Florida summers can be hot, muggy, and uncomfortable, and you need a powerful cooling system to get through the days. However, air conditioners are expensive to run, use precious non-renewable fossil fuel, and harm Mother Earth.
A geothermal heat pump can cool buildings just as efficiently as an air conditioner while being more cost-effective in the long run and beneficial for the planet.
Does Geothermal Cooling Work in Florida?
Geothermal cooling works in Florida because the state’s peculiar soil conditions, ground temperature, and water bodies maximize the efficiency of these systems.
Besides, property owners can claim federal tax credits and may be able to receive loans and grants for their geothermal systems.
The name geothermal heat pump may be confusing, but the system can also cool spaces.
Geothermal heat pumps work in almost all regions of the United States.
However, geographical factors and a favorable policy environment make geothermal cooling effective and cost-efficient for Florida property owners.
This article will explain how Florida’s unique geographical location makes geothermal cooling work most efficiently.
We’ll also point out the specific types of systems that work best for Florida’s property owners and who should consider investing in such a system.
Why Geothermal Heat Pumps Make Sense in Florida
Geothermal makes sense in Florida because the region’s warm summers, frost-free winters, and soil conditions are ideal for running these systems.
Property owners can reduce their utility bills by almost 70% when the equipment works efficiently.
Florida also offers renewable energy rebates.
Geothermal energy systems are more energy-efficient than gas-powered HVAC systems with the highest Energy Star rating.
Florida Has the Ideal Climate for Geothermal Cooling
Geothermal systems work best in climates where the summers are not excessively hot and the winters are frost-free.
Florida is the warmest of all US states. It has an average daily temperature of around 70.7º F (21.5º C).
July is the hottest month in Florida, with an average between 90º F (32.2º C) and 95º F (35º C). Thus, summer temperatures in Florida warrant supplemental cooling.
Florida is a peninsula surrounded by water, making geothermal heat pumps work better.
The Gulf of Mexico is to the west, the Atlantic Ocean east, and the Straits of Florida south.
These water bodies regulate summer temperatures and prevent them from climbing to 100º F (37.8º C), making conditions ideal for geothermal cooling in Florida.
On the other hand, winter temperatures seldom drop below freezing. So you don’t have to worry about the ground freezing over.
Florida Has Favorable Soil Conditions
Geothermal energy systems work in Florida because of the following soil conditions:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whatever the temperature above ground, it remains within a constant range a few feet below ground.
Depending on the latitude of a region, the ground temperature can range from 45º F (7º C) to 75º F (21º C).
In Florida, the average ground temperature is 72º F (22.2ºC), considerably cooler than the above-ground temperatures in summer. Therefore, a geothermal energy system can exploit the ground temperature to cool buildings in summer.
Presence of Water Table
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), geothermal heat exchangers work more efficiently when there is a water table near the exchanger pipes—a water table is a saturated area in the soil.
Geothermal exchanger pipes can transfer the heat from inside the building to the surrounding soil water.
A water table cools the air inside the lines quickly so that a geothermal system can cool a building efficiently.
The Floridan aquifer is the largest and the deepest in the state and stretches beneath most of the peninsula. It is an 82,000-square-mile (212,379.03 square kilometers) reservoir. This vast expanse of the aquifer means that most regions in Florida are near a water table.
Soil Moisture Content
According to the USDA report mentioned in a previous section, soils with high moisture content are ideal for geothermal installations.
Heat is conducted more efficiently to and from the exchanger pipes when the ground is saturated.
Florida is the fifth rainiest state in the US. It receives an average of 51 inches (129.54 centimeters) of rain annually. The rainwater seeps into the soil and keeps the moisture content high.
Clayey and Sandy Soils
Most of Florida’s soil is Myakka, a fine, gray, and sandy soil. This loose soil makes installing a geothermal energy system easy.
The soil in the Florida panhandle region is bulky and contains large amounts of clay. These soils drain slowly and hold a lot of moisture. That bulkiness allows the geothermal exchanger pipes to transfer heat out of buildings more efficiently.
Florida’s Climate Increases Energy Savings
An air conditioner or a geothermal heat pump is required to keep you cool during Florida’s hot and sultry summers.
However, a geothermal heating system can reduce utility bills by 70%.
That translates to considerable monetary savings and makes geothermal heat pumps more cost-efficient in the long run than air conditioners.
You can also save more during the winter because the geothermal heat pump can heat buildings. This dual application is an attractive feature if you live in the northern part of Florida.
Some systems can also provide you with hot water.
Lucrative Tax Credits and Incentives
Several renewable energy tax credits and incentives provided by the federal government make geothermal systems in Florida more cost-efficient than conventional systems powered by fossil fuel.
For geothermal systems that meet Energy Star requirements, Florida property owners can claim up to a 26% tax credit through 2022 and 22% through 2023.
When Is Geothermal Cooling Right for You?
Geothermal cooling is suitable for you if you can pay the upfront cost, plan to live on the property for the next couple of decades and have the ground space to install the system.
Although geothermal systems are costly, you can utilize one of the many financing options to support your purchase.
Like any other renewable energy system, installing a geothermal heat pump needs careful consideration.
You need to ensure that you have the right conditions for the system to work most efficiently to maximize your return on investment (ROI).
When You Can Pay The Upfront Cost
The upfront costs of purchasing and installing a geothermal heat pump are more than those of an air conditioner.
A geothermal system is usually upwards of $7,500.
After adding the cost of digging trenches and installation, you may have to pay more than $20,000.
On the other hand, buying and installing an air conditioner costs considerably less.
