Are heat pumps the way forward for the mass market?
With a noticeable increase in marketing for air and ground source heat pumps from several energy providers in the UK, it is worth discussing whether this could be the right solution to make your home more energy efficient and reduce your impact on the environment. However, first it is worth explaining how this system works before discussing the benefits and points to consider.
Air vs. Ground source heat pumps
Both types of heat pump extract heat from the surrounding environment and deliver this heat into the home. Ground source heat pumps use a loop of pipes, filled with fluid and anti-freeze, under the ground to extract heat from the ground. Whilst the temperature above ground may be below zero, the temperature under the surface is relatively constant throughout the year and as a result, can keep a consistent temperature in your home. If space is limited, a borehole can be drilled to give the maximum surface area for the piping to extract heat from the ground.
Air source heat pumps extract heat from the air and can find heat from the air even when it is minus 15 degrees outside! They work a bit like a fridge, but in reverse. Heat from the air is absorbed at low temperature into a fluid. This fluid then passes through a compressor where its temperature is increased and transfers its higher temperature heat to the heating and hot water circuits of the house.
Heat pumps can keep your home at a constant temperature throughout the year, using a renewable and efficient energy source. You may need to keep radiators on for longer as heat pumps do not heat radiators to the high temperatures a gas boiler might, but because the temperature is constant you would keep your home at a comfortable temperature. You can find more out about at the link: heat pumps
The benefits of a heat pump
There are several benefits of moving to heat pumps:
- No need for fuel delivery e.g. coal, oil or a gas supply (if you are in the 13% off grid)
- There are government subsidies available under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)[RM1]
- A reduction in carbon emissions
- Radiators and hot water can be heated, the same as any other boiler
- Minimal maintenance required once installed.
- Lower fuel bills for many people, depending on the existing heating source and efficiency of insulation.
Things to consider
As with any heat source, there are things which must be considered before deciding if a heat pump is right for you:
- Heat pumps need a source of electricity, so you will still have an electricity bill (unless you have solar panels already installed)
- Ground source heat pumps will involve a lot of excavation in your garden to lay the piping initially, but once set up there is very little you need to do.
- Air source heat pumps work best in an open area where there is a good supply of air; even better in a sunny spot in the garden!
- What is the fuel and heating system being replaced? If you have an A-rated condensing boiler you will see minimal (if any) savings in your fuel bills. Heat pumps give the best savings when replacing old, inefficient boilers.
- Do you have enough space? Heat pumps will generally require more space than a modern combi boiler and may involve
- The cost of heat pumps can be high for the initial install. Ground source cost between £10000-£18000 and air source cost £6000-£8000. However, as mentioned previously, there are government subsidies available which need to be applied for separately.
Are heat pumps suitable for the mass market?
In summary, it all depends! Heat pumps are not suitable for small or modern buildings as you will not see the savings in fuel bills and the carbon impact would be minimal due to the electricity required to keep the pump working. Flats will not usually have the outside space for ground source and are unlikely to have enough air flow to make an air source pump effective. The same will be true of most terraced houses as there will be restrictions on space, however this would depend on the size and layout.
Houses, especially detached and semi-detached, will have the ground space to make a ground source much more viable and the surrounding volume of air for an air source pump to be effective. However, the impact would depend on the level of insulation and what fuel type is being replaced. For the best results, there should be a good level of insulation already installed and of course other energy and carbon reducing measures in place. A heat pump is an excellent investment to reduce bills and your carbon footprint, but only if you are already in the process of improving other aspects of the home. On its own, a heat pump is unlikely to make a huge difference to bills or carbon emissions in the average home. If coupled with solar panels and good quality insulation, heat pumps are an excellent addition to a home striving to be carbon neutral.