{Eco Inspirations} Backyard Secrets: Ground Source Heat

I am blessed to live in the country and with such a view in my backyard. The leaves have been glorious this year! Here my children play games in the grass and enjoy their little log cabin playhouse (see it?) and I hang out my laundry whenever I can. But this scene also holds a secret: beneath the surface lies hundreds of feet of tubing, coiled and gathering heat from the world’s biggest solar collector: Earth itself.

Here is where we tap into the natural, renewable thermal energy of the earth and use it to both heat and cool our home. When it was built in 2006, we chose a geothermal ground-source system installed by Northern GroundSource Inc. While it cost more to install at the outset than a conventional system, its price is outweighed by the energy savings and eco-friendly benefits in the long run.

This is not my house, but that’s what our loop field looks like under the surface. [Photo: Northern GroundSource Inc.]

Geothermal, also known as ground-source heat, is one of the more eco-friendly and economical ways to heat or cool your home. An efficient source of heat, geothermal is a growing trend in heating and cooling. If you are planning to build a home or replace your current heating and cooling system, you should consider a geothermal system.

What Is It?

Geothermal ground-source heating and cooling harnesses the nearly constant temperature of the earth just under the surface to control the climate of your home or business building. Heat is pulled from the ground into your building in the winter and heat is discharged back into the ground in the summer. This same heat from the ground can also be used during the process to make hot water, saving cost and energy.

How Does It Work?

Six to ten feet (2-3 meters) underground the temperature remains between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (7-18 Celsius) year-round. In winter, this natural heat can be collected through a series of pipes, called a loop, installed below the surface of the ground or submersed in a pond or lake. A solution of water and environmentally friendly antifreeze is circulated through the loop, collecting the heat, and is then piped into the building. There a compressor and heat exchanger concentrate the Earth’s energy and release it inside the home at a higher temperature. Ductwork, or radiant in-floor systems, distribute the heat.

Looped pipe (covered with mesh) for geothermal heating and cooling placed in a pond. [Photo: Northern GroundSource Inc.]

In the summer, the process is reversed, collecting heat from the building and distributing it back into the ground. This works to cool your home like a refrigerator by drawing heat from the interior, not by blowing cold air. [Source: California Energy Commission ]

Why Is It Green?

The heat source from the ground is renewable, as the sun will warm the Earth again and again, and heat from your home is deposited back into the ground during the summer months when the cooling system is used.

The geothermal heat pump system is more efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems, so it uses less energy (electricity) to operate. Considering how that electricity is produced in the first place, there can be a significant reduction in the impact to the environment.

The geothermal heat pump system also costs less to operate, due to the aforementioned reduced use of electricity, and also qualifies many homeowners to tax breaks and incentives from utility companies, saving you a whole different kind of green.

As a bonus, the heat from the system can be put through your water heater, of course providing a cost and energy savings.

What Does It Take to Install?

A geothermal ground-source system is not a DIY project. A lot of planning and technical calculating, as well as the actual labor of site work and installation is involved. It is best left to the experts. Contact your local utility or energy commission, or the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association to find an certified installer in your area.

How Can I Learn More?

Northern GroundSource


International Ground Source Heat Pump Association



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  1. We installed geothermal heating for our house in the city about 5 years ago. The loops can also go straight down into the ground and then don’t need as much space for the loops. Our driveway was crumbling anyway, so we installed it under our driveway before replacing the driveway. For our system, the company did a test drill to see how deep they could get before hitting bedrock, then they did the math and calculated how many loops at that depth they would need. We find it cools better in summer than traditional air conditioning, and heats very nicely for our cold winters. We were also able to take advantage of federal, provincial and city tax breaks, loans, and grants to help offset the cost of installation.

  2. Thank you for this information! We will definitely consider this option.

  3. This is so cool! Definitely an option to look into once my family finds the land we are dreaming of and builds our own house. One day soon I hope! :) I think I will just build my house directly into the ground by digging a big hole (like a hobbit house) or perhaps I’ll do cob building. So many green building techniques out there..

  4. I had a geothermal system at a house we owned in Texas. It was awesome. Loved the lows bills we had at that house!