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Your Complete Guide To Air Conditioning, Part 3: Geothermal HVAC Explained

Geothermal A/C Complete Guide for Lowcountry, South Carolina

In our effort to educate & inform the Lowcountry about their air conditioning options, this Part 3 (of 4) of our complete A/C guide will review the basics of one of the hottest new trends in HVAC in the Lowcountry: geothermal HVAC systems.

In Part 2 of our Complete Guide To Air Conditioning in the Lowcountry, we reviewed how ductless mini-split A/C units can help solve unique cooling situations and offer increased efficiency & reduced energy costs.

This week we’re going to go into perhaps the most efficient kind of heating and cooling solution you can get today: geothermal HVAC.

The Geothermal Heating & Cooling Setup

We give you a quick review in this geothermal blog post, but here are more details about the basic components that make up a geothermal system:

  1. Underground Pipes (or “Loops”)
  2. Indoor Unit/Heat Pump
  3. Ductwork
  4. Thermostat


Beneath your home lies an almost infinite supply of geothermal energy. Underground pipes – or loops as they’re more commonly referred to — tap into that energy supply to carry it back into your home (or out of your home in the summer).

Those loops are then connected to a special geothermal heat pump. If you’re following along with our guide and have read part 1 of this series about traditional A/Cs & heat pumps, then you’ll know that heat pumps have the advantage of being able to both heat and cool your home with one system.

Geothermal heat pumps can also do both, with the exception of instead of moving warm air to the outside of your home (for cooling operation), geothermal systems move that heat into the much cooler ground (see more details about why it’s cooler below). The cooler ground takes heat much more efficiently than the outside air, requiring less energy for the removal process.

In the winter time when you need to warm your home, the geothermal heat pump reverses operation and draws from that underground energy source, concentrates it in the indoor unit and blows it through the ductwork in your home.

Ordinary or traditional heat pumps rely on ambient heat in the outside air which is much, much less than what is available underground. This means geothermal heat pumps need to operate less as the ground provides a much more ample, reliable source of heat.

Finally all of this operation is controlled with digital thermostats, which can be web-connected to allow you to see energy use and system status in real-time, remotely.

Geothermal Operation: A Closer Look

So now that we have the basics of how geothermal systems operate, lets take a look at some science behind why geothermal works.

We mentioned above about the almost infinite source of energy in the ground below your home. This comes from the fact that the average temperature below the surface remains the same throughout the year, at about 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit.

So during the course of the year, while outside air temperatures fluxuate between freezing cold and scorching hot & humid (especially here in the Lowcountry), the temperature underground stays quite steady, or the same.

Geothermal engineers have leveraged that information to create a solution to tap into that steady source of energy and utilize it to heat and cool homes, using geothermal heat pumps.

Disadvantages Of Geothermal Systems

Perhaps the one and only disadvantage of geothermal systems is the upfront cost. This is only because of the installation of the underground loops requires trenching and/or drilling, along with the cost of the equipment.

However, most manufacturers and installers provide great financing options to pay over time, and state & federal energy tax credits can be applied that can reduce the overall costs by up to 30% (or more) through 2019.

Also, as you’ll see below, geothermal systems are the only type of HVAC that can actually pay you back throughout its lifetime.

Advantages Of Geothermal Heating & Cooling (A Lot)

Besides being great for the environment and helps lower dependency on fossil fuels (unlike traditional systems), geothermal systems operational effiency can greatly reduce your energy bills each year.

You can expect your energy use due to HVAC to be reduced upwards of half to two-thirds, incredibly.

This dramatic drop in energy use means you’re saving a tremendous amount of money each month — which means that you can ultimately see a return on investment where it essentially pays you back after savings exceed installation cost.

On top of those advantages, geothermal equipment lasts much, much longer than traditional HVAC systems. Geothermal heat pumps lifespans average about 25 years of operation, and the underground “loops” can last upwards of 100 years. This means additional cost reduction due to HVAC installation as traditional systems only last 12-15 years.

You can see why more and more homeowners in Kiawah, downtown Charleston, Summerville, Daniel Island and other locations around the Lowcountry are choosing geothermal for their long-term heating and cooling solution.

Next up in our complete guide to air conditioning in Charleston: air conditioning guide summary and our top picks for air conditioning brands.

Marshall Gay
Marshall Gay
Marshall Gay is the founder and owner of Carolina Climate Control. With over 14 years experience in the HVAC industry, he’s committed to providing better, more affordable HVAC services for Charleston and the Lowcountry.
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