One of the main benefits of a geothermal heating system, besides economic friendliness, is a relative lack of maintenance. A majority of the geothermal components are buried underground so much like a radiant underfloor heating system: What you can’t see you can’t maintain (because the parts shouldn’t go wrong). The lack of maintenance perception is a common misnomer because all heating systems need regular upkeep, especially ones that feature a conventional duct work and air handler as the geothermal pumps do. The required maintenance shouldn’t be a deal breaker in purchasing a system though, because the savings still produce roughly $5 of heat for every $1 of cost. Here’s just an idea of what you should do and expect to maintain those high savings ratios:
Get the System Installed Properly
Having your geothermal system professionally installed isn’t necessarily a maintenance issue, but it is an important step in limiting work needed after the fact. The size of the unit must be correct to properly heat your home and to avoid excessive wear and tear and the correct installation method must be used for your property. Geothermal units can harness warmth from the soil by being installed either vertically into the ground, horizontally over a linear space, or with a pump near the bottom of a nearby pond. The right aspect of all these choices plus the proper running of the loop and connection to the indoor components greatly reduces maintenance requirements later on.
Filter Cleaning or Replacement
“Furnaces 101” states that the most important aspect of maintenance is making sure the filter is cleaned. This works the same way in a geothermal system as it does in a forced air HVAC unit. The filter protects dirt and debris from entering the air coil, which turns warm air into cold and vice versa. A dirty filter and air coil combo increases the stress on the compressor and fan while also clogging the condensate drain which eventually will cause a system shutdown.
Clean Movable Indoor Parts
While many of the important aspects of the geothermal pump in drawing the warmth are installed underground outside, the components inside are just as crucial for delivering the air throughout the home. A grungy utility room can cause dirt and debris to build up on the heat exchanger, blower motor, coil, etc., so it’s important to clean these off regularly with a can of compressed air and a small vacuum.
Maintain Antifreeze Levels
The solution that runs through the loops underground to gather warmth is made of a water base mixed with antifreeze. Just like in a car vehicle, these antifreeze levels must be kept at a proper reading depending on the season to ensure either warmth or coolness is delivered inside the home. Generally this is a job that will require a service visit.
While the underground loops hardly ever require maintenance, sometimes animals or tree roots have other ideas. Another maintenance area a service tech can test with special equipment is a pressure or thermal test to determine whether the pipes are leaking or have become damaged. Although the damage is rare, it is a possibility if you find your system seems to be failing. Most warranties cover these damages and the repairs in full.
If you find that the indoor blower motor seems to be running overtime or rooms aren’t warming to an appropriate temperature, there could be a problem with not so much the geothermal system, but the ductwork delivering the air. Part of the regular maintenance involves inspecting these ducts to make sure they don’t have leaks or damage as well as cleaning them to ensure higher quality air delivery. Homeowners with pets should be aware that the ducts can get clogged with animal hair. Oftentimes, the vents themselves are clogged from the inside.
All too many manufacturers sell their geothermal systems as being ‘maintenance free,’ and while it’s true that you could leave a system untouched for years, the end result is going to be a shorter unit lifespan as well as a constant delivery of impure air to go along with higher-than-necessary bills. Geothermal maintenance benefits you, whether it’s changing the filter and cleaning components to breathe healthier air, or paying a service technician to inspect the parts to make sure they’re running optimally.
Either way there’s an important life lesson to be learned – nothing is ‘maintenance free.’