Commercial Ground Source Heat Pumps: A Geothermal Heating and Cooling Solution

Mar 14, 2024DMA Engineering

Did you know that more than 50,000 ground source heat pumps are installed in the U.S. every year? These environmentally friendly systems use underground energy to keep buildings comfortable and efficient.

Let’s take a closer look at ground source heating technology and its benefits for homes and businesses. Investing in one of these systems could be the best thing you ever do for your building.

Commercial Ground Source Heat Pumps: A Geothermal Heating and Cooling Solution


How Do Ground Source Heat Pumps Work?

A heat pump is essentially a refrigerator that operates on a vapor-compression cycle. The pump absorbs ground heat and transfers it into a building to provide ambient heat and hot water.

What is a Commercial Ground Source Heat Pump?

Commercial ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are powered by electricity and use the Earth’s natural heat to provide energy-efficient temperature control. These pumps produce no on-site carbon emissions and store solar energy for heating and cooling.

Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) are also known as ground-source, GeoExchange, earth-coupled, or water-source heat pumps. They operate on geothermal energy by tapping into the relatively stable ground temperature to serve as a moderator of the outside air temperature.

The History of Geothermal and Ground Source Heat Pumps

Ground source pumps were first theorized in the 1850s and nearly 90 years later, the first large-scale systems were built. By the 1970s, the technology had become much more widespread. Here’s a brief history of these pumps.


British physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin develops the underlying theory behind heat pumps. The first model was built several years later and was primarily used to extract salt from brine.


The year 1948 is a major turning point. American inventor Robert C. Webber installs the first residential heat pump system. His design arises after he burns his hand on a deep freezer and realizes the potential of heat pumps.

The same year, Carl Nielsen, a professor at Ohio State University, develops the first open-loop ground-source heat pump. He uses this system exclusively at his home.

Also in 1948, Oregon engineer J.D. Krocker established the first commercial building use of a groundwater heat pump, taking a major step forward in scaling up the technology.


The 1973 Oil Embargo caused the U.S. to rethink its dependence on foreign oil. Homeowners and businesses begin seeking energy alternatives.

During the 1970s, Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Jim Bose examined old engineering texts and established the mathematical concepts behind ground source pumps, popularizing the technology.


The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) forms. It has since become a global leader in advancing the technology as a sensible and sustainable energy-saving strategy.


Ground source pumps have gained tremendous popularity due to their low carbon emissions, high efficiency, and minimal operating costs. They’re one of the smartest ways to reduce primary energy consumption while limiting greenhouse gas emissions for a home or business.

Installing a Ground Source Heat Pump


Why Install a Ground Source Heat Pump in a Building?

A ground source heat pump is the ideal form of temperature control for a commercial building due to its efficiency and low operating costs. Even in a huge building with a sizable demand for heating and cooling, a ground source pump can handle the job.

To understand why this type of heating is perfect for a commercial structure, picture the temperature in a cave. Just a few feet below the building’s foundation, the underground area remains at a relatively stable temperature year-round. In winter, it’s warmer than the above-ground air, and in summer, it’s cooler.

Ground source and geothermal pumps tap into this source of constantly stable temperature. They not only provide comfortable air but also temperature-controlled water. Supply an entire home, apartment building, or commercial office with hot water using the right pumping system.

Low maintenance is another benefit of these systems. Ground-source systems tend to be more silent, more durable, and less finicky than other types of heating systems. They also don’t depend on the temperature of the outside air, so they can operate smoothly regardless of location or weather.

If you’re looking for a commercial building heating system with longevity, this is it. Although a geothermal installation is initially more expensive than an air-source system, the full return on investment usually arrives within 5 to 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The lifespan of a geothermal system is about 24 years and a ground-loop system can last 50 years or more.

Keep in mind that these systems require expert installation and configuration. To secure maximum efficiency and cost savings, partner with a building commissioning company to ensure the system is operating optimally.

Commercial Ground Source Heat Pumps: A Geothermal Heating and Cooling Solution: DMA Engineering Projects


Examples of Successful Heat Pump Projects

DMA Engineering designs commercial ground source heat pump systems to overcome site restraints, meet our clients’ needs, and contribute to a more sustainable future. Here are several projects showing the effectiveness of various heating solutions.

First Universalist Church

We helped this church install an efficient ground source heat pump system to create a net-zero space. The congregation and community were happy to accomplish this important goal.

Nederland Town Shop

When the previous town shop was condemned, DMA Engineering contributed to the new town shop’s radiant heating system. No cooling system was required due to the location and use.

White Hawk Ranch

DMA Engineering contributed to this large-scale luxury property’s outstanding energy modeling, system analysis, system design, and computational fluid dynamics modeling (CFDM).

For More Information

As you can see, innovative heating systems hold tremendous potential for energy efficiency in commercial buildings. Connect with us to learn more about commercial ground source heat pumps.