Will Geothermal Heat in a Cold Climate?

You'll often hear people say that geothermal heat won’t cut it when it comes to cold climates. The perception is that it doesn’t provide enough heat in the dead of winter to keep your home warm.

Harnessing the power of geothermal heat in cold climates is not a new concept. In Iceland, water from volcanoes is harnessed to provide heat, and in Northern California, the Mayacama mountains provide geyser steam to heat homes.

But these are projects that work on a grand scale. Domestic geothermal heating is completely different.

We thought we would lay this myth to rest once and for all, and explain why geothermal heat pumps are an excellent choice, even in the harshest environments.

Where Does the Geothermal Heat Pump Confusion Come From?

To explain this, we need to talk about the differences between air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. On the face of it, the two are pretty similar but delve deeper, and you start to understand the differences.

Air source heat pumps are similar to ground source heat pumps in so many ways, but they differ in one significant element: the energy supply source.

Geothermal Heat Pumps vs Air Source Heat Pumps

Air Source Heat Pumps

Air source heat pumps harvest their energy from the heat in the outdoor air. This has advantages and disadvantages. One of the main problems with getting heat from the air outside is that during the winter, the air temperature fluctuates widely, and in extreme cold, there is very little heat to draw. As the snow starts to fall, so does the temperature.

Decreasing temperatures cause your air source heat pump to work overtime, trying to harvest enough heat for your home. It reduces the efficiency factor of the system and costs you more in energy usage. It may not even be possible to get any heat from the air in the coldest climates, so to heat your home, you will need secondary sources like electric heating and furnaces.

Geothermal Heat Needs No Auxiliary Heat

Geothermal Heat Pumps

In contrast to air source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps get their energy and heat from the ground. Below the frost line sits a layer of soil that maintains a constant 55-ish degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the outside conditions. It does not fluctuate according to the weather above ground.

The frost line’s depth varies depending on the climate, but generally, you need to dig 10 ft or so down to reach the warmer soil. The advantage of sourcing the heat from the ground is that the heat pump doesn’t deal with extreme swings in temperature like the air source variety, and so it is easier to warm your home.

You never need to use additional heating, no matter how cold it gets, because there is always heat in the ground. This makes ground source heat pumps highly efficient and cost-effective.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your annual energy-savings should be somewhere between 30 and 60 percent. They break down these costs to a saving of between 30 and 70 percent on heating and 20 to 50 percent on cooling. It translates to a yearly saving of between $400 and $1,500.

Sizing a Geothermal Heat Pump For the Winter

Most of the confusion about geothermal comes from how sizing the heat pump differs from traditional furnaces and heating systems. Geothermal heat pumps are sized to provide precisely the right amount of heat that you need. Even on the coldest day, you get what you need and no more.

This means your heat pump will run continuously to meet the challenge. Don’t panic, because this is entirely normal. These heat pumps work differently to over-sized furnaces that never run constantly, even on the coldest days.

It’s all about the efficiency factor of your system. Geothermal heat pumps are a bit like lightweight boxers. They are agile and efficient. They pack a punch, but they are more economical with their strength. Plus, they know when to deliver and when to conserve energy.

Furnaces and air source heat pumps are like Sumo wrestlers. They are oversized, taking a lot of energy to get moving, but when they do, they have more power than you’ll ever need, which can be inefficient and costly for fuel usage.

So, what happens when the geothermal heat pump is sized incorrectly?

Improperly Sized Geothermal Heat Pumps

This is where the source of the myth about inadequate heating comes from. If the system is sized incorrectly for your climate and home, the system will deliver insufficient heat, leaving you seeking additional heat sources.

Under sizing occurs when the heat pump and ground loops are not the right sizes to keep your home at a comfortable temperature. The system will run continuously, but still not deliver the heat you need. This now becomes an inefficient way to warm your home and will impact on the energy you use.

Back-up heating is required, which impacts on your heating costs, negating the savings you make by installing a geothermal system in the first place.

Sizing Your Geothermal Heat System

Geothermal Loop System Size

The first step is to decide what size loop system you need and the amount of coolant liquid you will require to match the heat pump size. Also, how deep the loops need to be and whether a vertical or horizontal configuration is preferred are all contributing elements to a successfully sized installation.

These factors are decided by:

  • How much space you have on the plot.
  • What soil and rock content you have.
  • Any adjustments in soil temperature if you live in a colder climate.

Sizing the Duct System

This is the final element that needs consideration. Using the Manual J Calculation determines the heat loss and gain within your home and is combined with another calculation to convert the heat from water to air.

These formulas are worked out on a room by room basis to ensure an even heat distribution across the entire home. You can’t have hot and cold spots within the home.

Choosing a Geothermal Heat Installer

How To Choose a Geothermal Installer

Experience is the biggest determiner when deciding. Have they installed geothermal locally, and can you see evidence of their work? Do they have the necessary qualifications and training?

The other way is to ask existing customers and seek out online reviews. Happy customers will be only too pleased to share their experiences, as will dissatisfied people.

To do your research, you need to know:

  • Are they experienced?
  • What licenses and certification they have, as well as bonds?
  • Do they have a good track record?
  • Can they provide references?
  • Do they sound knowledgeable?
  • Are they willing to answer all your questions?

Conducting thorough research is the key to getting a geothermal heat pump that works efficiently all year round, but especially in the dead of winter.

Geothermal Does Work in Colder Climates

So, there you have it. Dispelling the myths about whether Geothermal heat pumps work in the cold is easy. For the most efficient heating systems to operate, you need fewer swings in extreme temperatures.

The changing weather conditions influence the air outside, making it susceptible to extreme swings in temperature. Geothermal systems operate at a constant level, avoiding the fluctuations and making the system more efficient.

So, do geothermal heat pumps love the cold weather? You bet they do, and so should you.

Need Help?

Are you looking for the right geothermal heat pump for your home? We have a huge selection of ground-source systems. Plus, we can help you with technical and installation advice for the entire life of your purchase.

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