How Does a Geothermal Heating System Work?

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  • Geothermal heating systems use naturally occurring energy from deep underground to provide heating and cooling to homes and businesses. The Earth's crust is constantly shifting, changing and breaking down. As this process takes place, energy is released in the form of heat, steam or hot water. By taking advantage of these resources, people can create comfortable homes that are both energy-efficient and affordable to run.

  • Most homeowners who rely on this technology will use a geothermal heat pump to take advantage of geothermal energy below the Earth's surface. These pumps are installed adjacent to the home, and will rest above ground. Piping is attached to the unit and run underground for dozens or even hundreds of feet. The depth of the piping will depend on how deep the optimum geothermal-energy potential is in that particular area. The pump will force cold water through the pipes. As the water passes through the geothermal energy pockets, it is naturally heated; as it passes back toward the surface, the heat is extracted from the water using a heat exchange system. The heat exchange system is run via electricity, and transfers the heat energy from the pipes into warm air to heat the home. The cold water in the pipes is then recirculated back through the heat pump, minimizing waste and keeping the system efficient. In the summer, the flow of the water can be reversed to help keep the house cool.

  • Another possibility for using geothermal heating in the home relies on a geothermal technology known as "hot rock." This system is used in areas where no geothermal energy pockets exist near the Earth's surface. In this system, a bore is made through the Earth's crust and the layers of rock below. Due to the constant shifting of the Earth's plates, these rocks contain a high level of natural heat. With hot-rock geothermal systems, cold water is pumped below ground though the bore. As it passes through the rocks, it is heated to high temperatures. It is then pumped back to the surface via a geothermal heat pump and passed through an electric turbine to heat the home.

  • Homeowners who take advantage of geothermal heating systems can expect to save 30 to 75 percent on their annual energy bills. In addition, they are helping the environment by avoiding the use of fossil fuels or other technologies that can create greenhouse gases and deplete the ozone. Finally, geothermal heating systems can add to a home's value, making it more attractive to buyers. These systems last for many years with little or no maintenance.

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