The question of whether or not heat pumps work in the UK is a common one, and it’s understandable why. The British climate can be quite unpredictable and rather cold at times, so like us, you may have concerns about whether or not this type of device will be efficient enough to keep your home warm during colder months. You’ll also want to know if a heat pump is likely to save money on your electricity bills.
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More people are considering heat pumps:
The good news is that yes, heat pumps do indeed work in the UK and they can save money on your heating bills. This is great if you are trying to make your home as eco-friendly as possible. The bad news is that they do not work in every home and installation could turn out to be very expensive..
Heat pumps are becoming more and more popular in the UK as people become increasingly aware of their benefits. They can be up to three times more efficient than traditional heating methods, so they can save you a lot of money on your energy bills in the long run.
They are especially useful for homes with an open-plan living space such as kitchens and living rooms because they make use of all available heating sources like radiators and boilers to provide consistent warmth throughout the house.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind before investing in one of these devices. Heat pumps can be an efficient and cost-effective way to heat your home during the winter months, but they may not be suitable for all climates.
If you’re considering investing in a heat pump, it’s important to find a model that is suited to the climate where you live. Some heat pumps are better equipped to deal with colder temperatures than others, so make sure you choose one that will be effective in your area.
There are a number of steps you will need to take before having a heat pump installed. Before any renewable energy device is fitted you will need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). Depending on the age of your property, you may be able to find your EPC (https://www.gov.uk/find-energy-certificate) on Gov.uk. If your EPC is out of date, then you will need to pay for a new certificate. The cost of getting a new EPC will vary depending on the size of your property and the assessor you use. You need an EPC to determine if your house is sufficiently insulated to benefit from a heat pump.
If you have a traditional gas boiler, it’s likely that a heat pump will not be able to provide enough heat on its own during colder months. In the UK, heat pumps are most effective when used in combination with underfloor heating and larger radiators – pairing them up can help to increase efficiency.
Heat pumps can be connected to your central heating system and your domestic hot water so you have the heat when you need it. Some systems can also provide cooling in the summer months by acting like an air conditioning unit. This is likely to come at an additional cost but might be worth it if you already use fans or mobile air conditioning units to get cool air in summer.
Types of heat pump
There are three main types of heat pump:
How do air source heat pumps work?
Air-source heat pumps extract heat from the outside air and uses it to heat your home. They are typically less expensive to install than other types of heat pumps, but they may not be as efficient in colder climates.
Air is drawn into the heat pump unit where it is compressed and cooled. This causes the air to heat up, and the heat is then transferred to the refrigerant inside the heat pump. The refrigerant is heated until it turns into a gas, and this gas is then used to heat your home.
There are two types of air source pump: air-to-air that takes outside air to provide heat in your home (usually a constant ambient temperature). There is also the air-to-water pump that combines with your heating system and provides hot water.
The video below shows a real-life example of an air source heat pump being used in an average UK home:
What are the advantages of an air-source heat pump?
They are the most affordable type of heat pump to install, and they can be more efficient than traditional heating methods in warmer climates. They work by extracting heat from the outside air and using it to heat your home, so they don’t require any additional installation costs like ground or water loops. Additionally, they can be used to heat your home and provide hot water simultaneously, which can save you money on your energy bills.
What are the disadvantages of an air-source heat pump?
Air-source heat pumps are less efficient than other types of heat pump in colder climates, so they may not be suitable for homes in areas with very cold weather. Additionally, they require a lot of ventilation, so they may not be suitable for homes with limited outdoor space. A typical air source pump needs around 1.5 metre clearance.
How do ground-source heat pumps work?
Ground-source heat pumps extract heat from the ground using a series of pipes called “ground loops”. They are more expensive to install than air-source heat pumps, but they are more efficient in colder climates and can save you money on your energy bills in the long run.
Ground loops can be installed vertically or horizontally – both need more than the average amount of land for installation. A horizontal system needs at least 4 metres for the loops and the vertical system uses up to 100 metres.
What are the advantages of a ground-source heat pump?
Ground-source (geo-thermal) heat pumps are more expensive to install than air-source heat pumps, but they are more efficient in colder climates and can save you money on your energy bills in the long run. They work by extracting heat from the ground using a series of pipes called “ground loops”, so they don’t require any additional installation costs like air-source heat pumps. Additionally, they can be used to heat your home and provide hot water simultaneously, which can save you money on your energy bills.
What are the disadvantages of a ground-source heat pump?
Ground-source heat pumps are more expensive to install than air-source heat pumps, and they are disruptive to the land around your home (so are not suitable for houses with small gardens).
How do water-source heat pumps work?
