A geothermal system (also known as geo-exchange, or ground source heating & cooling) uses renewable energy from the earth to provide homes, commercial buildings and even industrial plants with year round heating, cooling and hot water. Geothermal systems do not burn fossil fuels and are therefore extremely clean, safe and very efficient. Geothermal is classified as being “the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean and cost effective” way to heat and cool buildings.
Very! Approximately 80% of the energy needed to heat your house comes from the ground, with only 20% needed from the electrical grid to run the geothermal pumps and compressor. Our geothermal systems achieve efficiencies of up to 500%. As a comparison, a 90% “high”- efficient gas burning furnace uses roughly 6 TIMES MORE energy to heat your home!
Beneath the frost line (approximately 10ft deep in Alberta) the temperature of the earth remains relatively constant, regardless of the season. In Alberta, this temperature averages at around 6-8° Celcius. By circulating fluid (water + antifreeze) through a set of pipes buried deep in the ground (commonly knows as the “ground loop”) the geothermal system is able to extract energy from the ground in heating mode, and reject energy to the ground when cooling the home.
Quite often, geothermal heating systems are mistakenly confused with Geyser type installations we find in countries with underground volcano activity like Iceland. The constant ground temperatures (6-8° C) we find below the frost line are not hot enough to heat your home directly, which is why you will have a geothermal heat pump inside your house. The geothermal heat pump is able to convert this 6-8°C to 40-50°C through a refrigeration process. Sounds like magic? Think of a geothermal system like a giant refrigerator. Your fridge is able to cool by extracting heat from the air inside the fridge and ‘dumping’ that heat in the back (notice how your fridge is very warm on the backside?). Even when your freezer section is already below 0° C, the refrigerant is still able to extract heat from the air. A geothermal system works based on the same scientific principles. The ground loop pipes are run into the home’s mechanical room where a geothermal heat pump with environmentally friendly refrigerant is able to extract energy from the ground loop fluid. In this extracting process, the refrigerant in the heat pump turns from liquid state into a vapor state. This refrigerant vapor is injected into a compressor, where it is compressed. The compression of the vapor drastically increases the temperature of the vapor, making it hot enough to heat your home. Through either an Air or Water heat exchanger in the heat pump, the hot vapor refrigerant is able to release its heat to your home. By extracting energy from the ground loop fluid, the temperature of the fluid drops to values typically below 0° C, making it much cooler than the surrounding ground temperature. This colder ground loop fluid is pumped back into the much warmer ground where it will absorp heat from the ground again to make the cycle complete. The neat aspect of a geothermal heat pump is that it can also work in reverse for cooling purposes. In this process, heat is extracted from the warm air inside the house and ‘dumped’ back into the much cooler ground.
No. Everyday the earth absorbs energy from the sun. It is said that the daily amount of energy absorbed by the earth from the sun is 500 times greater than what we as mankind consume in energy on a daily basis. A properly designed geothermal ground loop will have enough pipe installed into the ground that the temperature of the ground will not become too cold. Larger homes require more heating energy over the course of a year, which is why they also require more pipe in the ground. Thermal Creek uses state of the art software to perform a 20-year simulation of ground temperatures when designing each ground loop to ensure that enough geothermal pipe will be installed for each home.
No. A geothermal system replaces conventional heating and cooling equipment. You will no longer need a furnace, boiler and air conditioner. In certain cases (typically larger homes and commercial structures), hybrid systems can be designed with boilers functioning as back up heat, but technically geothermal has the capacity to provide 100% of heating and cooling needs.
Yes, depending on the type of geothermal heat pump you have. Our heat pumps come standard with DHW heating. This means that whenever the geothermal system is either heating or cooling your home, it will also produce a portion of your DHW. Over the course of a year, you can expect to get around 50% of your DHW needs from geothermal. The other 50% will come from conventional means (either electric or gas, depending on your hot water tank).
Geothermal systems require little to no maintenance. In fact, geothermal has been rated as the most reliable space conditioning system requiring the least amount of maintenance compared to ANY other heating or cooling system. Because the system operates without combustion, there is no risk of common furnace problems such as pilot-lights going out, gas-burners getting dirty, and more seriously Carbon Monoxide poisioning. All geothermal components are either buried deep in the ground or sheltered inside the house which eliminates exposure from the harsh elements. Forced air geothermal heat pumps require an air filter change, preferably twice a year. Water-to-water heat pumps (for infloor type application) require no maintenance. As with any mechanical equipment, it is smart to do an occasional service checkup. We offer service programs for residential and commercial installations. See our Services section for more information.
Thermal Creek offers a one-year full parts and labour warranty. In addition, the heat pump and all accessories come with a minimum limited five-year warranty. Major refrigeration components inside the heat pump come standard with 10-year limited warranty.
Our typical residential boreholes are between 200-300ft deep. Commercial projects can require deeper borholes sometimes up to 600ft. Exact depth and number of boreholes is determined by the energy needs of the home or building and lot size.
Where possible, we like to separate by 20ft to allow each borehole with optimum amount of landmass available to extract energy from. Minimum spacing we do is 15ft. If we go closer, the boreholes will start to rob energy from each other, causing sub-optimal ground loop designs and potential freezing of the ground.
Technically speaking: Yes. However, there is a reason why 99% of our installations are vertical borehole. The ground temperatures in this part of the world are such, that to tap into real consistent temperatures below the frost line (required for efficient operation of the geothermal system), your horizontal trench would have to be around 10-12ft deep. Even at 12ft, you’re still looking to add about 25% extra length to your loop field. As an example, a 200ft deep vertical borehole is equivalent to a 250ft long trench at 12ft depth. Unless you have access to very cheap excavation, the cost difference between a vertical and horizontal system becomes negligible when you have to move that much dirt. In milder climates (parts of BC, and in the States), horizontal systems are a lot more common as ground temperatures & climate allow for more shallow trenches. From our experience in the industry, a lot of the ‘nightmare’ stories around geothermal involve horizontal systems that were not buried deep enough or simply undersized.
The pipe material that is used in the geothermal industry is High Density PolyEthylene (HDPE). This is same material that is used in the natural gas industry for transport of gas. The pipe is extremely durable and is warranted by the manufacturer for 50 years, however technically it can last for 700 years. HDPE is inert with ground materials and has good heat transfer properties. All of our HDPE geothermal pipe meets the CSA448 requirements.
Thermal Creek has all of its borehole loops pre-manufactured and pressure tested before installing them in the ground. All the header connections we make on-site are thermally fused (no mechanical connections). The fusion process binds molecules of the connecting parts together which results in that the connection is technically stronger than the pipe itself. We pressure test the entire loop field before backfill to 100psi to ensure the system has no leaks. In regular operation, the system pressures should typically not exceed 40psi. Most cities inspect these pressure tests nowadays.
A typical geothermal borehole is 3-5” in diameter depending on geothermal pipe size.
No. The same ground loop is used for heating and cooling. Even the fluid is pumped in the same direction. All that happens when switching from heating to cooling is a change in direction of circulation of the refrigerant inside the heat pump. This all happens automatically when you switch from heating to cooling (or vice-versa) on your room thermostat.
No. Research has proven that loops have no adverse effect on grass, trees or shrubs. Most horizontal loop installations use trenches about six inches wide. This, of course, will leave temporary bare areas that can be restored with grass seed or sod. Vertical loops require little space and result in minimal lawn damage.