We've seen that a heat pump uses pipe buried in the ground, filled with heat transfer fluid, to absorb energy from the surrounding earth.
The amount of pipework that's needed will depend on the thermal properties of the ground that they sit in.
Straight pipe is just that! In this case, the plastic pipe is usually 32mm or 40mm in diameter. It is available on reels, in various lengths depending on your supplier.
The pipe is buried just over a metre deep, in long trenches 1m wide. If the soil is stony, the trenches are lined with sand to prevent stones from damaging the pipe and causing leaks. A 1 metre gap must be left between trenches (centre to centre). MIS3005 actually stipulates 0.75m, but that's for 25mm pipe, so stick to 1m.
If you pack too much pipe into a small space, you will extract too much heat from that area of ground. It's possible to freeze the ground, because the heat transference in soil just doesn't happen fast enough to make up for the amount of heat being taken out.
On a small scale this can damage grass laid over the top of the trenches. At its worst, perma-frosted ground will buckle and crack, and when there is no more heat to be taken from the ground, the heat pump will stop working. It can even damage the heat pump beyond repair.
This is why the seperation distances are defined by the MCS guidelines.
The heat in the soil isn't "geothermal". It's not that deep! The energy we are trying to use is warmth from the sun and from rainwater.
Anyway, straight pipe is laid in a meandering pattern up and down. This means it's easy to avoid obstacles like trees. Remember though that the ground-side pump in the heat pump has a limited amount of head, so you will probably have to install straight pipe in loops of no more than 300m each. You will use a manifold to link the loops together.
INSERT STRAIHT PIPE PHOTOS
Slinkies are simply straight pipe coiled up!
Kensa sell slinkies that are made with 32mm pipe, cut into 3 different sizes. We make a 30m, 40, and 50m slinky. A slinky that is 30 metres long actually contains 200m of pipe, coiled up. A 40m slinky is 250m of pipe, and a 50m slinky is 300m.
Slinkies are installed into trenches similar to straight pipe - at the same depth (1.2m). But because the slinkies are physically wider, the trenches now have to be 1.2m wide, and at 5m spacings (centre to centre). This means that metre for metre, you need the same amount of space for slinkies as you do for straight pipe. MIS3005 stipulates 3 metre spacings - Kensa have had thousands of slinky installations though, and to guard against over extraction, we stick to 5m. We've never once had an issue with frozen ground because of this extra caution.
Why bother? Well, slinkies can make life easier.
Because you have a bigger space between trenches, you have space to dump the spoil from the trench; you can just leave it alongside. When you are digging for straight pipe and only leaving a metre gap, you won't have anywhere to put that spoil - you have to dump it elsewhere and then move it again to backfill. If you are doing your own groundworks, this isn't generally an issue, but if you are paying groundworkers to do it for you, then time is money!
Over the few years that ground source heat pumps have started to gain popularity in the UK, slinkies seem to have attracted an unfair amount of criticism. Historically this was because often they were installed without enough spacing. MIS3005 actually specifies 3 metres; it's Kensa that stipulate 5 metre centres. In the thousands of slinky jobs we've sold, we haven't had any issues with over-extraction.
Like any ground array, when installed correctly, they work.
A borehole is a very deep, drilled hole that contains a U shaped length of pipe, filled with heat transfer fluid. The pipe runs from the top of the hole down to the bottom, and back up again. This pipe is known as the "probe" and is the equivalent to straight pipework, just running vertically.
Boreholes are drilled by specialist drillers using drilling rigs. They are backfilled with grout which helps the thermal conductivity between pipe and soil.
Boreholes should not be placed too close to building foundations (4 metres) and should be seperated from each other by 8 metres. MIS3005 stipulates 6m; Kensa are always cautious.
Because the ground temperature gets warmer the further down you go, boreholes are considered to be the best way to extract heat, metre for metre. The hitch is that they aren't cheap in comparison to other methods - depending on your driller, you could be looking at £40 to £50 per metre drilled.
