Heat pumps are a significant component in our battle to lower our carbon footprint and reduce other harmful emissions from our homes.
A good quality heat pump, specified, designed and installed properly is suitable for the whole range of properties heating and hot water needs.
The government is putting legislation in place to move away from oil and gas boilers, including an effective ban on gas and oil boilers in new builds in 2025. For those properties not on the gas grid, the current proposal is to stop the deployment of new and replacement fossil fuel boilers (oil & LPG), including in existing dwellings, from 2026.
There are incentives available to install heat pumps as part of a £450m government Boiler Upgrade Scheme. This is part of a wider £3.9bn spending commitment to reduce carbon emissions from buildings.
A heat pump works a bit like a fridge, but in reverse. Extracting heat energy from the outside air, ground or water, elevating the temperature and “pumping” it into your home, providing both heat and hot water.
Compared to combustion systems they are safer and more energy efficient to run and don’t require the burning of fossil fuels to work. They can be a key component in a healthy comfortable home, providing heating in the winter and, potentially (subject to design and specification), cooling in the summer. The economics of operating a heat pump system will vary depending upon both government fuel taxation policy and geopolitical influences, but the medium to long term trend is for electricity to become cheaper and for fossil fuels to become increasingly more expensive.
Generally Heat Pump systems are more energy efficient and produce much less CO2 than conventional fossil fuel equivalent systems. They require electricity to run, so depending on how or where that electricity is generated, they may not be completely free from carbon emissions. However, heat pumps generate zero CO2, NOx, SOx and particulates at the point of use. Whilst CO2 is bad for the climate, it is the NOx, SOx and particulates that are so damaging to health and that are major contributors to poor air quality, especially in urban environments.
It envisaged that the process of turning our homes and cars to run on electricity will take time and allow a gradual transition to increased electricity generation through more renewable means such as solar, wind and hydro. The UK’s six Distribution Network Operators (SSEN, etc.) are proposing to invest £28Bn in the period 2023-28 in order to boost the electricity grid’s ability to service the transition.
All properties are different but a high quality Heat Pumps system, that is well designed, and installed correctly, can provide solutions for a whole range of different property types, sizes and locations, including period and Listed buildings. It is essential that the installers are trained, competent and working under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) Standard.
Although there is the perception that there is the need for lots of disruptive work this is often not the case. Each home has different characteristics and needs, which is why the design of the system is so important. A good installation will limit any disruption as much as possible. Radiators that are correctly sized to work well with a condensing boiler may already be appropriately sized to accommodate a heat pump.
A well designed and properly installed Heat Pump should work in a range of temperatures including low temperature settings. In fact, Heat Pumps are proving very popular in colder parts of the UK and abroad where they are likely to gain the most from using a Heat Pump to heat their homes. Heat pumps are the dominant heating technology in many Scandinavian countries, for example, where air-temperatures are significantly lower than in the UK.
Good quality air-source heat pumps should last at least 15 years; ground- and water-source, at least 20 years (because all the active hardware is internal). Future replacement costs of end-of-life units will be significantly less than the cost of the initial installation and set up of a whole system; in the same way that replacing a boiler is less than the cost of deploying a full fossil fuel boiler system and cylinders, etc. is today.
Other than keeping the system clean, owners are advised to have a regular annual check by a technician as you would a gas boiler. Many installers will offer a maintenance contract. Most heat pumps are now Internet enabled, so front line maintenance and trouble-shooting can be remote, saving the cost of an engineer’s visit. Many manufacturers offer extended warranties, some out to seven years for both parts and labour.
The price of installing an air source heat pump is typically between £6,000 and £8,000, according to the Energy Saving Trust. But the price will vary significantly depending on each property and local conditions.
The Boiler Upgrade Scheme gives an incentive to those who are replacing a fossil fuel boiler with a low-carbon heat source, and who have a valid EPC with no recommendations for loft or cavity wall insulation.
This scheme will offer a one-off capital grant of £5,000 for air source heat pumps (ASHP) or £6,000 for a ground source heat pump (GSHP).
Application for this funding is via the heat pump installer.
Details of the scheme and how to apply are on the gov.uk website.