Unlocking energy efficiency: A guide to heat pumps.

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If you’ve heard that heat pumps are better for the planet but you’re wondering what on earth a heat pump actually is, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll break down everything you need to know about heat pumps and how they could save you money on your heating bills in the long run.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a device that extracts air from outside and uses it to heat your home and give you hot water. They use a small amount of electricity for this process, making it a highly efficient way to keep your home warm. In fact, a heat pump is typically 3 to 4 times more efficient than older heating systems.¹

Heat pumps are a great way of making your home more sustainable by reducing your heating costs and carbon footprint. There are different types of heat pumps, including air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. In this guide, we’ll focus on air source heat pumps.

How do heat pumps work?

Air source heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air and transferring it into your home. Even in cold weather as low as -25°C, the air contains heat energy that an air source heat pump can capture and use to warm your home and provide hot water.

Ground-source heat pumps work a little differently – they extract heat from the ground and use it to heat radiators, underfloor heating systems and hot water in your home.

Here’s how air source heat pumps can help save you energy:

Heat pumps are highly efficient. They often deliver three to four units of heat for every unit of electricity they consume. Compared to traditional gas or oil boilers, this means you could significantly reduce your energy consumption.

Heat pumps have smart controls. Many come with smart controls that allow you to optimise heating schedules and temperatures, maximising efficiency and minimising energy waste.

How much does a heat pump cost?

This depends on several factors, including the size of your property. However, for a three bedroom detached house, installation would typically cost between £3,000 - £10,000.²

There are government grants available that could help pay towards your new heat pump. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme could save you £7,500 off the cost of your new air source heat pump.³ It was announced as part of the £3.9 billion funding to help cut carbon emissions in the Heat and Buildings Strategy.

The more energy efficient your heating system is, the less energy you consume – which leads to greater long-term savings on your heating bills. Air source heat pumps are an efficient and environmentally-friendly investment that can help you save up to £260 a year compared to an average G-rated gas boiler.⁴

Heat pumps could also make your home more desirable to potential buyers who are interested in energy efficiency and sustainability, potentially increasing its resale value.

Do heat pumps work in cold weather?

Yes, heat pumps do work in weather as cold as -25°C, but there are some important factors to consider. While heat pumps can extract heat from the air even in cold temperatures, their efficiency generally decreases as the outside temperature drops. This means they might need to work harder and use more electricity to provide the same amount of heat as in milder weather.

There are newer heat pump models specifically designed for cold climates. These models typically have enhanced technology to improve their performance in low temperatures, but they might come with a higher price tag.

It’s also worth remembering that the better insulated your home is, the less heat it will lose, and the easier it will be for your heat pump to maintain a comfortable temperature even in cold weather. Before installing a heat pump, make sure your home is well-insulated and consider how you could make any improvements. There are a range of government grants and schemes that could help make your home more energy efficient, so that your heat pump works to its full potential.

Are heat pumps better than boilers?

Heat pumps could be the best choice for your home in different ways. Here are just a few:

Heat pumps can be safer. Heat pumps are actually much safer than systems based on combustion. They’re safe to operate and rely on electricity, so they don’t need to burn fuel to generate heat. That’s why they come with fewer safety concerns compared to the other systems.

Lower running costs. Heat pumps are much cheaper to run than systems based on combustion. The savings will depend on the fuel you currently use to heat your home and the efficiency rating of your boiler. The more energy efficient the systems are, the greater long-term savings on energy. Even though the upfront cost of heating pumps are higher, they’re an eco-friendly investment that can help you save money on your heating bills every year and reduce your carbon footprint.

Heat pumps reduce carbon emissions. Heat pumps convert energy to heat more efficiently than traditional boilers. You’d literally be reducing your carbon emissions without even thinking about it. 

Heat pump explainers: What a heat pump installation looks like.

Learn about how an air source heat pump works and how we would install a heat pump in your home. A heat pump is an energy-efficient solution that can provide heating and hot water for your home.

Do I need to change my radiators when installing a heat pump?

Whether or not you need to change your radiators when installing a heat pump depends on a few factors:

The size of your radiator: Heat pumps work at lower water temperatures than traditional boilers. Larger radiators are more suited for this lower temperature heat distribution as they have a larger surface area to spread heat around the room. If your current radiators are already on the larger side, you may be able to keep them.

Your desired room temperature: If you like your room temperature on the high side, you might need larger radiators to help achieve that with a heat pump. Heat pumps are most efficient at lower flow temperatures, but this can mean your rooms heat up more slowly and peak at a slightly lower temperature.

Your home’s insulation: If your house is well-insulated, then it needs less heat to stay at a comfortable temperature, meaning smaller radiators might be fine – even with a heat pump.

The heat pump type and model: Some heat pumps are built to reach higher flow temperatures, which means they can work better with standard-sized radiators.

If your radiators aren't suitable, you can look into upgrading your radiators or explore newer heat pump models that work at higher flow temperatures. Make sure to check with a qualified heating engineer who can review your situation and help you take the right next steps. 

We’re a Which? Trusted Trader, and the UK's first air source heat pump installer. We cover the installation of the renewable energy products we install in your home through the Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HIES).

Do heat pumps work with underfloor heating?

If you’re planning on upgrading to underfloor heating, we’ve got good news – this heating system pairs excellently with an air source heat pump. Underfloor heating spreads the warmth more evenly around a room compared to radiators. As the heat is spread out over a larger area, underfloor heating works best at a lower water temperature – just like an air source heat pump. This means that heat pumps and underfloor heating complement each other, leading to higher efficiency and lower running costs.

What are the disadvantages of a heat pump system?

While heat pumps give you many benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of when deciding whether to get one.

The initial cost of buying and installing a heat pump can be higher than traditional heating systems like gas boilers. However, they help you save money on your heating bills in the long run.

As heat pumps generally work at lower temperatures than traditional systems, they can take longer to heat your home, especially in very cold weather. If you like a very high room temperature, you might need to consider extra ways to heat your house.

Like an air conditioner, air source heat pumps have an outdoor unit that can make some noise. While newer models can be quieter, it's something to consider if you’re concerned about noise. Some people also don’t like the look of the outdoor unit. While you can conceal it, you might want to consider where the unit will go and how it will look before buying one for your home.

You should also remember that heat pumps work most efficiently in well-insulated homes. That means that if your home is older and poorly insulated, you might not save as much money on your energy bills compared to a more efficient traditional heating system.

Weigh up these disadvantages against the potential benefits of a heat pump – such as lower carbon emissions and long-term energy savings – to decide if it's the right choice for you.

Are heat pumps worth it?

Heat pumps could be suitable for different types of homes. However, it will depend on things like your home’s insulation, as well as your available space and budget. The savings you could make on your energy bills in the long-term mean it could be worth the investment.

You can check if an air source heat pump is suitable for your home using the government website. If your heat pump is properly installed and maintained, it can provide reliable, efficient heating and hot water for many years into the future.

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¹Based on a Daikin heat pump installed by E.ON.

²Example price is based on a typical 3 bed detached house and fitting a 7kw Daikin Altherma 3 system with 7 pack radiator upgrade. This price includes VAT, and based on the Boiler Upgrade Scheme £7,500 grant being taken off the full price. Prices will vary by property and a survey is required to provide a tailored quote.



Published 27/05/2024