The first part to understanding any aspect of the geothermal industry, whether it be marketing, sales, design or installation is to understand how the technology works and it is designed. By understanding the design process, even if you are never going to do design yourself, you will better understand how the technology is sold, will be confident when speaking to customers, will know what information needs to be collected on a site visit, and which leads have greater potential then others. If you plan on working on the installation side, understanding design will give you the knowledge to understand the different parts of an installation and what those may cost.

If you’re new to the geothermal heat pump industry, read the Geothermal 101 Reading list. It has free tools and articles on geothermal design and installation and sales and marketing best practices. Here are some other free resources:

Free Mini-Course: Installing & Commissioning Real Time Geothermal Monitoring Systems

Here are the four basic steps to geothermal heat pump design. For this article, we’ll focus on a single-family residential building.

## 4 Steps

• Heat Loss/Gain Calculations
• Size Heat Pump
• Size Loop Field
• Size Air/Water Distribution Center

## Step 1: Heat Loss/Gain Calculations

The industry standard for residential buildings is the ACCA Manual J. According to Ryan Carda, not spending enough time on heat loss/gain calculation is one of the top mistakes that geothermal designers will make.

Let’s focus simply on heat loss for this example and not get into cooling. The ACCA Manual J will provide you with both a block load for the entire house and a room-by-room heat loss estimate. 16 to 23 BTUs per square foot per hour is a standard rule of thumb. The main drivers are climate and building quality, though a building site can also have a small impact particularly if the building is looking to harvest passive solar.

Therefore we can assume that a building that is 1,900 square feet in Maine could have a peak heat loss of 20 BTUs per square foot per hour. Thus, our maximize heat loss, what we’ll use to size our heat pump with, will be 1,900 multiplied by 20, equaling 38,000 BTUs per hour.

## Step 2: Size the Heat Pump

We need to produce 38,000 BTUs/h to meet the heating demand. We will use that number to select a heat pump that can handle the load. 12,000 BTUs per hour is one ton of capacity, so we will need a 3-ton unit. Keep in mind that the nominal rating for heat pumps from different manufacturers will differ and not all 3-ton heat pumps will produce exactly 36,000 BTUs per hour. However, this is a solid estimate. You’ll need to check the product specification sheet for each manufacturer to find a heat pump that meets your heating demand.

## Step 3: Size the Loop Field

The key variables when sizing the loop field are water temperature and the amount of water. For this example, we will only be discussing closed-loop systems. It is standard practice to size a loop field for a minimum entering water temperature (EWT) of 30°F in the worst-case scenario.

The main considerations that drive how many feet of bore you’ll need or feet of horizontal tubing is the deep earth temperature in your region, soil characteristics, and site characteristics. In northern, heating-dominated climates it’s a standard rule of thumb to need between 150 and 200 feet of vertical bore per ton. We specified a 3-ton unit in Step 2, so we can assume we’ll need 600 feet of bore (200 feet times 3).

When sizing the dimensions of the loop itself, you’ll want to keep in mind the flow rates that the heat pump will need. This will impact pipe dimensions and the circulating pump that you size to circulate the fluid. Each ton of heating capacity will need 3 gallons per minutes (GPM) of flow. 3 tons equals 9 gallons per minute.

## Step 4: Size the Distribution System

The industry standard is to use ACCA Manual D to size the duct system if you are using a water-to-air system. You will also need the ACCA Manual J room-by-room heat loss calculation to size the ducts. 400 cubic feet per minute (CFM) per ton is the standard amount of air flow needed. Thus, we’ll need to supply 1200 CFM (400 times 3 tons) to this house. Also, you must heat each room proportionally. For example, if the bathroom accounts for 10% of the heat loss of the whole house (see ACCA Manual J room-by-room) you will need to supply 120 CFM to that space (1200 multiplied by 10%).