However, people in the United States and, particularly, in New England are beginning to take a closer look at such systems. Several Boston-based academic institutions already use geothermal systems, including Harvard University.
Geothermal heating systems draw warmth from the earth using a series of pipes, called a loop, installed beneath the ground.
A water solution circulated through the piping takes the earth's natural warmth to a heat pump inside a building where it is circulated through a space using interior ductwork.
In the winter, it heats, and, in the summer, the process can be reversed so that the heat is extracted from the air inside a house and transferred to the earth, with the same looping pipe system, thus creating air conditioning.
Companies installing such systems cite federal Environmental Protection Agency numbers that show that geothermal systems operate at 75 percent greater efficiency than oil furnaces, 48 percent greater efficiency than gas furnaces and 40 percent more efficiency than air source heat pumps.
The savings are not lost on Gouin, a 73-year-old, semi-retired plumber from Meredith who has been installing such systems since 1985.
Gouin, recognizable from his place with Gouin and Sons Plumbing in Laconia, has been heating his home via geothermal power for 22 years and he swears by the method from both a cost and a maintenance perspective.
"For every dollar of electricity that you spend, you get $4 of heat," explained Gouin. Gouin said the systems are not wildly popular in the Lakes Region and he has installed only about a dozen or so here during his time working on them, but he did put one in famed skier Bode Miller's home near Bretton Woods Ski Area.
The longtime plumber said he knows first-hand the benefits of geothermal power, having had systems in both his current home and in a residence he lived in on Lake Winnisquam for 17 years.
He said he spent a total of $165 in maintenance over that period for the system in his old home and is enjoying low fuel costs, thanks to the system that currently heats his five-zone, 4,600-square-foot home for about seven cents per square foot.
"It costs about $320 a month [to heat the whole house] ... I was talking to a gentleman at the lumber yard the other day who said he was spending $800 in oil a month to heat his house, which is 1,800 [square feet]," said Gouin.
Gouin said he is always looking for innovative ways of powering things, whether it be his home heating system or the boat he uses to putt around Winnisquam on. For him, geothermal power just makes sense.
"I am an environmentalist to a certain point, but I'm no tree-hugger. I like so save money ... [ours] is a throwaway society," said Gouin.
It is for this reason that 70 percent of his energy comes "out of the ground".
The idea has begun to catch on.
When the leaders behind the Prescott Farm Audubon Center in Laconia built their Samuel P. Pardoe building off White Oaks Road in 2005, they decided to go geothermal.
Prescott Farm Executive Director Scott Fitzpatrick said they love the system and noted that it has been working well even on the coldest days.
"We are very pleased from the performance end, and maintenance is low. I think the key is getting the units sized to the space you are trying to heat," explained Fitzpatrick.
The local Audubon Center uses its geothermal system to heat about 4,000 square feet of space and also to cool it during the summer months.
The only drawback is that such systems are said to cost significantly more to install than conventional boilers; but Fitzpatrick is among those who assured that the payback comes in not worrying about rising fossil fuel costs.
"You are almost doing a prebuy because they are more costly than putting in an oil- or gas-fired system. I'm really glad I'm not on oil right now because I don't see the cost of oil or propane getting any cheaper," said Fitzpatrick.
He said one key to using geothermal or any heating system is building a "tight" and energy-efficient building that does not lose heat quickly.
Geothermal power also is being considered as a viable option for those looking for efficient heat in municipal buildings.
In October, the library trustees and the Friends of the Gilford Public Library decided that their new building - currently under construction - will use a geothermal system to provide both cooling and heating for the facility.
According to Public Service of New Hampshire, which was consulted by both in making the heating decision, there is an average cost of $1.20 per square foot of space heated by conventional means, such as oil. In comparison, the geothermal method has an average cost of 49 cents a square foot of space heated.
In all, the geothermal cooling and heating will likely cost about $100,000 more than what was budgeted for the conventional heating and air conditioning systems, with about $60,000 of that initial cost coming from the deep wells that must be dug to make way for the geothermal system.
A geothermal heating system also has been considered for a potential addition to the Gilford Police Station.