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Heat Pump vs Boiler Comparison Guide (2022)

Luis Antonio Gómez Pérez
By: Luis Antonio Gómez Pérez
Updated: 14th July 2022

Heat Pump vs Boiler

The future of domestic heating points towards low-carbon heating systems. This is particularly relevant and game-changing for the UK, where the majority of households rely on fossil fuel-burning appliances to heat their homes.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), a public body that advises the government, around 23 million out of 27 million homes in England, Scotland, and Wales "are currently connected to the gas network, using a boiler". Most homes disconnected from the grid also use fossil fuels such as oil or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as their primary heating fuel.

However, low-carbon heating alternatives are on the rise, with heat pumps among them. Heat pumps take heat from the air outside or underground and use it to warm up your home. Unlike gas, LPG, and oil boilers, they don't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every time you heat your home.

The current push for heat pumps across the UK shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the government plans to deliver its emissions targets of the Net Zero Strategy in 2050. Nevertheless, all the benefits heat pumps have as renewable heating systems may come, literally, at a very high price. They’re not always the most practical solution for all houses either.

This is why, in this article, we compare boilers -the most common heating option in the UK- and heat pumps -the heating systems' rising star- in a few essential areas:

  • Efficiency
  • Insulation needed
  • Costs to buy and install
  • Running Costs
  • Space needed
  • Ease of use
  • When they need replacing
  • How much looking after they need
  • Environmental impact

After going through our review, you will be in a better position to make the right choice for your home based on your own preferences, property characteristics, and budget allowance.

Heat pump vs gas boiler

As aforementioned, gas boilers are the most popular choice among UK homeowners. For instance, approximately 85% of homes in  England, Scotland, and Wales use a gas boiler. One of the main reasons is that, at the moment, gas is cheaper than electricity across the country.

On the other hand, heat pumps' installation rate in the UK is still low despite the government push and campaigns favouring green policies. According to the latest market data available from the European Heat Pump Association, 32,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK in 2020. This is certainly far lower than the average 1.55 million gas boiler units sold the same year.

Most likely, the enormous difference between heat pump vs boiler costs to buy and install is the main reason behind their respective sales figures.

Below you will find more detailed information comparing gas boilers -the main home heating technology used in the UK- against the most popular types of heat pumps: air source and ground source.

Air source heat pump vs gas boiler

Air source heat pumps take heat from the air and use it to warm up your home. Believe it or not, many of them are designed to work in sub-zero temperatures. We have also compiled a list of the best air source heat pumps in case you are looking for one of these for your home.

Efficiency: Air source heat pumps beat gas boilers when it comes to efficiency. In recent years, gas boilers' efficiency has improved thanks to condensing boiler technology. Even so, their efficiency seldom goes above 94%. Most top gas boilers are usually 90-94% efficient, which means that some heat will always be lost and emitted from their flue pipes.

On the other hand, heat pumps are around 300-400% efficient. Thus, you will get 3 to 4 times more heat for every kilowatt (kW) of electricity the heat pump uses.

Insulation needed: To get the most out of either a heat pump or any type of boiler -and also maximise your savings on energy bills- your house needs to be well insulated. Nevertheless, how well insulated a home is will have a greater impact on a heat pump's performance, as it heats water to a lower temperature than boilers.

So, if you are thinking about an air source heat pump, ensure your home is well insulated before going any further.

Costs to buy and install: Heat pumps are much more expensive to buy and install than gas boilers. All-inclusive, a gas boiler can cost from £1,000 to £4,000. The actual price is subject to factors such as the boiler type, model, boiler size (output rating), the installer's rates, location in the UK, etc.

In any case, gas boilers' prices are dwarfed by heat pump costs. A new air source heat pump will likely cost between £7,000 and £13,000. Nevertheless, many government green energy grants support the cost of switching to a heat pump.

Regardless of whether you’re considering a new boiler or heat pump, it is not going to be cheap. That’s why we recommend getting multiple quotes from local heating engineers to ensure you don’t pay too much. You can get free comparison quotes from up to 3 heating engineers near you by clicking the links below.


Get FREE Quotes for Highly-Efficient Heat Pumps and Boilers

Running Costs: Until very recently, gas boilers were generally considered more affordable to run than electricity-fuelled heating appliances due to the high cost of electricity. 

However, recent research by the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) -an independent, global NGO advancing policy innovation within the energy community- has shown that "heat pumps can be cheaper than gas boilers" if they "are designed and installed well".

The RAP analysis shows that heating with an average gas boiler will cost typical households £984 per year. In contrast, heating with a very efficient heat pump will cost £723 per year. This is a saving of £261 per year for an average household. Researchers considered that both household gas and electricity prices have risen, but the latter in a lower proportion.

