There’s been a lot of talk in the press this week about heat pumps, but as relatively new technology that’s not currently widely used in the UK, you might be wondering just what a heat pump is, how they work, how expensive they are to run, how to install a heat pump along with various other questions. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone! Read on for some answers to common questions about heating your home with a heat pump.
Google Trends UK showed a huge spike in search volume, with recent searches for “heat pumps” spiking in the last week as a result of the recent government pledge to support more widespread adoption of heat pumps in homes up and down the county in order to meat ambitious carbon emissions targets.
Currently here in the UK around 85% of homes use a traditional gas central heating system, with the remaining 15% largely being made up of biomass and renewable energy systems.
Despite such widespread use, according to The International Energy Agency, their latest report states that to reach carbon emissions targets set for 2050, no new gas boilers should be sold after 2025, which gives us just 4 years to come up with a viable, affordable alternative.
The Energy Saving Trust, states that emissions from domestic gas heating and hot water systems are responsible for about 77% of total household carbon emissions, so this is clearly an area where we’ll need to see big changes over the coming years if we want to meet carbon emissions goals, but are heat pumps the answer? Right now it seems like it could be too soon to tell, but we’ve answered some common questions about heat pumps below.
What is a heat pump?
A heat pump will generally look a bit like a large air conditioning unit, consisting of a condensing unit and pump, working a little bit like your fridge works, only in reverse.
A heat pump extracts warmth from either a ground source or from the air. It then concentrates that warmth and transfers it inside the home.
Where should a heat pump be installed?
Heat pumps are usually located outside and whilst the size of them can vary dramatically depending on the size of a property, they are generally quite large and bulky units.
The exact installation location will depend on the whether it’s an air source or ground source heat pump being installed. A ground source heat pump generally requiring a deep bore hole drilling in addition to the unit itself being installed.
How much do heat pumps cost?
There’s a lot of variation in the cost of heat pumps, with air source pumps generally costing less than ground source heat pumps. However, there are huge discrepancies in the figures being quoted.
Sources like The Guardian optimistically report that a heat pump will cost between £6,000 to £10,000. By comparison, consumer research group Which? States a heat pump can cost between £9,2000 to £19,000.
Even the most conservative heat pump estimate is more than double the cost of a typical gas boiler and it’s these very high costs that have lead critics to point out that heat pumps may not be a viable choice as they are not affordable for those on average incomes, let alone for lower income households, even when government grants are taken into consideration.
Do heat pumps require a hot water tank?
Heat pumps do in some ways feels like we’re taking a step backwards with a return for the need of a hot water tank. Combi boilers made bulky hot water tanks and the prospect of running out of hot water a thing of the past, but as the technology stands, heat pumps will need a hot water tank located inside a property in order to provide hot water on demand.
How reliable are heat pumps?
Heat pumps are claimed to be easier and cheaper to maintain than gas boilers. Consider too that the lifespan of a heat pump is said to be around 14-15 years according to Green Match which is only slightly longer than the average lifespan of a gas boiler.
How much do heat pumps cost to run?
Whilst the initial outlay of a heat pump is several times more than a traditional gas boiler, they are generally cheaper to run and maintain.
Heat pumps are anything between 300% and 600% more efficient than a gas boiler, which Renewable Energy Hub claims translates to a saving of about £500 a year.
Will heat pumps work in any home?
Whilst heat pumps are said to be suitable for most types of property, for a heat pump to work effectively a property needs to be sufficiently insulated.
This means for those living in very old properties and in homes with a low energy performance score, significant investment may be required to properly insulate the property before a heat pump can be installed, which of course means more additional costs to consider.
To find out more, take a look at the Which? Guide to heat pumps.
What are some of the benefits of heat pumps?
Of course heat pumps are being promoted as they produce far lower (but not zero) emissions compared to a traditional gas boiler. Not only is this better for our planet but it’s better for our pockets in the long run too.
Heat pumps are designed to keep properties at a steady temperature, so feeling a chill and then needing to ‘pop the heating on for a while’ will become a thing of the past as the system is designed to keep a home at a steady temperature and remain on all the time.
Take a look the Renewable Energy Hub for more pros and cons of heat pumps.
What are the alternatives to heat pumps?
Currently Biomass systems or solar based heating systems are the main lower-carbon alternatives. You’ll find more advice on renewable heat for your home at the Energy Saving Trust.
Clearly switching to a greener way of heating our homes is critical for the planet and something we need to do if we stand any hope of meeting carbon emissions targets, but whether heat pumps will provide the best and most viable way to do this is debatable. For now, it might be a good idea to wait and see how the technology evolves and whether the government looks to cap unit and installation prices and offer more grants and incentives to switch.
One thing is certain, with gas costs set to continue to rise, looking at downsizing your living space could become ever more appealing and for those who are moving and wanting to reduce the carbon footprint of their move, be sure to check out our tips on how to move in a more sustainable way.