In the Loop
No. The same loop works for both. To switch heating to cooling, or vice versa, the flow of heat is simply reversed.
The buried pipe, or earth loop, was an important technical advancement in heat pump technology. The idea of burying pipe in the ground to gather heat energy originated in the 1940s. New heat pump designs and more durable pipe materials have been combined to make geothermal heat pumps the most efficient heating and cooling systems available.
There are two main types: open and closed.
An open loop system uses groundwater from an ordinary well as a heat source. The groundwater is pumped into the heat pump unit, where heat is extracted and the water is disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. Because groundwater is a relatively constant temperature year-round, wells are an excellent heat source.
The water requirement of a specific model is usually expressed in gallons per minute (g.p.m.) and is listed in the unit's specifications. Generally, the average system will use 1.5 g.p.m. per ton of capacity while operating, but the amount of water required depends on the size of the unit and the manufacturer's specifications. Your contractor should be able to provide this information. Your well and pump combination should be large enough to supply the water needed by the heat pump in addition to your domestic water requirements. You probably will need to enlarge your pressure tank or modify your plumbing to supply adequate water to the heat pump.
There are a number of ways to dispose of water after it has passed through the heat pump. The open discharge method is the easiest and least expensive. Open discharge simply involves releasing the water into a stream, river, lake, pond, ditch or drainage tile. Obviously, one of these alternatives must be readily available and have the capacity to accept the amount of water used by the heat pump before open discharge is feasible. A second means of water discharge is the return well. A return well is a second well bore that returns the water to the ground aquifer. A return well must have enough capacity to dispose of the water passed through the heat pump. A new return well should be installed by a qualified well driller. Likewise, a professional should test the capacity of an existing well before it is used as a return.
All or part of the installation may be subject to local ordinances, codes, covenants or licensing requirements. Check with local authorities to determine if any restrictions apply in your area.
No. The system is pollution-free. The heat pump merely removes or adds heat to the water. No pollutants are added. The only change in the water returned to the environment is a slight increase or decrease in temperature.
No. An earth loop will reach temperatures below freezing during extreme conditions and may freeze your septic system. Such usage is banned in many areas.
Poor water quality can cause serious problems in open loop systems. Your water should be tested for hardness, acidity and iron content before a heat pump is installed. Your contractor or equipment manufacturer can tell you what level of water is acceptable. Mineral deposits can build up inside the heat pump's heat exchanger. Sometimes a periodic cleaning with a mild acid solution is all that's needed to remove the build-up.
Impurities, particularly iron, can eventually clog a return well. If your water has high iron content, make sure that the discharge water is not aerated before it's injected into a return well.
A closed loop system uses a continuous loop of buried polyethylene pipe. The pipe is connected to the indoor heat pump to form a sealed, underground loop through which an environmentally friendly antifreeze-and-water solution is circulated. A closed loop system constantly re-circulates its heat-transferring solution in pressurized pipe, unlike an open loop system that consumes water from a well. Most closed loops are trenched horizontally in areas adjacent to the building. However, where adequate land is not available, loops are vertically bored. Any area near a home or business with appropriate soil conditions and adequate square footage will work.
Closed loop systems also can be vertical. Holes are bored up to 250 feet per ton of heat pump capacity, depending on where you live. U-shaped loops of pipe are inserted in the holes. The holes are then backfilled with a sealing solution.
Closed loop systems should be installed using only high-density polyethylene pipe. Properly installed, these pipes will last for many decades. They are inert to chemicals normally found in soil and have good heat conducting properties. PVC pipe should never be used.
How deep and long will my trenches be?
Trenches are normally four to six feet deep and up to 400 feet long, depending on the number of pipes in a trench. One advantage of a horizontal loop system is being able to lay the trenches according to the shape of the land. As a rule of thumb, 500-600 feet of pipe is required per ton of system capacity. A well-insulated 2,000-square-foot home would need about a three-ton system with 1,500-1,800 feet of pipe.
Pipe sections are joined by thermal fusion. Thermal fusion involves heating the pipe connections and then fusing them together to form a joint that's stronger than the original pipe. This technique creates a secure connection to protect from leakage and contamination.
No. Research has proven that loops have no adverse effect on grass, trees, or shrubs. Most horizontal loop installations use trenches about 24 inches wide. This, of course, will initially leave temporary bare areas, but they can easily be restored with grass seed or sod. Vertical loops require little space and result in minimal lawn damage.
Yes, if it's deep enough and large enough. A minimum of six feet in depth at its lowest level during the year is needed for a pond to be considered. The amount of surface area required depends on the heating and cooling load of the structure. You should not use water from a spring, pond, lake or river as a source for your heat pump system unless it's proven to be free of excessive particles and organic matter. They can clog a heat pump system and make it inoperable in a short time.
It's not recommended. Good earth-to-coil contact is very important for successful loop operation. Nonprofessional installations may result in less-than-optimal system performance.