In other words, while air source heat pumps running costs would normally be considered higher, their increased 300%-400% efficiency can make a difference in their favour. It is also helpful to note that if you can power your heat pump with, for instance, solar-panel-generated electricity, then its running cost would be almost zero.

Ease of use: Most of us are used to boilers. So the idea of a different type of heating system can throw us off a bit. A new boiler doesn’t take much getting used to but getting a heat pump will mean learning all about how it works. On top of that, you would need to be sure if your home is suitable for a heat pump.

Annual boiler service

When they need replacing: The average lifespan of a boiler is 10 to 15 years. You can lengthen a boiler’s life by getting it professionally serviced every year. Similarly, heat pumps can go on heating a home for over 20 years, possibly even 30 if it’s been well looked after.

How much looking after they need: Boilers and heat pumps should both be serviced once a year by a professional. This helps to keep them running safely, reliably and efficiently. In most cases, servicing your boiler or heat pump is a requirement to keep the warranty valid.

Environmental impact: As a low-carbon heating system, air source heat pumps do not release CO2 into the atmosphere as gas boilers do every time they fire up. 

Heat pumps' 300-400% efficiency makes them perform with a very low emissions intensity. To put it in perspective, 85% efficient gas boilers have an emissions intensity of 0.215 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per kWh (kgCO2e/kWh), more than 5 times that of heat pumps.

Furthermore, heat pumps can achieve an almost zero-emissions performance if the electricity powering them comes from green electricity generation systems such as solar panels. In other circumstances, they still (indirectly) cause some CO2 emissions because most electricity generation in the UK is currently fossil fuel-based.

Ground source heat pump vs gas boiler

While air source heat pumps take heat from the air, ground source heat pumps absorb underground heat to warm up your home. Comparing ground source heat pumps vs gas boilers leads to similar results to that of air source heat pumps vs gas boilers, except for a few details. We will address them below.

The main difference with the above comparison is in buying and installing costs. Ground source heat pumps are also more expensive than gas boilers, but with costs reaching £24,000 to £49,000, the price gap is much more significant. They are that costly because they require holes drilled or excavations in large land areas to install the underground elements. 

Nevertheless, if you get one of these heating systems, you could be proud of having one of the most environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels for domestic heating. According to the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, their emissions intensity is barely 0.033 – 0.042 kgCO2e/kWh, assuming the electricity powering them comes from the national grid.

Air Source & Ground Source Heat Pumps vs Gas Boilers
Comparison areas AS Heat Pumps GS Heat Pumps Gas Boiler
Efficiency 300-400% 85-94%
Insulation needed Insulation level has a greater impact on their performance Insulation level impacts their performance
Costs to buy and install £7,000 to £13,000 £24,000 to £49,000 £1,000 to £4,000.
Yearly Running Costs £723 £984
Space needed Need outdoor space Need outdoor space + underground pipes Depends on the type of boiler (combi, system, or regular)
Ease of use Getting used to a new technology may take some time We are already used to boilers
When they need replacing 20+ years 10 to 15 years
How much looking after they need Should be serviced once a year by a professional Yearly professional service is highly recommended
Environmental impact Low-carbon heating system. Can achieve a zero-emissions performance Burn fossil fuels. Release CO2 into the atmosphere

Heat pump vs oil boiler

Oil and gas boilers have many characteristics in common. This is why comparing a heat pump vs an oil boiler will tell nothing new but a few differences and nuances. We will focus then on what's (a bit) different.

First, let's talk about the running costs. As oil is more expensive than gas (in England, Scotland and Wales) or as expensive (in Northern Ireland), oil boilers running costs are likely to be higher too. This means that the difference compared to heat pumps is also higher.

Oil boilers yearly running costs would be approximately £1,250 for a typical household, £500+ more than a heat pump running costs. For this calculation, we used the same formula used in the above-referred research conducted by the Regulatory Assistance Project. The formula, which accounts for the heating system's efficiency, is as follows.

Heating Costs = Heat Demand x 1/Heating System's Efficiency x Fuel Price + Standing Charge (if applicable)

We assumed heat demand for a typical household to be around 10,204 kWh per year. Similarly, we considered oil boilers' efficiency to be approximately 90%. 

The second main difference concerns oil boilers' environmental impact. With oil boilers' emissions intensity peaking at 0,32 kgCO2e/kWh, the heat pump vs oil boiler comparison has an even more obvious winner in terms of which is more environment-friendly.

