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How Geothermal Cooling Systems Work

Geothermal heat pumps are often cited as some of the most energy-efficient climate control systems on the market. Though we have recommended them in many cases on this blog, we haven’t really gotten into how they work in a while. In order to understand just how energy efficient geothermal systems are, it helps to understand how they actually work. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how geothermal systems operate.

Basic Construction

The first thing you need to know about geothermal systems is that they rely on an underground pipe loop to operate. The loop is often buried in the yard next to the house, to a depth of anywhere between 15 and 30 feet. The loop is filled with water, or occasionally a refrigerant mix of water and antifreeze, and is connected to the actual geothermal unit inside the house. The internal unit is constructed much the same way as a traditional air conditioner, with coils and air handlers, etc. etc.


How the geothermal system operates depends largely on whether it is in heating or cooling mode. Since geothermal systems are heat pumps, they are capable of acting as both heaters and air conditioners. In cooling mode, the geothermal system siphons heat from the home just like a normal air conditioner. The difference is that instead of venting the collected heat into the air around the house, the system releases it into the underground pipe loop. In heating mode, the system siphons thermal energy from the water in the pipe loop, then releases it into the home to warm it. At a depth of 15–30 feet, the temperature underground remains around 55°F. That infinitely renewable thermal energy is what makes geothermal systems so efficient.

If you’d like to know more about geothermal systems, call Shavitz Heating and Air Conditioning. Our technicians serve all of Chicago, IL.

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