Top Geothermal Myths You Shouldn't Believe

Understanding the facts about emerging technologies can be tricky, especially when there are so many myths and rumors that circulate. And right there is the first of our geothermal myths: that this technology is new. Geothermal heat pumps are not new. The technology dates back to 1892 and Boise, Idaho where 200 homes and 40 businesses became the first in the United States to enjoy heat from piped water from hot springs.

It would be wonderful if that was the first and last of the geothermal myths we knew, but alas. There are plenty of mistruths and exaggerations surround this greenest of energies. It is time to set the record straight. Here are geothermal myths, and the truth behind the lies.

1. Geothermal is Only For New Homes

Installing geothermal systems in newly built homes is easier than retrofitting, that much is true. However, it is only part of the truth. You can retrofit a geothermal heating and cooling system into older homes, and it is surprisingly simple to do.

A new geothermal system can readily integrate into to your existing ductwork to distribute air conditioning and heating. This is even a relatively simple procedure. Obviously, you do need ductwork in the first place. If you live in an older home and rely on radiators and window units, then putting in a new geothermal heat pump will be more challenging. Installing brand new ductwork into that kind of older home can be invasive and messy. This is especially true if you live in a historical home with restrictions on modifications.

All that said, it is entirely feasible to retrofit a geothermal system in an older home. In fact, many new geothermal installations go into existing homes every year.

2. You Need a Large Outdoor Space for Geothermal

This is one of those geothermal myths that is both true and false at the same time. Here’s what we mean. There are different types of geothermal systems that employ different configurations. The most common installation, the horizontal ground loop, requires a good amount of acreage. Many of the other types do not.

Why do horizontal ground loops require a sizable plot of land? Because the fluid-filled coils are laid in shallow trenches that criss-cross the plot immediately below the frost line. Another style of installation like the vertical ground loops utilize one or more holes, typically 6 inches in diameter, that stretch to a maximum depth of 400 to 600 feet. This means that even a very narrow lot could accommodate a vertical installation. In fact, they are ideal choice if you live in a suburban area or somewhere where land is a premium.

The great news is that both configurations work to extract the constant warmth from the earth. There is no compromise on comfort with a vertical loop or any other kind of non-horizontal geothermal installation.

3. Installing Geothermal Takes Forever

Obviously, the people who perpetuate this myth are being hyperbolic. What they really mean is that geothermal heat pumps take a long time to install. While it is true that, overall, a geothermal heat pump installation does take longer than a typical central air system, a lot of that 'time' is not spent directly on your property digging and hammering. The physical installation can be a quick affair.

In our experience, the most time-consuming portion of a geothermal heat pump installation is the planning. Which means a lot of that busy work takes place behind the scenes with water quality testing, soil quality testing, coordinating equipment, and the usual round of government red tape that you would expect when going about to do something worth doing.

How can you make this process as painless as possible? Our recommendation is to hire a competent geothermal installer to deal with the headache on your behalf. A quality pro can cut what might be a lengthy installation into a much simpler and easier job.

4. Geothermal Doesn’t Work in Cold Climates

Geothermal heating draws heat for the earth below the frost line. The frost line is usually located 10 or 15 feet below the surface. The temperature at this level remains a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is higher than the average winter temperature and lower than the average summer temperature. In the summer months, the system draws warm air from your home, transferring it to the ground, and in winter, it reverses the process, channeling heat from the earth and pumping it into your home.

Which is why it is so surprising that one of the most prominent geothermal myths we see online is that geothermal heat pumps can't heat in cold weather. Compared to air-source units, ground-source heat pumps have very few temperature fluctuations to deal with. They can provide stable cooling or heating in virtually any climate. If this is one of the geothermal myths that you worry about, you can definitely stop worrying.

5. Geothermal is Too Expensive

Geothermal heat pumps are too expensive! This is, scientifically speaking, total crap. Are geothermal heat pumps expensive? Yes, are they 'too' expensive? No, because the savings over time are so huge that it makes up for the upfront cost.

