Wondering about the best way to heat and cool a home? There’s a number of choices, but one stands out from the rest: a geothermal heat pump.

Standard air-source heat pumps work well for warm to moderate climates. However, they can become expensive to use for heat when the temperature drops below 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s because they draw their heat from the air; this causes backup electric heat strips to cut on for additional heat at lower temperatures.

So, some homeowners in colder climates look for a more efficient alternative. And it turns out, that source is right in their backyard.

    A man installs pipes for a geothermal heat pump
    In a geothermal system, buried polyethylene pipes exchange heat to keep you warm inside your home. (DepositPhotos)

    How Geothermal Heat Pumps Work

    While a standard heat pump uses the temperature of outside air for heating and cooling, a geothermal one draws on more constant temperatures found underground as the medium of exchange.

    Through a series of buried pipes, a geothermal heat pump absorbs heat from the ground to warm your home. In the summer, the process reverses, with heat removed from your home and transferred back into the ground.

    A network of buried polyethylene pipes used to exchange heat operates as either a closed or open loop.

    In a closed-loop system, a mixture of antifreeze and water circulates from the heat pump through the pipes and back again. An open loop draws water from a well or pond, which then returns to the ground after use.

    Installers bury ipes for a closed-loop geothermal system horizontally 4 to 7 feet deep. Or they bury them vertically 150 to 400 feet underground.

    Once the heat has been extracted from the fluid, it’s transferred to an air handler and ductwork to your home. This is similar to other forced-air HVAC systems.

    Photo illustration of a couple's hands cupping a green-colored home, symbolizing its energy efficiency
    Geothermal heat pumps are eco-friendly and don’t produce carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions. (DepositPhotos)

    The Benefits of a Geothermal Heat Pump

    Among the pros and cons of geothermal energy, there are many kinds of benefits from geothermal heat pumps that make them eco-friendly and wallet-friendly.

    First, unlike systems that burn fossil fuels — such as gas, fuel oil, coal or wood — geothermal ones don’t produce carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions.

    Second, geothermal systems are 50% to 70% more efficient for heating and 20% to 40% more efficient for cooling than traditional furnaces and air conditioners.

    Third, since a geothermal heat pump uses the constant temperature of water pumped from a well as the medium of heat exchange, they work better at lower temperatures than air-source heat pumps.

    This smart thermostat installed on a wall in the kitchen works with a geothermal heat pump to provide warmth
    Pairing a smart thermostat with a geothermal heat pump is a great way to maximize energy savings. (DepositPhotos)

    Long-Term Savings, Short-Term Solutions

    Geothermal, or ground-source, heat pumps have earned endorsements from both the Department of Energy and the EPA as among the most energy-efficient and eco-friendly ways to warm and cool your home.

    While the initial cost of installing a geothermal system is $12,000 to $30,000, it makes up the cost in energy saved in five to 10 years.

    In addition, the cost of installing an Energy Star-approved geothermal heat pump is eligible for a 26% federal tax credit in 2020. It will be eligible for a 22% tax credit in 2021.

    Want more ways to slash heating bills? You can turn down your thermostat and use the heating effect of paddle fans during cooler months.

    Finally, a programmable thermostat — especially a smart thermostat with Wi-Fi connectivity — is another way to make your existing HVAC system use less energy. 

    Simply set the control to turn the heat up when you’re home and down when you’re away — you can save up to 15% on your energy bill.

    Better yet, a smart thermostat can learn your heating and cooling habits and find additional efficiencies — ways to save you money while keeping you comfortable.

    Further Information

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    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Danny Lipford

    Danny Lipford


    Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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