A Geothermal Installation: Weighing Up-Front Cost Against Long-Term Savings

When you’re considering upgrading your HVAC system and want the most energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment available, consider a geothermal installation. Geothermal heat pumps tap into the stable underground temperatures to condition your home’s air and can lower your energy bills by as much as 60 percent. Recent advances in geothermal installations mean that even homeowners with limited yard space can take advantage of these heat pumps.

Although installing a geothermal heat pump costs more up front than an air-source pump or other types of HVAC equipment, you recover the financial investment over time as it operates to heat or cool your home. Besides lower energy consumption, the systems last much longer and require less maintenance than any other kind of heating and cooling equipment. The underground loops can last as long as 50 years, while the life expectancy of the above-ground parts, with routine maintenance, can perform 25 years or more. Unlike air-source heat pumps, geothermal pumps do not use outdoor condensers, which simplifies maintenance and reduces noise.

When considering a geothermal installation, it helps to work with an HVAC contractor from the beginning. There’s little about geothermal that is in do-it-yourself territory, since the installation and specific type of heat pump you choose depends on your yard, its geology and hydrology. If you have a small yard, your options are likely to be limited to a vertical system. That has a higher installation cost because deep trenches must be dug by heavy equipment — always an expensive process.

As an incentive to put geothermal heat pumps in the realm of possibility for more homeowners, the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit for people who install a geothermal system that meets specific guidelines through 2016. No cap exists on the amount of the credit.