Ground Heat Exchanger Types and Basics – Dept of Energy

Geothermal Heat Pump Basics

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Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs), sometimes referred to as GeoExchange, earth-coupled, ground-source, or water-source heat pumps, have been in use since the late 1940s. They use the constant temperature of the earth as the exchange medium instead of the outside air temperature. This allows the system to reach fairly high efficiencies (300% to 600%) on the coldest winter nights, compared to 175% to 250% for air-source heat pumps on cool days.

Although many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes — from scorching heat in the summer to sub-zero cold in the winter—a few feet below the earth’s surface the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Depending on latitude, ground temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C). Like a cave, this ground temperature is warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler than the air in the summer. The GHP takes advantage of this by exchanging heat with the earth through a ground heat exchanger.

As with any heat pump, geothermal and water-source heat pumps are able to heat, cool, and, if so equipped, supply the house with hot water. Some models of geothermal systems are available with two-speed compressors and variable fans for more comfort and energy savings. Relative to air-source heat pumps, they are quieter, last longer, need little maintenance, and do not depend on the temperature of the outside air.

Even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5 to 10 years. System life is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and 50+ years for the ground loop. There are approximately 50,000 geothermal heat pumps installed in the United States each year.

There are four basic types of ground loop systems. Three of these — horizontal, vertical, and pond/lake — are closed-loop systems. The fourth type of system is the open-loop option. Which one of these is best depends on the climate, soil conditions, available land, and local installation costs at the site. All of these approaches can be used for residential and commercial building applications.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Geothermal Heat Pump Basics

Ground Heat Exchanger Types

Closed-Loop Systems
Most closed-loop geothermal heat pumps circulate an antifreeze solution through a closed loop — usually made of plastic tubing — that is buried in the ground or submerged in water. A heat exchanger transfers heat between the refrigerant in the heat pump and the antifreeze solution in the closed loop. The loop can be in a horizontal, vertical, or pond/lake configuration.

One variant of this approach, called direct exchange, does not use a heat exchanger and instead pumps the refrigerant through copper tubing that is buried in the ground in a horizontal or vertical configuration. Direct exchange systems require a larger compressor and work best in moist soils (sometimes requiring additional irrigation to keep the soil moist), but you should avoid installing in soils corrosive to the copper tubing. Because these systems circulate refrigerant through the ground, local environmental regulations may prohibit their use in some locations.

Horizontal
horizontal closed loop ground heat exchanger

This type of installation is generally most cost-effective for residential installations, particularly for new construction where sufficient land is available. It requires trenches at least four feet deep. The most common layouts either use two pipes, one buried at six feet, and the other at four feet, or two pipes placed side-by-side at five feet in the ground in a two-foot wide trench. The Slinky™ method of looping pipe allows more pipe in a shorter trench, which cuts down on installation costs and makes horizontal installation possible in areas it would not be with conventional horizontal applications.

Illustration of a horizontal closed loop system shows the tubing leaving the house and entering the ground, then branching into three rows in the ground, with each row consisting of six overlapping vertical loops of tubing. At the end of the rows, the tubes are routed back to the start of the rows and combined into one tube that runs back to the house.

Vertical
vertical closed loop ground heat exchanger

Large commercial buildings and schools often use vertical systems because the land area required for horizontal loops would be prohibitive. Vertical loops are also used where the soil is too shallow for trenching, and they minimize the disturbance to existing landscaping. For a vertical system, holes (approximately four inches in diameter) are drilled about 20 feet apart and 100 to 400 feet deep. Into these holes go two pipes that are connected at the bottom with a U-bend to form a loop. The vertical loops are connected with horizontal pipe (i.e., manifold), placed in trenches, and connected to the heat pump in the building. Illustration of a vertical closed loop system shows the tubing leaving a building and entering the ground, then branching off into four rows in the ground. In each row, the tubing stays horizontal except for departing on three deep vertical loops. At the end of the row, the tubing loops back to the start of the row and combines into one tube that runs back to the building.

Surface Water Pond/Lake
surface water pond lake closed loop ground heat exchanger

If the site has an adequate water body, this may be the lowest cost option. A supply line pipe is run underground from the building to the water and coiled into circles at least eight feet under the surface to prevent freezing. The coils should only be placed in a water source that meets minimum volume, depth, and quality criteria. Illustration of a pond or lake closed loop system shows the tubing leaving the house and entering the ground, then extending to a pond or lake. The tubing drops deep into the pond or lake and then loops horizontally in seven large overlapping loops, then returns to the water’s edge, extends up near the surface, and returns back to the house.

Open-Loop System
open loop ground heat exchanger

This type of system uses well or surface body water as the heat exchange fluid that circulates directly through the GHP system. Once it has circulated through the system, the water returns to the ground through the well, a recharge well, or surface discharge. This option is obviously practical only where there is an adequate supply of relatively clean water, and all local codes and regulations regarding groundwater discharge are met. Illustration of an open loop system shows a tube carrying water out of the house, into the ground, and over to a well, where it discharges into the groundwater. A separate tube in a well some distance away draws water from the well and returns it to the house.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Geothermal Heat Pump Basics

If you are within 50 miles of San Jose and you are interested in geothermal for your home or commercial building, contact Cold Craft, Inc. 408.374.7292 or info@coldcraft.com

If you need help with indoor comfort or air quality, contact Cold Craft, Inc.

408.374.7292 or INFO@COLDCRAFT.COM

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