What are Ground Source Heat Pump Boreholes?

Heat pump boreholes are vertical ground arrays or collectors used to extract heat energy from rock to a ground source heat pump. They save space and minimise disruption in heat pump installation projects, as you usually only need 150mm width of garden space per borehole. Depths of boreholes range from around 60m to 200m.

Borehole drilling rig at the Enfield site M

Are there different types of boreholes?

Closed loop borehole

Kensa Ground Source Heat Pumps Shoebox Heat Pump District Heating Diagram for Fuel Poverty & Renewable Heat Incentive








There are two types of boreholes that can be used with ground source heat pumps: closed loop and open systems. A closed loop borehole is quite literally a closed circuit containing a heat transfer fluid, while an open loop borehole uses a natural water source as its transfer fluid – exposing it to external elements.

Open loop borehole

An open loop collector for a ground source heat pump








This page carries on to look at closed loop boreholes, which is the most common type of borehole – using rock as its heat source. You can see more about open loop systems on our water source page.

See more about open loop

What sort of projects do boreholes suit?

Ground source heat pump boreholes are generally used for district heating schemes, large commercial projects with high heat demands, or smaller sites where space saving is a priority. They’re also ideal when there is insufficient space for horizontal arrays such as slinky pipes in trenches.

Boreholes are Kensa’s preferred ground array for clusters of properties connected via a Shared Ground Loop Array heat network, which is common in social housing or new-build development schemes.

Typically one borehole is required per property. However, in Shared Ground Loop Array schemes, one deeper borehole could serve two properties.

District ground source system

How deep are boreholes?

Boreholes are typically 60 to 200m deep and 150 mm wide.

A drilling contractor is responsible for drilling the borehole. It is a specialist discipline, so you should seek the advice of a geothermal drilling company if you’re thinking about using a borehole for a ground source heat pump.

If you would like Kensa to recommend a suitable contractor, submit your project plans.

How does a heat pump borehole work?

Rock is used as the heat sourceClose up of a ground source heat pump borehole, closed system

Solar energy is stored in surface soil and dissipates through the rock layers beneath our feet, forming a stable heat source. This is where boreholes collect their energy from.

In closed loop boreholes, a specialist drilling rig drills to depths of up to 200m to form the borehole.

The borehole is connected to the heat pump

At the installation stage, a U-shaped straight pipe is inserted into the borehole and connected via a trench to the ground source heat pump. The space around the U-pipe in the borehole is backfilled with a thermal grout to ensure thermal conductivity from the ground to the borehole pipe.

Heat transfers from ground to heat pump

The ground source heat pump circulates heat transfer fluid through the U-pipe. This cold fluid absorbs and moves the ground’s low-grade energy towards the ground source heat pump. Once the fluid surrenders its energy from the ground to the heat pump, the cooled fluid returns to the borehole to begin the circuit all over again – hence the ‘closed loop’ expression.

See the detailed borehole process

How much do ground source heat pump boreholes cost?

A borehole is a more expensive alternative to slinky pipes, as there is an additional cost to preparing and drilling the borehole.

However, boreholes become economically viable on Shared Ground Loop Array schemes for multiple residential properties, large commercial projects and any site with heat loads above 100kW. This is due to reduced mobilisation costs for the drilling rig, efficiencies of scale when on site, and the degree of diversification being applied.

In larger projects, featuring shared ground loops, borehole depths or numbers are reduced compared to individual system installations.

Example: Single self-build home

This example is based on the cost of a ground source heat pump borehole project in a home. You need much less space than slinkies and pond mats, but the boreholes are more costly due to the specialist drilling equipment needed. You could pay around £28,500 and earn £26,000 with the Domestic RHI.

Type of system 13 kW Evo ground source heat pumpVs. LPG boiler
Type of ground arrayBoreholes1
Land area required200 sq/m -
Appliance & infrastructure costs*£28,500£1,500
Domestic RHI income (over 7 years)**£26,000Not eligible
Running costs (over 20 years)*** £10,000£15,000
Servicing costs (over 20 years)****£0£700
Total net cost (after 20 years)*****£12,500 cost£17,200 cost
Lifetime expectancy: Appliance Up to 20 yearsUp to 10 years
Lifetime expectancy: InfrastructureUp to 100 years-
Carbon saved (over 20 years)28 tonnes 0 tonnes
Local NOx emissions******0kg NOx/y1.31kg NOx/y

Example: Multiple buildings

This example is based on the cost of ground source heat pump boreholes in a district heating project of 85 new-build homes. An individual heat pump is installed into each home, connected by a Shared Ground Loop Array of boreholes. You could pay around £606,960 and earn £962,582 with the Non-Domestic RHI.

Type of system 50 x 3kW & 35 x 6kW Shoebox heat pumps Vs. Gas combi boiler
Type of ground arrayShared Ground Loop Array of boreholes1-
Land area requiredAverage of 18sq/m per property-
Appliance & infrastructure cost*£606,960£323,000
Non-Domestic RHI income (over 20 years)**£962,582Not eligible
Running cost savings vs. gas (over 20 years)*** £31,509-
Servicing costs per property (over 20 years)****£2,000£2,000
Total net cost (after 20 years)*****£355,622 profit £323,000 cost
Lifetime expectancy: Appliance Up to 20 yearsUp to 10 years
Lifetime expectancy: InfrastructureUp to 100 yearsUp to 100 years
Carbon saved vs. gas (over 20 years)******1,129 tonnes-
Local NOx emissions saved vs. gas*******18.2 kgNOx/y-
See more pricing comparisons

What should I consider before installing a borehole?

