When you consider the many ways you can heat your home, there’s a good chance you immediately think of boilers, space heaters, or even fireplaces. Meanwhile, another potentially eco-friendly method to warm your property that you may have initially overlooked is a heat pump.
These systems have been growing in popularity in recent years, with the International Energy Agency reporting that heat pump sales increased by more than 13% globally in 2021, taking the total number of units in operation to around 190 million worldwide.
However, even though they are typically thought to be more energy-efficient than other sources, heat pumps still come with some considerable downsides to note before you have one installed.
So, continue reading to find out exactly how heat pumps work, and some important considerations to help you decide whether to install one in your home.
Heat pumps warm your home using heat that’s already present in the atmosphere
Rather than heating your house internally like a conventional boiler system, a heat pump draws warmth from the atmosphere and transfers it into your home. Usually, heat naturally moves from colder environments into warmer ones, and vice versa.
The heat pump essentially uses this fact to operate on a refrigeration cycle – gas passes through it and is compressed, which increases its temperature.
Then, the compressed gas passes to a heat exchanger, transferring warmth into your home’s central heating system. There are also other types of system, such as air-to-air and exhaust heat pumps, which transfer the warmth directly into your property.
Following this, the gas passes back through the system and expands, cooling it down slightly, allowing more heat to be reabsorbed into the cycle.
It’s worth noting that, while a heat pump uses electricity to compress the gas, the amount of heat transferred into your home is greater than the supply of electricity needed.
There are two distinct types of heat pumps:
Air-source heat pump, the pump gathers heat from air blown over a heat exchanger using fans.
Ground-source heat pump, these absorb heat from water circulating in underground pipes which is then sent to a heat exchanger inside the house.
Generally, ground-source heat pumps tend to be more expensive than their air-source counterparts, though they’re generally considered more energy-efficient.
Heat pumps are more environmentally friendly than conventional boilers
Perhaps one of the more significant benefits of heat pumps is that they have a lower environmental impact than traditional gas boilers.
As mentioned, the only input heat pumps need is electricity. While electricity production isn’t always emission-free, Sky News states that 40% of the UK’s energy was generated by renewable sources in 2022.
With the climate crisis still ongoing, it’s essential that new and environmentally friendly heat sources are promoted, as warming properties has a considerable impact on the environment. BBC News reports that 14% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions are a result of heating homes.
Also, the International Energy Agency states that current heat pump models are three to five times more energy-efficient than traditional gas boilers. This, paired with their low environmental impact, could make them a fantastic alternative to standard boilers.
Only having one input also means that heat pumps are typically much safer than conventional boilers since they don’t burn fuel to operate, meaning there’s less chance of a dangerous gas leak.
A well-installed heat pump could last around 20 years, while conventional boilers last between 10 and 15 years. It’s worth noting you usually will need to have a service check conducted annually.
If you like the sound of heat pumps and wish to have one installed, you may even be able to benefit from government grants. In England and Wales, eligible homeowners can receive £5,000 for air-source heat pumps, or £6,000 for the ground-source variety.
This scheme is running from April 2022 through to April 2025. To be eligible, you must be the property owner and have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of A to E with no outstanding recommendations for insulation fittings in your loft or walls.
There are some key considerations to keep in mind
Despite the potential benefits of heat pumps, there are some important drawbacks to consider before you think about having one installed.
Just because heat pumps are energy-efficient, doesn’t mean they’re entirely environmentally friendly. In fact, there have been debates as to the sustainability of heat pumps, especially those that use chemical refrigerants.
Some pumps use carbon dioxide, while others may use synthetic refrigerants called “HFCs”. If these HFCs leak, they could harm the environment. According to Aura Heating, HFCs’ impact on the environment can be 3,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
Additionally, even though you may end up saving money in the long run by using a heat pump thanks to its energy efficiency, it’s worth noting the high upfront costs involved with installing one.
Depending on the model and type of pump, you could end up paying somewhere between £12,000 and £15,000. Conversely, Uswitch states that the average standalone boiler would cost anywhere from £600 to £2,500.
On the topic of installation, you may find that it takes more time and effort to have a heat pump fitted in your house, too.
While an air-source system could be fitted in a matter of days and doesn’t require planning permission, ground-source heat pumps need to be laid in the ground, and you may even need to have your home surveyed beforehand.
You may also find it tricky to have a heat pump installed in a listed building, as you need consent from the council.
Interestingly, the Telegraph reports that the Crown Estate pushed for new regulations last year to make it easier to make green home upgrades to historic buildings, which shows just how complicated it could get to have a heat pump installed in a listed building.
Weighing up the pros and cons of heat pumps
Thanks to their energy efficiency, heat pumps could offer an eco-friendly alternative to conventional boilers. Also, there are currently government grants available to help you deal with the installation costs.
Though, you may find it difficult to have a heat pump installed, especially if you live in a listed building, and the initial costs do tend to be high.
Ultimately, it may be wise to closely review your current financial situation to decide whether a heat pump is right for you. If you’re due a boiler replacement in the near future, it may be worth considering an environmentally friendly alternative.