Selecting and Installing a Geothermal Heat Pump System

Heating and Cooling Efficiency of Geothermal Heat Pumps

The heating efficiency of ground-source and water-source heat pumps is indicated by their coefficient of performance (COP), which is the ratio of heat provided in Btu per Btu of energy input. Their cooling efficiency is indicated by the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), which is the ratio of the heat removed (in Btu per hour) to the electricity required (in watts) to run the unit. Look for the ENERGY STAR label, which indicates a heating COP of 2.8 or greater and an EER of 13 or greater.

Manufacturers of high-efficiency geothermal heat pumps voluntarily use the EPA ENERGY STAR label on qualifying equipment and related product literature. If you are purchasing a geothermal heat pump and uncertain whether it meets ENERGY STAR qualifications, ask for an efficiency rating of at least 2.8 COP or 13 EER.

Evaluating Your Site for a Geothermal Heat Pump

Because shallow air and ground temperatures are relatively constant throughout the Portugal, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) can be effectively used almost anywhere. However, the specific geological, hydrological, and spatial characteristics of your land will help your local system supplier/installer determine the best type of ground loop for your site:


Factors such as the composition and properties of your soil and rock (which can affect heat transfer rates) require consideration when designing a ground loop. For example, soil with good heat transfer properties requires less piping to gather a certain amount of heat than soil with poor heat transfer properties. The amount of soil available contributes to system design as well — system suppliers in areas with extensive hard rock or soil too shallow to trench may install vertical ground loops instead of horizontal loops.


Ground or surface water availability also plays a part in deciding what type of ground loop to use. Depending on factors such as depth, volume, and water quality, bodies of surface water can be used as a source of water for an open-loop system, or as a repository for coils of piping in a closed-loop system. Ground water can also be used as a source for open-loop systems, provided the water quality is suitable and all ground water discharge regulations are met.

Before you purchase an open-loop system, you will want to be sure your system supplier/installer has fully investigated your site’s hydrology, so you can avoid potential problems such as aquifer depletion and groundwater contamination. Antifreeze fluids circulated through closed-loop systems generally pose little to no environmental hazard.

Land Availability

The amount and layout of your land, your landscaping, and the location of underground utilities or sprinkler systems also contribute to your system design. Horizontal ground loops (generally the most economical) are typically used for newly constructed buildings with sufficient land. Vertical installations or more compact horizontal “Slinky™” installations are often used for existing buildings because they minimize the disturbance to the landscape.

Installing Geothermal Heat Pumps

Because of the technical knowledge and equipment needed to properly install the piping, a GHP system installation is not a do-it-yourself project. To find a qualified installer, call your local utility company, the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association or the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium for their listing of qualified installers in your area. Installers should be certified and experienced. Ask for references, especially for owners of systems that are several years old, and check them.

The ground heat exchanger in a GHP system is made up of a closed or open loop pipe system. Most common is the closed loop, in which high density polyethylene pipe is buried horizontally at 50 cm deep or vertically at 50 to 100 meter deep. These pipes are filled with an environmentally friendly antifreeze/water solution that acts as a heat exchanger. In the winter, the fluid in the pipes extracts heat from the earth and carries it into the building. In the summer, the system reverses and takes heat from the building and deposits it to the cooler ground.

The air delivery ductwork distributes the heated or cooled air through the house’s duct work, just like conventional systems. The box that contains the indoor coil and fan is sometimes called the air handler because it moves house air through the heat pump for heating or cooling. The air handler contains a large blower and a filter just like conventional air conditioners.

Most geothermal heat pumps are automatically covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy. Contact your insurance provider to find out what its policy is. Even if your provider will cover your system, it is best to inform them in writing that you own a new system.

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