Schematic of heating and cooling system with the Otisco Ground-loop System

Geothermal heating and cooling on the farm

By Q. Victoria Chen, Ph.D., LEED AP BD+C; Patrick Nortz, CPG, PE; and Gregory Nortz, PE

Geothermal heating and cooling systems offer farmers, rural businesses, and homeowners an opportunity to realize long-term energy savings, particularly if currently relying on energy sources such as LP Gas, fuel oil, or electricity, all which are more costly than natural gas. Most farmers are in business long term. Therefore, the payback of a geothermal system can be significant over the working life of a farm.

What is a geothermal heating and cooling system?

A geothermal system can be designed and installed in many ways. To keep it simple for this article, let us assume we are talking about a “closed ground loop” piping system that circulates heat-exchange fluid through a piping system in the ground to enable summer cooling or winter heating of a building.

In addition to the “ground loop” piping, geothermal heating and cooling systems contain the following:

  • Geothermal heat pump, which captures the heat or loses the heat, depending on the season, and is similar in cost and size as a conventional gas furnace.
  • A flow center that pumps the heat exchange fluid through the ground loop piping.
  • Fan and ductwork, which are the same as for any other energy source.

Cost difference and payback

The cost of the ground loop materials and installation represents the cost difference between geothermal heating and cooling systems versus those fueled primarily by electricity, gas, or oil. There will be a payback period based on the first several years of energy savings. The payback of each system will vary depending on differences in the building and site. Let’s present one example below.


Cost of hypothetical ground loop materials and installation: $8,000

Hypothetical annual energy savings using geothermal to heat and cool a building: $1,125

Payback period (years)=Cost of ground loop/heating & cooling energy cost reduction per year = $8,000/($1,125/year) = 8 years

In this example, the continued annual cost savings after 8 years is gravy!

New developments and research

Engineers at The Ohio State University’s Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (OSU-FABE) have teamed (via subcontract) with Otisco Engineering ( to evaluate their ground-loop and manifold system design, which aims to reduce upfront costs, shorten the payback period, and decrease long-term cost to farmers. The research, which is funded via a U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Small Business Innovation Research Grant, is being performed at the Fendrick Building at OSU’s Molly Caren Farm (i.e., Farm Science Review) and at the EnCORE House in Chadwick Arboretum on OSU’s Main Campus.

Q. Victoria Chen, Professor, can be reached at 614-292-2254 or Patrick Nortz and Gregory Nortz are Co-Owners of Otisco Engineering Ltd. and inventors of the Otisco Ground-loop System for geothermal heat pump applications.

This column is provided by the OSU-FABE, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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