How Geothermal Heat Pumps Work

Do you know how geothermal heat pumps work?

Probably not. You may have heard that geothermal heat pumps are fantastic heating and cooling units. It's true that they can do the same job as an air conditioner a whole lot more efficiently, and heat too. In fact, most homeowners who install a geothermal heat pump save enough on their utility bill to pay off the installation costs in as little as 3 years.

Which sounds fantastic, but how exactly do they pull that off?

The Key to Geothermal is Underground

A traditional air conditioner traps heat in a coolant fluid, then expels it into the outside air. This is how heat is removed from a building in summer. A geothermal heat pump functions the same way.

The difference between a geothermal heat pump and an air conditioner is that a geothermal heat pump can reverse cycle and put heat back inside a building during winter. An air-source heat pump does the same thing, but, unlike an air-source heat pump, a geothermal heat pump uses the stored ground heat during its heating and cooling cycle.

Does that really make a difference?

Yes! The ambient temperature only a few feet beneath the Earth's surface rarely fluctuates even during variable weather conditions. For example, the underground atmosphere in winter is, in many regions, only a few degrees different from it's summer temperature. The main way an air-source heat pump loses efficiency during its heat cycle is due to a dropping air temperature outside. A geothermal heat pump doesn't worry about that, since it has access to a stable heat source year round. This is what allows a geothermal heat pump to hit heating efficiencies an air-source heat pump can't match.

Ready for Geothermal?

Are you ready to learn more about ground-source technology and how it could save you thousands? Ask your question in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

4 comments (view/add)
  • John Shaw
    John Shaw
    Posted on 6/23/2018

    Could you recommend a good source or publication for detailed information on geothermal heat pump installation design? For 4 to 5 ton unit located in NW North Carolina at an elevation of 3200 ft. Using horizontal earth trenches.

  • Kyle
    Kyle from Ingrams
    Posted on 6/25/2018

    You could always call us at 800-360-1569, and one of our geo-experts could provide some consulting. You could also check out sites like or

  • bob hattler
    bob hattler
    Posted on 4/1/2019

    How does the system draw the water from the well?

  • Kyle
    Kyle from Ingrams
    Posted on 4/1/2019

    A geothermal heat pump installed to work with an existing well would use a pump to draw water from the well.

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