Roughly speaking you need 20 metres of borehole per kilowatt of heatpump output, so for an 8kW heat pump you'd need around 160 metres drilled. You can see how this would stack up, especially for larger installations!
You can link multiple boreholes togethe, but to ensure balanced flow rates they should be kept to the same depth - or flow balancing valves will be needed.
Boreholes are really useful where you are pushed for space to fit straight pipe or slinkies. You just need to ensure there is space for a drilling rig to get in - normally this means HGV access for unloading of the rig, but some drillers have small tracked rigs that can get through gates.
Drillers working at a social housing site
We are occasionally asked "I have a borehole for drinking water, can't we just use that?". For closed loop, this would involve simply dropping the probe down the borehole. It sounds very neat, but there are a couple of catches.
1) Contamination. This is pretty unlikely, but it's possible - if that probe pipe is damaged, then you may end up with glycol contaminating your water supply. Although the glycol Kensa supply is "detoxified", that doesn't mean you would want to drink it - and if the borehole is your only source of drinking water, what happens?
2) Potable water boreholes are generally not deep - 10m to 40m depending on where the water table is. Boreholes for a heat pump need to be much longer - even given the added thermal advantages of having some of the probe pipe in water, you lose out if some of it is in air, and you can't add grout in this situation.
A pond mat is a 40 metre slinky (so that's 250m of pipe!), attached to a metal frame, that is submerged in water.
Why would you do this?
Because water is a much better conductor of heat than the ground is. If your project is close to a lake or pond, then making use of this source of energy could be well worthwhile! Remember that the better the incoming temperature, the better the heat pump's performance - well, this is exactly what we meant.
It can also be a lot less work that digging. You will need to dig a header trench, running pipework from the heat pump to the lake, but there's no digging for slinkies or straight pipe.
The pond mats are floated out into position, and as they are filled with heat transfer fluid, they sink, eventually resting on the lakebed. The rigid frames ensure that they don't move around, and breeze blocks secured to the frame help to sink the mats where you want them.
It's possibly to secure the pond mats to the side of a harbour wall (you need permission!), or even to a jetty. Take a look at this video to see a clever pond mat installation completed by a Kensa Partner.
Water source systems
The other alternative to using the ground is to use water.
We've looked at this briefly, by using pond mats. This is called a closed loop system, because the lake water never enters the heat pump - the heat pump uses a sealed loop of pipe, full of heat transfer fluid (glycol) to absorb heat.
It's also possible to use open loop systems.
This implies that the water from your water source (let's keep the lake as an example!) is pumped directly into the heat pump. So you skip out the heat transfer fluid and pipework altogether, and pump water directly into one side of the evaporator.
Sounds good, doesn't it? No need for pipework, less work, no need for glycol - just add a pump.
It isn't quite that simple! If you pull water directly from a freshwater source, there is always a risk that there might be debris in there. So you need filters to start with, and you also need a pumping arrangement that is properly sized to cope with the kind of flow rate you will need across the heat exchanger (which will vary, depending on how powerful the heat pump is).
The greater risk is this: If you don't get that required flow rate for whatever reason (blocked strainer, failed pump), you would over extract from whatever you do have. If this occurs, you run the risk of freezing your heat source - just the same as if you over extract from the ground.
The implication here is that rather than freeze up a lake, you would in fact freeze up the evaporator heat exchanger in the heat pump. This is going to crack it, and you have basically written off your heat pump.
So in order to prevent this from happening, we add a second heat exchanger, and a very small closed loop of pipework containing glycol.
The "open loop" heat exchanger is gasketed, rather than brazed together, so if this does freeze then all that will happen is that the gaskets expand. Yes you get leaks, but the unit can be rebuilt, and you haven't ruined the heat pump.
We are often asked if it's possible to use a potable (drinking) water borehole for this use, too. Generally the answer is no, but this depends on the borehole. The important bit is the refresh rate of that borehole - like a flow rate in a river. If it's too slow, you end up over extracting, and you'll freeze the heat exchanger at the very least.