Water-source heat pumps use water from a nearby lake, river, or ocean to heat your home. They are the most expensive type of heat pump to install, but they are also the most efficient and can save you the most money on your energy bills.
Groundwater is drawn into the heat pump unit where it is compressed and cooled. This causes the groundwater to heat up, and the heat is then transferred to the refrigerant inside the heat pump. The refrigerant is heated until it turns into a gas, and this gas is then used to heat your home.
What are the advantages of a water-source heat pump?
They don’t need any additional installation costs like air-source or ground-source heat pumps. Additionally, they can be used to heat your home and provide hot water, which can save you money on your energy bills.
What are the disadvantages of a water-source heat pump?
Water-source heat pumps are the most expensive type of heat pump to install. and they require a lot of ventilation, so they may not be suitable for homes with limited outdoor space. Additionally, they can only be used in areas where there is a suitable source of water available that is deep enough to hold water source pumps.
How efficient are heat pumps in the UK?
Heat pumps are typically more efficient than traditional heating methods like gas or electric heaters. They can save you money on your energy bills in the long run, and they also have the added benefit of being environmentally friendly.
Efficiency will ultimately depend on how insulated your home is and whether you can get the heat around your home with the radiators and underfloor heating. A professional installer will assess your home and recommend the best type of heat pump for your needs.
What are the typical installation costs of a heat pump in the UK?
The installation costs of heat pumps vary depending on the type of heat pump you choose. Air-source heat pumps are the most affordable to install, while water-source heat pumps are the most expensive. Costs vary wildly from £7,000 – £30,000+ to buy and install. The costs ultimately depend on the type of pump, labour costs (e.g. whether any digging is involved) and any additional equipment to be installed.
Depending on the system you need, you may need other devices like a new hot water tank in addition to installing underfloor heating to keep temperatures constant.
Air source pumps are likely to be the most common pump due to the nature of our towns and cities. However, even if you are able to have another type of pump such as a ground source pump, you may be able to save on installation costs by using a pre-existing ground loop, such as an existing well or irrigation system.
Whatever the system, you will need a survey to be carried out by an accredited MCS company.
Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)
All heat pumps systems must certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. It is a quality assurance scheme that protects consumers that demonstrates installers are competent and compliant with all legislation. All installers and equipment must be MCS certified to be eligible for any government incentives.
Is funding available to cover the cost?
The UK government periodically offers a green energy grant to encourage homeowners and businesses to move towards renewable energy. The most recent scheme called the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has now closed. The next scheme is the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) which will provide grants for up to £6000 to cover upfront costs. Unfortunately, the grant pot is limited so presumably once the funding has been used, the scheme will stop. At the time of writing (April 2022, it is unclear when the BUS scheme actually starts – it was due to start this month.
There are variations to the government scheme depending on whether you live in England Scotland or Wales.
Are heat pumps are a good idea?
Yes, but in limited circumstances. Unfortunately, there may be too many downsides at the moment to move towards heat pumps being installed en masse nationally:
- expensive: they can cost over £10,000 to install although we should see costs fall as more people install them
- radiator re-sizing: you will probably need longer radiators to get the most out of the heating system
- noise: air pumps make a lot of noise (up to 40 dbl) which is likely to disturb you and your neighbours if you live in a built up area, particularly at night time.
- ugly: heat pumps are installed on the outside of the house
- difficult to find qualified technicians: most engineers work on conventional gas heating systems so finding technicians who know how to install heat pumps correctly will be difficult (and expensive).Various forums suggest it is difficult getting hold of an engineer when something goes wrong with the heating system (or if the system needs a service).
Is there an alternative to heat pumps?
Other alternatives would obviously include solar panels. There are also biofuel (or biomass boilers). Some of these alternatives are also eligible for government incentives. Unfortunately solar thermal solutions will not be supported under the new BUS scheme. It’s a shame that such a system is not supported; combining solar panels with a heat pump system would be a great way of generating your own light, heat and hot water. This is probably as close to being self-reliant as you could get!
Ultimately, any system you choose will come down to affordability and what is best for your circumstances now and in the future.
We all know the future of heating our homes doesn’t involve gas boilers or oil burners – they are significant contributors to CO2 emissions (and heat pumps emit up to 75% less CO2). The government is proposing legislation to ban new gas boilers so the sooner we make changes, the sooner we as consumers can reap the benefits of cheaper renewable energy and heating. If the UK is going to get to zero carbon emissions then we have no option but to consider alternatives for heating, energy and hot water.
What are your views? Do you have a heat pump system in your home? Does it work as you expected? Let us know in the comments below!