Heat Pumps vs Oil Boilers
Comparison areas Heat Pumps Oil Boilers
Efficiency 300-400% 85-94%
Insulation needed Insulation level has a greater impact on their performance Insulation level impacts their performance
Costs to buy and install £7,000 to £49,000 £1,000 to £4,000.
Yearly Running Costs £723 £1,250
Space needed Need outdoor space Depends on the type of boiler (combi, system, or regular)
Ease of use Getting used to a new technology may take some time We are already used to boilers
When they need replacing 20+ years 10 to 15 years
How much looking after they need Should be serviced once a year by a professional Yearly professional service is highly recommended
Environmental impact Low-carbon heating system. Can achieve a zero-emissions performance Burn fossil fuels. Release CO2 into the atmosphere

Heat pump vs electric boiler

Electric boilers perform differently from their fossil-fuel-burning cousins in some of our comparison criteria, especially regarding efficiency, installation costs, running costs, maintenance, and environmental impact. These differences also reflect in the heat pump vs electric head-to-head, so we'll address them below.

Efficiency-wise, even if electric boilers boast an awesome 99-100% efficiency rate, it is no match for heat pumps' 300-400%. You definitely won't waste energy using an electric boiler, but you will get 3 to 4 times more heat for every kW with a heat pump.

Electric boilers' price is similar to that of gas boilers. However, as electric boilers don't need a flue pipe to operate and can be installed almost anywhere, their installation costs are likely lower. Thus, they also beat heat pumps in this area but with a greater lead.

However, what you could save on an electric boiler installation, you would probably end up giving it out on running costs. As electric boilers work on electricity, your energy bills are likely to go up because of the high electricity prices across the UK. 

Heat pumps work on electricity too, but as they are 3 to 4 times more efficient, they can achieve similar heating results with just one-third to one-fourth of the energy an electric boiler consumes. Though, if you are able to power them through a solar panel system, both their running costs would be almost zero.

As we mentioned before, heat pumps should be serviced at least once every 12 months to keep them running as efficiently as possible and extend the warranty's validity. Electric boilers, on the other hand, usually don't require an annual service. They also have fewer mechanisms and moving parts, making them easier to maintain.

Lastly, heat pumps and solar panels do not release CO2 into the atmosphere when heating your house. Still, they can be associated with negative environmental impacts and carbon emissions caused during electricity generation for the grid.

In this regard, heat pumps' higher efficiency makes them perform with lower emissions intensity than electric boilers. If they work on electricity generated using renewable energy sources, their CO2 emissions would be null.

Heat Pumps vs Electric Boilers
Comparison areas Heat Pumps Electric Boilers
Efficiency 300-400% 99-100%
Insulation needed Insulation level has a greater impact on their performance Insulation level impacts their performance
Costs to buy and install £7,000 to £49,000 £1,000 to £4,000 (installation costs may be cheaper than other boilers)
Yearly Running Costs £723 £3,022
Space needed Need outdoor space Depends on the type of boiler (combi or system)
Ease of use Getting used to a new technology may take some time We are already used to boilers
When they need replacing 20+ years 10 to 15 years
How much looking after they need Should be serviced once a year by a professional Don't require an annual service / easier to maintain
Environmental impact Low-carbon heating system. Can achieve a zero-emissions performance Don't release CO2 and can achieve a zero-emissions performance. Its environmental impact depends on the energy source

Heat pump vs biomass boiler

Biomass boilers are similarly efficient to gas and oil boilers; thus, heat pumps also beat them in terms of efficiency. Nevertheless, most remaining areas in this heat pump vs boiler comparison are worth mentioning.

Let's start briefly with the costs to buy and install. We can consider this specific contest as a 'technical draw'. Biomass boiler costs can range from £4,000 to £10,000 for a manually-fed unit, while an automatically-fed boiler will cost between £9,000 and £21,000. 

Of course, a biomass boiler’s actual cost will depend on the type, size, and installation complexity. Nevertheless, their typical price range is closer to heat pumps. Additionally, if you decide to replace a gas boiler with either a heat pump or a biomass boiler, you can benefit from grant schemes such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

Using the same typical household's heat demand and the formula we have used throughout this article, we arrived at an estimated yearly running costs for biomass boilers of £1,122 (90% efficient boiler) to £1,184 (85% efficient boiler). This is around £400-£465 more expensive than running a very efficient heat pump. 

It is worth specifying that we considered just wood pellets cost per kWh (£0.099), as this is the most common biomass boiler fuel in the UK. If you use wood chips or wood logs instead, the cost of running a biomass boiler might be lower than that of a heat pump.

Additionally, you could run a heat pump or a biomass boiler for free. For instance, you can power a heat pump with self-generated electricity (e.g. using solar panels) or gather logs from a nearby wooded area (if any) to manually feed them into the boiler.

Monobloc or split air source heat pump

Concerning the space needed, air source heat pumps need some outdoor space regardless of their type: split and monobloc. Ground source ones need even more outdoor space for the underground pipes. Heat pumps also require hot water cylinders to heat your water.

