The shallow ground, the upper 10 feet of the Earth, maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50° and 60°F (10°-16°C). Like a cave, this ground temperature is warmer than the air above it in the winter and cooler than the air in the summer. Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of this resource to heat and cool buildings.
Geothermal heat pump systems consist of basically three parts: the ground heat exchanger, the heat pump unit, and the air delivery system (ductwork). The heat exchanger is basically a system of pipes called a loop, which is buried in the shallow ground near the building. A fluid (usually water or a mixture of water and antifreeze) circulates through the pipes to absorb or relinquish heat within the ground.
In the winter, the heat pump removes heat from the heat exchanger and pumps it into the indoor air delivery system. In the summer, the process is reversed, and the heat pump moves heat from the indoor air into the heat exchanger. The heat removed from the indoor air during the summer can also be used to heat water, providing a free source of hot water.