Sizing & efficiency of the boreholes

The design of boreholes for small, individual applications can be calculated with tables, empirical values and guidelines. A popular parameter to calculate the required depth of a borehole is through the ground’s specific heat extraction properties, which is expressed as Watt per metre borehole length (W/m).

A borehole’s performance is dependent on the location’s geology and its thermal conductivity, the efficiency of the heating distribution system and the building’s heat demand. Typically, a 75 to 100m borehole provides 3 to 5 kW of extractable heat based on 1800 running hours a year.

For larger commercial projects, such as those with heat demands above 100kW, a thermal response test (TRT) is required to calculate accurate borehole sizing.

Ground conditions

A geological survey will provide an indication of the type of material that the borehole is going to be drilled into. This material can determine the design of the borehole field.

Different geological conditions have different heat transfer characteristics. For example, a borehole in loose stones has an energy extraction rate of approximately 20 watt per metre (W/m), while granite has an extraction rate of 55 to 70W/m.

A geological survey should also indicate whether there are any mine workings or aquifers present. In these instances, an open loop borehole may utilise the high thermal conductivity properties in the subterranean water sources.

Kensa can recommend expert borehole geological surveyors to assess your geology and specifications for a borehole. Just tell us about your project.

Spacing between multiple boreholes

For projects using multiple boreholes, such as Shared Ground Loop Array schemes or large heat demand commercial projects, the boreholes should be spaced at 5 to 6m between centres to avoid any interference between each ground collector. This ensures the ground can recover its heat, and stops the ground from freezing.

Our delivery arm, Kensa Contracting, specialises in large-scale project management. Subject your project plans to Contracting for district heating advice.

The process of making boreholes for ground source heat pumps

1.  Drilling a ground source heat pump borehole

A borehole consists of a hole drilled between 60 to 200m deep. Typically, the diameter of a borehole is around 110 to 150mm, but this depends on the type of machine being used to drill the borehole. It also depends on the diameter of the borehole pipe, which is usually between 32 to 40mm.

The first few metres of a borehole is generally sleeved with a casing to prevent the sides collapsing. The depth of this casing depends on the material that the borehole is drilled into and the depth of soil.

Multiple boreholes are generally placed 5 to 6m apart. However, for large commercial projects, the interference from one borehole to another must be calculated to ensure there is adequate spacing and sufficient depth between them.

The drilling rigs used for boreholes come in many shapes and sizes. Small drilling rigs can operate in restricted access sites and small gardens, while others are designed for larger commercial projects.

2. Inserting the borehole pipework for the heat pump

A single loop of pipe – usually PE100 HDPE or Pex pipe – is inserted into the borehole. Along with the borehole pipe, a small tremie pipe, which is about 25 to 40mm, is also attached to the borehole pipe.

The tremie pipe is used to fill the borehole with thermal grout and is withdrawn as the grout is injected. The grout provides a thermal path, which allows the energy within the ground to be absorbed by the fluid circulating the borehole pipe. The driller will take responsibility for grouting the hole using specialist pumping equipment.

Single loops are normally used in the UK, but it’s possible to use a twin loop or duplex system to try and extract more energy.

A larger diameter hole is required for a twin loop system, and the borehole’s energy yield only increases by an approximate factor of 1.25. This also depends on the hole and pipe diameter, the distance from the next borehole, how the pipe is inserted, and the thermal grouting. The pipe is either filled with water or weighted at the end, making it easier to insert into the borehole.

Borehole ground arrays are great for compact sites, and the pipework lasts for 100 years

3. Testing the ground source heat pump borehole

The drilling contractor will perform a pressure test, cap the plastic ground array pipe, and issue a certificate before leaving the site.

For larger commercial projects (nominally over 100kW), guidelines tend to overestimate the number of required boreholes. It’s recommended that a thermal response test (TRT) is carried out on a representative borehole. A thermal geologist can then combine the results from a TRT, with the heating and cooling profile of the building, to calculate the type, depth, number and spacing of boreholes. The cost of completing a TRT is generally recovered in the reduction in the number of boreholes required.

4. Connecting the boreholes to the ground source heat pumps

If more than one borehole is required, the pipes should be connected using a manifold. This ensures equal distribution of flow across each borehole. Manifolds can be located at the building or the pipes can be connected in a subterranean manifold within a trench at the edge of the bore field.

To avoid any joints and eliminate the need for any electrofusion welding – which requires specialist equipment and can attract additional costs – it’s sensible to use specially extended borehole probes. These are simply laid in a trench between the top of the borehole and the manifold on the side of the building.

Kensa recommends you compare the rates of groundwork contractors and drilling contractors to identify the best price for this trenching work.

Is a ground source heat pump borehole right for my project?

Choosing the right ground array is an important stage of any ground source project. Kensa can help you with anything from specification and sizing to design and aftersales support.

Submit your plans for advice

Pricing small print


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