Undoubtedly, the hottest regions are in areas close to tectonic plate boundaries such as Iceland or Japan, as well as areas where the crust is thin and hot springs are in abundance. But even the coldest surface ground contains sufficient heat to keep a house warm because of a process referred to as thermal inertia, which allows the ground to retain the solar energy received in the summer months. Recent advancements in thermal heat pumps have made it possible to extract ground heat from almost any location.
Unlike combustible or forced heat sources, ground source heating does not actually produce any heat internally, but simply taps a steady reservoir of underground thermal heat. In most cases, the heat is piped into a buried systems that circulate water or environmentally safe antifreeze sealed in a durable plastic that has heat fused joints to prevent leakage.
Depending upon your ground conditions and available yard space, installers may chose to use one of three designs. A horizontal ground closed loop system is ideal for large yards where trenches are easy to dig because 400 to 600 feet of piping is required for each ton of heat produced. Vertical ground closed loop designs are best where the yard space is limited and/or surface rocks make trenches hard to dig, so a single hole, rather like a well, is dug between 150 to 450 feet deep and a U-bend pipe is inserted. Pond closed loop systems are used in areas near a shallow pond or lake where 'slinky shaped' pipes can be submerged underwater in a closed system that will not damage the marine environment.
In locations where natural hot springs in abundance, the heated water can be directly piped into above ground radiators. In desert locations where the ground is very hot and dry, devices called earth tubes are installed that function as downhole heat exchangers which can be used to collect and distribute the heat. Even in regions where the ground is consistently colder than the average room temperature, heat can still be extracted cost-effectively with the right geothermal heat pump.
Because of the advancements in heat pump designs, ground source heating is being utilized in over 70 countries around the world. Currently, China leads the market in tapping and using geothermal energy, the United States coming in second. European countries and island nations are quickly catching on, and new ground source heating systems are being installed at an ever increasing rates for a variety of applications, including generating hot water and as well as supplying air conditioning in summer months.
When you consider that even the most efficient combustion based heater requires a constant influx of material to operate, the benefits of ground source heating become obvious. The steady supply of geothermal heat requires no replenishing and does not create any harmful by-products that can damage the environment. The only power required to run the systems is a small amount of electricity to drive the geothermal heat pump that is installed to circulate the warm air into your home which is calculated to have a four to one ratio, meaning you get 400% return on the energy used to keep your home warm even on the coldest days.
The average cost for geothermal heat runs about $2500 per ton for typical installation but can vary depending on conditions, sometimes costing much less in certain environments. There are many government subsidies available for homeowners who install ground source heating systems, some refunding up to 20% of the installation cost.
Ground solar heating is an excellent investment that quickly begins to pay for itself since there is relatively no maintenance or service required to keep the system running. The savings are just part of the benefits, though, since each person who installs geothermal heat systems is reducing their dependency on fossil fuels which are causing so many environmental and economical challenges worldwide.
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Article Added on Monday, July 11, 2011
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