Those icy winter days almost seem like a fond memory now that summer heat has officially settled in and caused your air conditioner clock in some overtime. Among Malcarne Contracting’s energy-saving makeovers is the concept of geothermal: pumping heat to or from the ground. While it’s not for every home, a geothermal cooling and heating system can make both a major financial and environmental difference in the right structure.

It may sound like a newfangled concept, but the idea of geothermal heating and cooling is, quite literally, as old as the hills themselves: The ancients, for example, used hot springs and geysers for warming baths and underfloor heating. In modern times we still use the term “Geothermal” heating and cooling though its more accurate name is “Ground Source” heating and cooling which are called “Heat Pumps”. Traditional “Heat Pumps” are air-sourced: A unit outside a building that houses a condenser connected by pipes to a unit inside which is connected to an air handler which circulates the air through both coils either heating or cooling your home or building. Simply put, the coils help to either heat or cool the air where you live or work, allowing you to raise or lower the temperature. The problem with traditional Heat Pumps? Air temperatures can vary widely – and you can expect your utility bill to soar as the temperatures spike or dip.

Geothermal systems are ground-sourced, which means they work with what’s below your feet, not above them. While it’s hard for your pump to extract heat when the air temperature is 10 below, the ground temperature remains steady in this area – a consistent 50 to 55 degrees – which means the geothermal system is more efficient. Three common types of ground-sourced heat pumps exist on the market: First, a pond source system works in – you guessed it – a body of water about 12 to 15 feet deep; next, a horizontal loop system, where coils are buried in a trench in your yard about 6 to 8 feet deep; and, third, a well system where the pipes are installed all the way to the bottom of your well.

The real question, though, lies in whether a geothermal system is right for your home. According to the experts at Malcarne, if you live in a high-efficiency new-construction home, or have completed a deep-energy retrofit – and you’ve already made all other high-efficiency changes possible – on an older structure, it may make sense financially to consider geothermal. For all other homes, it’s simply not worth it financially if you want to see a return on your investment. Cost-wise, a system will set you back upwards of $50,000 to $100,000, and while a new construction home may see a payback in five to 10 years and a retrofit in 10 to 15 years, it’s certainly not the first energy-efficient change to consider.

Still, for some, geothermal makes sense for reasons that aren’t monetary. If you’re in an area that relies on oil heat and perhaps have a reaction to the oil odor or maybe you don’t want to sponsor the oil companies or propane or natural gas companies, it’s a great alternative. Plus, add in solar panels and other alternative-energy systems, and you’re one step closer to that net-zero energy home – and to zero energy bills!