Are heat pumps really worth it in the UK? If you’re contemplating the idea of installing a heat pump in your home, you may be wondering whether it’s a worthwhile investment. Heat pumps have been gaining traction as an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly heating solution, but how do they stack up compared to other forms of heating in the UK?
In this blog, we’ll explore the basics, including their types and how they work. We’ll then dive into the advantages and disadvantages, helping you weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks.
We’ll also take a peek into the future of heat pumps, examining the advancements and innovations that lie ahead as the technology evolves.
To provide a clear comparison, we’ll also consider the differences between heat pumps and traditional gas boilers.
By the end, you’ll have the insights you need to decide if a heat pump is truly worth the investment for your home. So, let’s delve into the world of heat pumps and discover whether they’re the right choice to keep you warm and cosy while being environmentally conscious.
What are heat pumps?
Heat pumps have gained significant popularity in Scandinavia and various parts of Europe, driven by the growing demand for renewable electricity. This technology is making its way to the UK, playing a vital role in the government’s ambitious goal of achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.
Although the concept has been around for quite some time, they are not a new invention. In fact, the initial design of a heat pump system dates back to 1855, and the first ground source heat pump emerged in the late 1940s. But the question remains: How exactly do they work?
How do heat pumps work?
Heat pumps work by utilising the principles of thermodynamics to transfer energy from one form to another. They extract heat from the air or ground before transferring it into your home to provide you with heating and hot water.
A heat pump captures this energy and channels it into a fluid, which is then compressed to raise its temperature. The resulting warmth is then transferred from the compressed fluid to your central heating system, providing you with the desired heating.
It functions like a reverse aircon, taking heat from the outside and delivering it indoors.
What types of heat pumps are available in the UK?
In the UK, there are mainly two types available: air source heat pumps (ASHPs) and ground source heat pumps (GSHPs). What’s the difference, you may ask?
Air source heat pumps extract heat from the outdoor air and transfer it into your home. They are the most commonly used type in the UK due to their ease of installation and relatively lower upfront costs (they cost between to buy and install).
Air source can extract heat even in cold weather conditions, providing efficient heating and hot water throughout the year.
Ground source heat pumps extract heat from the ground through a network of buried pipes, known as ground loops, filled with a heat-transfer fluid. The ground temperature remains relatively stable throughout the year, allowing GSHPs to provide consistent heating and cooling. While Ground Source Heat Pumps typically have higher installation costs compared to Air source, they are often more energy-efficient and can offer long-term savings (if you’re willing to invest between up front.)
In this blog we’ll discuss air source heat pumps in more depth, so let’s dig deeper!
The cost of getting air source heat pumps (including installing, running, servicing costs)
Installation cost – According to the Energy Saving Trust, The price of an air source heat pump can vary based on factors such as the heat pump’s size, the property’s size, whether it is a new build or an existing property, and any necessary changes to the heat distribution system – which can inflate the cost of getting a pump installed. On average, you can expect costs ranging from £7,000 to £13,000 (including unit and installation).
Running cost – According to the Energy Saving Trust, it’s currently expected that operating a heat pump will incur higher costs compared to using a gas boiler. However, they also emphasise that this situation is likely to change in the future.
Considering the significant price difference between electricity and gas, with electricity being three times more expensive, the cost-effectiveness of heat pumps relies on the electricity cost being less than 3.2 times the cost of gas.
Servicing cost – The cost of servicing a heat pump can vary depending on several factors, including the type and model, location, and service provider. On average, you can expect to pay around £150 to £300 for a routine maintenance check.
It’s important to note that this is just an estimated range, and the actual cost may differ. Some service providers may offer fixed-price service packages or maintenance contracts that cover multiple visits and additional services. These packages can provide more comprehensive maintenance but may come at a higher cost.
Grant & fundings available to help with the cost of installation
There are several grants and financial incentives to help with the cost of installing an installation. These grants aim to encourage the adoption of renewable heating technologies and support the country’s transition to a low-carbon future. Here are some of the grants available:
- The Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) – The UK Government is offering grants of £5,000 off the cost of a heat pump to properties across England and Wales through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. Check if you’re eligible for a heat pump grant on GOV.UK.
- Local Authority Grants – Some local authorities offer their own grants or funding schemes to promote renewable energy adoption. These grants may vary depending on the region and local priorities. Visit your local council website to explore any available grants or funding options.
- Energy Company Obligation (ECO4) – ECO4 is an obligation placed on larger energy suppliers to fund energy-saving improvements in eligible households. Under the ECO4 scheme, certain homeowners and tenants on low incomes or in vulnerable situations may qualify for grants to install energy-efficient heating systems, including heat pumps.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Energy Efficiency: Highly energy-efficient. They need much less electricity to work, as opposed to electric boilers, and can often achieve a 300-400% efficiency rate, as the amount of heat energy produced is markedly higher than the energy consumed.
