How Digging Up Your Backyard Can Heat Your Home

Heat pumps use the outside air to generate heat for your home. The bigger the temperature difference between inside and outside air, the less efficient the system will be. Traditional heating systems avoid this by simply heating the air by burning a fuel source, usually natural gas. Effective, but still inefficient. What if you could greatly reduce your energy bills by digging a hole in the backyard? Sure, you need to redo your landscaping, but the small bills can pay for that and more. Read more for continuing information.

Why Geothermal Power?

If you can ever been to a sunny beach you have some idea how geothermal heating works, even if you don't know it. The top layer of sand was burning hot, bit just a few inches down you could find sand that was cool and moist to cool your toasted feet. This concept works on a larger scale as well. While the surface of your yard will change temperature according to relative conditions, several feet beneath the surface, the temperature remains constant.

Geothermal heat pumps make good use of this situation. Heat pumps get a bad reputation with home owners for being expensive to run in the winter, especially if you live in a northern climate. However, this is only because the temperature difference between inside and outside air is so great. When you tap into the constant temperature of the earth, you remove this issue completely.

Why Dig Up the Backyard?

There are a couple reasons to install your pipe system in the back yard. First, the front yard already has buried lines in it for electric, sewage and possible phone or cable. Second, most American homes have a larger backyard than front, and these systems do take up quite a bit of space.

If your lot is too small, you will have to choose between forgoing geothermal power for now, and digging further down instead of sideways. This will increase the cost, but still might be worthwhile, depending on how much heating your home needs.

Finally, these systems are often installed in the back yard to keep things relatively hidden. You shouldn't need to dig the pipes back up for several decades, but when you do, locating them in the back makes the process much less noticeable from the street.

How Does It Actually Work?

As mentioned, geothermal heat pumps work just like traditional heat pumps, only the use the underground temperature instead of the outside air. There are three main components to a geothermal system:

  1. Water runs through pipes underground. As the water moves through the pipes, it becomes the same temperature are the ground around it, regardless of what temperature it was when it went into the ground.
  2. A pump to circulate the water through the system.
  3. A heat pump that heats or cools the water in the pipes in order to transfer that energy, through a compressor, and into the air that it circulates in your home.

What Else Can Geothermal Do?

While less common, the same system that generates hot air to heat your home can also be used to generate hot water. This can be used as a water heater, or to power water based heating methods like radiant floor heating.

Rarely, there will be a spot underground that is hot instead of cold. When this happens you have a unique opportunity. While it will cost a bit to drill down that far, hot water produced in this manner can be turned into nearly free electricity. If you are lucky enough to be in this situation, it is a shame to waste this free power.

Geothermal systems are relatively new, but they are certainly powerful. By taking advantage of these types of energy efficient systems, you can reduce your energy bills, and your carbon footprint.