efficient, the system runs almost continuously. This operation results in a more consistent and comfortable level of warmth or coolness in your home. In addition, the continuous flow of “conditioned” air eliminates most of the hot and cold spots common with other types of HVAC systems.

The pumps, themselves are exceptionally quiet and the system requires no exterior fan for operation. Outdoor activities are never interrupted by a fan kicking on and there is no possibility of children or pets injuring themselves.


Environmental Advantages

A geothermal energy system uses the natural heat provided by the Earth to moderate the temperature of the air in a residential home. There are no poisonous exhaust gases and no  emissions of greenhouse gases.  The use of a geothermal system reduces the overall environmental footprint of the homeowner with no lessening of comfort or safety.


The Bottom Line

Geothermal energy systems offer a dependable, sustainable and affordable solution to rising fossil fuel costs. It is a responsible and prudent choice for meeting your energy needs. It is an excellent and affordable first step towards complete energy independence.

Coupled with a solar array for the production of electricity, a homeowner can meet or exceed all of his energy requirements. Most state governments have enacted legislation that requires utility companies to purchase any excess electricity produced by residential sources. Imagine the thrill of actually billing the electric company every month instead of paying them. A suitable combination of solar and geothermal energy systems opens up the very real possibility of this scenario. For more information on solar energy solutions, take a look at this article that details why solar panels may make sense for your home.