When You Can Get Funding From the Government or a Company
Although a geothermal system is costlier than an air conditioner, you can reduce a part or whole of your out-of-pocket costs with the following financing options:
Rebates by Utility Companies
The residential energy efficiency rebate programs in Fort Pierce and Smyrna Beach offer discounts of up to $500 for geothermal cooling systems.
In addition, Florida Power and Light offers rebates on heat pumps from $140-$1,930, depending on the size and efficiency of the system.
Most utility companies require that a geothermal heat pump system has a minimum Energy Star rating to qualify for a rebate.
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Loans
A PACE loan is a long-term, fixed-rate loan for property owners to finance their energy conservation projects.
They can use the finances to cover 100% of the purchase price of a geothermal heat pump system and all related materials for installation, including labor.
PACE financing lets property owners make their spaces energy-efficient by eliminating the need to pay cash upfront.
Instead, they repay the loan amount through a special assessment and their annual property taxes.
The interest rates are fixed for these loans, and the repayment period is specified based on the lifetime of the renewable energy system.
Federal Grants and Loans
Several government agencies offer grants and loans to support or subsidize the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems.
These agencies include the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Energy (DOE), and the US Department of the Interior.
A geothermal system pays for itself through lower utility bills within 5 to 10 years of installing it.
However, you can recover the costs of the system in less than this time if you take advantage of the financing methods mentioned above.
Some property owners earn an ROI of 10-20% over the life of their geothermal systems.
If You Plan To Live on the Property for a Long Period
Geothermal heat pumps last very long because they have few moving parts compared to other HVAC systems.
The moving parts of the equipment are housed inside the building, sheltered from the elements.
The internal components of a geothermal heat pump can last up to 25 years.
In addition, the ground loop lasts more than 50 years. So, you can earn a maximum ROI from your system if you live on the property for the majority of a pump’s lifespan.
When You Have the Space To Install the System
You will have to place some geothermal cooling system components outside the building, so you need space.
However, some systems and installation methods let you install a geothermal pump in a much smaller area.
For instance, the SlinkyTM method of looping the pipe in a horizontal installation lets you install a longer line in a shorter trench. Vertical loops also minimize the need for long channels.
Which Geothermal Heat Pump To Install in Florida
There are several types of geothermal heat pumps. They are the horizontal, vertical, direct exchange, pond or lake, and open-loop systems.
Factors like soil conditions, available land, and local jurisdictions determine which method to use on a site.
The following geothermal systems work best in Florida.
Horizontal geothermal systems need sufficient land for installation.
However, using the SlinkyTM method of looping pipe, you can fit a long line in a smaller area and do away with the need to dig a long trench.
This system requires the trenches to be at least four feet (1.2 m) deep. So, this system is best suited for regions in Florida with loose sandy soil that is easy to dig.
Pond and Lake Systems
Pond and lake systems are the least expensive and the most functionally efficient option if there is a body of water on-site.
The pipe runs from under a building to the water in a pond and lake geothermal cooling system, coiling at least eight feet (2.44 meters) below the surface.
Using the lake or pond’s deep banks does away with the need to dig trenches, which is costly, time-consuming, and effort-intensive.
There are thousands of lakes and ponds in Florida. These water bodies provide drinking water, act as flood-control measures, are used for irrigation and recreation, and are home to fish and wildlife.
However, you can install such a system only in a water body that meets minimum volume and depth requirements.
The open-loop geothermal cooling system is feasible only on a site where there is a well or an adequate supply of clean surface body water. It uses the water from these sources as the heat exchange fluid.
After circulating through the building and cooling the interior spaces, the water returns to the ground via the well or surface discharge.
All across Florida, there are many wells used to extract groundwater. However, using wells to install a geothermal heat pump system is subject to local regulations.
Direct Exchange System
There is no heat exchanger in this system.
Instead, the system pumps a refrigerant through copper tubes buried in the ground.
The direct exchange system works best in moist soils.
The soil in most regions of Florida has high moisture content and is ideal for a direct exchange system, provided local environmental regulations permit it.
You also have to ensure that the soil does not damage the copper tubing. A professional installer is the best person to determine if a site is suitable for a direct exchange system.
Benefits of Geothermal Heat Pumps to Homeowners
If you contemplate installing a geothermal heat pump to your home, here are the benefits you stand to gain from the move:
- Energy Efficiency: Geothermal heat pumps are highly energy-efficient because they use the stable temperature of the earth to transfer heat.
- Cost Savings Over Time: While the upfront cost of installing a geothermal heat pump is higher than traditional systems, you’ll experience substantial cost savings over the long term.
- Long Lifespan: Geothermal heat pumps generally have a longer lifespan compared to conventional HVAC systems. They often last 25 to 50 years or more with minimal maintenance.
- Environmental Benefits: Geothermal systems are environmentally friendly as they use the earth’s natural heat, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels.
- Quiet Operation: Unlike traditional air conditioning units, geothermal heat pumps operate quietly. This is a significant advantage if you value a peaceful and noise-free environment.
- Increased Home Value: Homes equipped with geothermal systems often have higher resale values. Potential buyers appreciate energy-efficient features, and the long-term cost savings associated with geothermal heating and cooling.
In recent years, the EPA and the Department of Energy have increased their efforts at promoting geothermal energy through their Earth Comfort Program.
Knowing that geothermal cooling works effectively in Florida is an incentive for property owners to consider using this technology to remain cool during the hot summer months without having their utility bills skyrocket.
Local and federal government bodies and utility companies make it easier for property owners to buy a geothermal cooling system by providing loans, grants, rebates, and tax credits.