- Versatility: Can both heat and cool spaces, providing year-round comfort. They can reverse their operation, effectively acting as an aircon during hot weather by extracting heat from indoors and releasing it outside – which means that you can finally enjoy the summer!
- Renewable (Clean) Energy Source: Utilises renewable energy sources, such as the heat from the air, ground, or water, making them environmentally friendly and ideal for reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
- Safety: They do not involve combustion, eliminating the risks associated with gas leaks, carbon monoxide poisoning, or fire hazards that may occur with other heating systems, i.e. gas boilers.
- Long Lifespan: When properly maintained, they can have a longer lifespan than traditional heating systems, typically lasting 15-20 years or more. This is unlike gas boilers which can last between 10-15 years if well maintained and serviced.
- Upfront Cost: This is the main downside of having a heat pump installed. The initial installation cost is much higher than the conventional heating systems most of us are used to. Air source heat pumps can cost you up to £13k, while ground source heat pumps can set you back by £18k. Although there are Government schemes and incentives to support the installation, they may not cover the full amount.
- Planning Permission: If you live in Wales or Northern Ireland, you must apply for planning permission to have one installed. But if you live in England and Scotland, the need for planning permission will depend on your location and the size of your home.
- Need for Space: Some types, such as ground source, need sufficient outdoor space for installation, including the placement of ground loops. This may be a limiting factor for properties with limited outdoor areas.
- Temperature Fluctuations: In colder climates, air source may experience reduced efficiency as the outdoor temperature drops. Additional heating sources or supplementary heating may be required during extreme cold spells. As the temperature approaches zero degrees outside, air source may need to initiate defrost cycles more frequently, which can slightly reduce their efficiency. However, it is important to note that air source are still effective in cold weather. They have the capability to extract heat from the air even in extremely low temperatures, reaching as low as -20°C.
- Not for everyone: May not be suitable for every home, as their viability depends on the specific construction and design of the building. Certain properties are more compatible with heat pump installations, with new build properties typically being constructed in a way that allows for easier integration of a system. In addition, you may need to get new larger radiators to be compatible with the heat pumps.
- Noise: Can generate some noise during operation, particularly air source heat pumps located outside. However, advancements in technology have led to quieter models being available in the market.
Heat pumps vs gas boilers
Although heat pumps can be a green alternative to home heating, there are still several obstacles to overcome before the general public is able to embrace them. The biggest barrier is their huge upfront cost which on its own is enough to put people off in the midst of a cost of living crisis. In addition, their energy efficiency in the colder months and huge running costs are other downsides that should be addressed.
So, are they really worth the investment?
As of now, heat pumps are a green alternative to the traditional gas boiler but not necessarily the best alternative.
Although there are many advantages to installing a heat pump, the biggest setback is their huge upfront cost – let’s face it, no one wants to spend tens of thousands on a heat pump when they can simply get the same level of warmth from their traditional heating system for a quarter of the price.
Government schemes and grants, such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, can help you slash the bill for an installation by almost half, but even if you’re accepted, you’d still end up paying the difference. That sum could come to over £6k, – enough to cover the cost of three combi boiler installations!
We anticipate that as heat pumps gain more popularity here in the UK, they will come down in price, which hopefully will help make them affordable to the wider public.
In addition, manufacturers are constantly investing in increasing their efficiency all year round (including the colder months).
Overall, heat pumps are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, so we’re hoping that their cost and efficiency improve so we can see them dominate the UK market in the future.
Do heat pumps work in the UK winter?
In colder climates, air source may experience reduced efficiency as the outdoor temperature drops. Additional heating sources or supplementary heating may be required during extreme cold spells.
Why are heat pumps not popular in the UK?
Heat pumps have not been as popular in the UK for a few reasons. Firstly, homeowners still have limited awareness and understanding regarding the benefits of having one. The higher upfront installation costs than traditional heating systems, such as gas boilers, can deter some homeowners. Additionally, retrofitting older properties with heat pumps can present challenges, including the need for infrastructure upgrades and insulation improvements.
The widespread availability and familiarity of the gas grid in the UK have made gas boilers a more common choice. Furthermore, the limited availability of qualified installers for heat pumps can create barriers to adoption – it can be something of a postcode lottery. However, with increasing government initiatives, rising energy costs, and growing emphasis on sustainable heating solutions, the popularity of heat pumps is expected to rise in the future.
Do heat pumps use a lot of electricity to run?
Heat pumps are very energy efficient. In fact, they can often achieve a 300-400% efficiency rate, as the amount of heat energy produced is markedly higher than the energy consumed.
However, to be truly cost-effective, the cost of electricity needs to be lower than the current 3.2x the cost of gas. At this level, it means the technology isn’t nearly as cost-effective as it should be, so we’d hope this price gap would at least narrow over time.