A geothermal heating system allows you to take advantage of natural heat produced by the earth. In-home systems operate using a heat pump and a network of pipes. Some environmentalists praise geothermal heat as a natural alternative to traditional heating sources, but while geothermal heat is tax-free and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, installing and operating geothermal heating systems can have several downsides.
Using geothermal heating for your home is only practical if your home is located above a hydrothermal hot spot, according to the energy resource website Energy Consumers Edge. These hot spots are located above magma chambers, which heat ground water to above boiling, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Hydrothermal hot spots only appear in states west of the Mississippi River, as well as in Hawaii and Alaska.
While not all areas in the U.S. are above hydrothermal hot spots, the ground in many areas does provide some type of geothermal heat. The ground absorbs heat from the sun during the hot summer months and is able to retain it until the onset of winter. Transforming this geothermal heat into usable heat, however, can be an expensive task. A typical geothermal system can cost between $10,000 and $25,000 to install in an eastern state. While the renewable nature of a geothermal heating system's energy source does allow it to pay for itself over time, it usually takes from 16 to 20 years of usage to recoup your investment.
While many environmentalists tout geothermal heating systems for their environmentally friendly design and operation, the systems are by no means 100 percent "green." Transferring heat with geothermal systems requires the use of toxic refrigerant chemicals, and the heat pumps that the systems use require external sources of electricity.
Installing a geothermal heating system is much more involved in comparison to installing a standard hot water heating system. A typical system installation requires the digging of large, long trenches in your yard, approximately 6 feet deep. You then lay the pipes into these trenches to form a closed network, or circuit. In suburban neighborhoods, particularly those that are densely populated, underground natural gas and water lines can make installation incredibly difficult, if not impossible. People in such situations sometimes decide to install their pipes vertically to save space. Vertical installation can also be difficult, and often requires the use of a big rig drill.
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