And that's not just something we say. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), geothermal heat pumps are the greenest and most efficient system of heating and cooling buildings. Your yearly 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.

The average American lives in one home for 13 years. It means that over that same period, you will recoup your initial outlay. Given that geothermal systems last 25 years plus, and the coils can last up to 50 years, the system may return over double what you paid and still save you 60 percent each year on your energy costs.

Plus, you're probably not going to pay full price. Federal and local incentives exist to tempt homeowners to invest in geothermal energy to reduce the burden on fossil fuels. The current federal tax credit stands at 26 percent. Don't forget to check with your local utility providers to see if they offer any incentives. In some cases, this could bump your total saving to 30 percent. That can equate to thousands of dollars.

Geothermal puts you in control of your energy costs because you are no longer shackled to the fluctuating costs of coal, gas, and propane. These energy forms are set to increase in price, dragging your yearly percentage spend upwards. With geothermal, you remove this worry.

6. Geothermal Heat Pumps Are High Maintenance

Unlike conventional air heat pumps that are exposed to the elements, a geothermal system has very few moving parts, with the majority housed underground. The heat pump is located indoors, away from the cold and the wet, so it is untrue that geothermal heat pumps need a lot of TLC. They only need the same sort of care you would give any HVAC system.

As with all mechanical systems, you still have some basic housekeeping to do if you want the heat pump to remain in good working order. You should change the filters regularly, especially if you have pets, run the system for prolonged periods, or live in an area with higher than average pollution levels. You should also get the system serviced annually by a professional company to ensure there are no long term defects that could adversely affect the way it runs.

7. Installing Geothermal Can Cause Radon Gas

Radon gas is present in tiny amounts in the atmosphere and naturally occurs when small amounts of uranium start to decay in rocks and soil. Installing a geothermal system does not adversely affect the radon levels in your home. This is one of the geothermal myths that just confuses the heck out of us. Nothing you can do with a ground-source system will increase radon levels.

If you are concerned, seek advice before proceeding with your installation.

8. Bedrock Prevents Geothermal Installation

Sometimes it is easier to drill into bedrock rather than soft soil or clay because it is easier to stabilize the boreholes and removes the need for protective steel-reinforced casings. It could speed up the installation, not slow it down.

Plus, bedrock is more efficient at transferring heat compared to soil, so the system has less work to do extracting the heat.

9. Installing Geothermal Requires Fracking

Fracking is an environmentally-invasive way of extracting natural gas and oil trapped within the layers of shale beneath the earth. Geothermal heat pumps do not require fracking. No one really believes this myth do they? Is this just one of those Internet things like the Earth is flat or Bigfoot is real?

In fact, the more the world turns to geothermal, the less we rely on fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes. Conventional HVAC systems rely on gas and oil, perpetuating the need to find increasing levels of these dirty and outdated forms of energy. By switching to a renewable system, like geothermal, you are helping to reduce our reliance on gas and oil. If you don't like fracking, you should love geothermal!

10. Geothermal Uses Electricity, So How Can It Be Renewable?

Geothermal systems do use electricity, but that doesn’t make them environmentally bad. As we said earlier, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, geothermal heat pumps are the greenest and most efficient way of heating and cooling houses and buildings.

Nothing is carbon-free. Everything we do leaves a footprint and impacts on the environment and planet. Geothermal is one of the least impactful energy sources. Think of it more like cutting back on something. You might take four flights a year, and to curb your carbon footprint, you decide two is enough. You haven’t eradicated pollution entirely, but you have made a significant step towards a reduction.

Installing a geothermal system could reduce your carbon emissions by 80 percent compared to conventional gas or oil systems. That’s a considerable reduction. Imagine if every household did the same? It would have such a positive effect on the environment.

The other good news is that geothermal energy uses 25 to 50 percent less electricity compared to conventional systems, which means less impact on the planet and your pocket.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, 10 geothermal myths that are entirely unfounded. The crucial thing here is to seek advice. Speak to people that have geothermal HVAC installed in their homes and speak to the experts. Speaking of which, you can always call us at 270-575-9595 for a free geothermal consultation.

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