Geothermal cooling systems use heat exchange from underground pipes to cool spaces in warm months and warm them in cold seasons. These systems are complicated to install and can be expensive, so you'll want to think carefully about whether such a system is right for you and plan a good chunk of time for the project.
This is not a one-person job, so if you're planning to DIY it, you'll probably want to recruit some friends to help you out. If you hire professionals to get the job done, you may still be curious about the process—this piece will give you a general overview.
Geothermal System Advantages
Geothermal cooling systems work by drawing hot air out of a home instead of blowing cool air in. This lowers the temperature inside homes and buildings, and costs less once it's up and running than a standard central air conditioner since it can use the natural heat properties under the earth.
Your DIY geothermal cooling system will work by using a liquid that circulates through a pipe loop that you bury in the ground outside of your home or other building that helps with energy transfer. Ultimately this system works because there is a stable temperature in the ground that allows for the constant transfer of heat. The reliability of the earth's temperature also means that this cooling system can be used to heat a home in the winter.
Step 1 - Pick Your System
A geothermal cooling system is not one size fits all, so you'll want to do a deep dive on system types before you commit to digging up your yard. Dig into research and learn which type of system works best in your particular climate. Important elements to look for are your access to a freshwater supply and whether an open or closed loop is best in your area.
Open-loop systems work by moving water from the source and uses that water to transfer heat from the home. Closed-loop systems are sealed so they rely on a mixture of water and antifreeze to keep the exchange working. You may want to consider consulting local sources when choosing which method to pursue for your home.
Step 2 - Lay the Pipe
With a closed-loop system, you need to install the pipe loop in the ground. You can pick between a horizontal or vertical loop. Take a look at your land and — using the information you've collected about what works best in your area — determine which type of loop will work best. For the most part, we recommend a horizontal loop in residential areas. It's the most cost-effective choice.
You will need to rent a backhoe to dig up the yard to lay your pipe — shovels just won't cut it. As a general rule, you should dig three trenches that are 2 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Dig these trenches side by side. Each system has the potential to be slightly different, which is why research is so important in the beginning. Once the trenches are ready, lay the pipes in the ground.
Step 3 - Connect to Your Home
After the pipes are laid, you will need to connect them to your home's heating and cooling circulation systems. If you don't know how to connect these pipes, calling in a little expert advice is never a bad idea. When correctly connected, these pipes will allow the geothermal cooling system to work just like a heater or air conditioning unit in your home.
Step 4 - Pump and Fan
After you've successfully connected the pipes, you'll need to install the pump. The pump will be placed near the home and works to draw heat out in conjunction with a fan that blows the cool air through the ducts of your home. They will need to be installed in a very specific place based on the specific type of geothermal system you are installing. Make sure to talk with an expert to install them correctly before you install them or bury them back in the ground.
Ultimately, installing a geothermal cooling system is not a DIY project just anyone should tackle. If you have very specific training in the area and feel well-equipped, a DIY may be the right move for you. If not, you may want to involve a professional in your installation processes. You can consult with a geothermal system installer before you begin the processes and determine if you have the skills required to safely and effectively complete this DIY.