Biomass boilers also need plenty of space, but mostly for storing fuel. In addition to the boiler itself, a biomass boiler must also include:

  • a buffer or accumulation tank (performs as a ‘heat storage battery’),
  • a flue pipe, 
  • an expansion vessel, and 
  • a hot water cylinder.

Furthermore, they may need weekly cleaning and discharge of the ash bin in the case they are not fitted with automatic flue cleaning. Thus, looking after a biomass boiler could be a little more time-consuming.

Lastly, on environmental impact, while they are low-carbon heating options, trees must be cut down to produce biomass boilers' fuel (wood chips, pellets or logs). So, for biomass boilers to be carbon neutral, trees will need to be planted to replace those cut-down. The only issue is that trees take many years to grow.

In any case, heat pumps and biomass boilers are options worth considering to reduce emissions. If you are one of the British homeowners considering taking the first step towards green energy sources, we can help you find the best deals for renewable heating systems and save you the time and effort of having to research local heating engineers yourself. 

Simply click the link below to get started.



Heat Pumps vs Biomass Boilers
Comparison areas Heat Pumps Biomass Boilers
Efficiency 300-400% 85-94%
Insulation needed Insulation level has a greater impact on their performance Insulation level impacts their performance
Costs to buy and install £7,000 to £49,000 £4,000 – £21,000
Yearly Running Costs £723 £1,122
Space needed Need outdoor space Need space for storing fuel + several components
Ease of use Getting used to a new technology may take some time We are already used to boilers 
When they need replacing 20+ years 10 to 15 years
How much looking after they need Should be serviced once a year by a professional May need weekly cleaning and discharge of the ash bin (if it is not an automatic biomass boiler)
Environmental impact Low-carbon heating system. Can achieve a zero-emissions performance Low-carbon heating system. Trees must be cut down to produce biomass boilers' fuel

Heat pump vs combi boiler

When it comes to comparing heat pumps vs different types of boilers (combi, system, and regular), the only criteria in our list that hasn't been covered yet is the space needed

In this regard, combi boilers have no contender. They are very compact and don’t need to be installed alongside a hot water storage cylinder, as system and regular boilers do. Additionally, regular boilers also need tanks in the loft, as they don't take water from the mains.

On the other hand, heat pumps require hot water cylinders as well as some outdoor space for installing all their components. Ground source heat pumps are the less space-saving heating systems, as they need underground pipes. The pipes must be buried in either a horizontal or vertical borehole, which may cause some disruption during the installation process.

Heat Pumps vs Combi, System & Regular Boilers
Comparison areas Heat Pumps Combi Boilers System Boilers Regular Boilers
Efficiency 300-400% 85-94%
Insulation needed Insulation level has a greater impact on their performance Insulation level impacts their performance
Costs to buy and install £7,000 to £49,000 £1,000 to £4,000
Yearly Running Costs £723 Depends on the fuel used (gas, oil, electricity, or biomass)
Space needed Need outdoor space Very compact. Don't need a water cylinder Need a water cylinder Need a water cylinder and a water tank in the loft
Ease of use Getting used to a new technology may take some time We are already used to boilers
When they need replacing 20+ years 10 to 15 years
How much looking after they need Should be serviced once a year by a professional Depends on the fuel (gas & oil, electricity, or biomass)
Environmental impact Low-carbon heating system. Can achieve a zero-emissions performance Depends on the fuel (gas & oil, electricity, or biomass)

Heat pump vs hydrogen boiler

There’s no doubt that if we’re going to lower carbon emissions, then we can’t go on burning gas and oil to heat our homes. But that doesn’t have to mean waving goodbye to the boiler, nor that our only options are heat pumps and biomass boilers.
Hydrogen

A simpler alternative could be to replace the fuel rather than replacing the millions of boilers in homes across the country with low-carbon heating systems. Here is where hydrogen comes in. Or possibly even green gas.

Hydrogen is a low-carbon alternative to natural gas. When burned, it doesn’t release carbon, and it could be added to the existing gas network. It’s not without its problems, though, the biggest being that it has to be made, which can be expensive and still produce carbon. But even making our current gas supply 20% hydrogen (known as a hydrogen blend) would lower emissions.

Find out if hydrogen is a viable option for home heating.

Conclusion: heat pump vs boiler

To make the right decision, you need to think about which is best suited to your home and your budget. You may want to consider the environmental impact too.

Heat pumps beat boilers hands down in the low-carbon heating system contest. However, the budget rules out a heat pump for most people, even taking government grants into account.    

What if you can't decide? Then you can consider going hybrid! A hybrid heating system will give you the best of both worlds. They include a boiler fitted alongside an air or ground source heat pump. The system will automatically switch between the two based on which is most efficient at the time.

FAQ

Is a heat pump more efficient than a boiler?

Yes, it is. Heat pumps have no rivals in this regard. Their 300-400% efficiency can't be matched, not even by 99-100% efficient electric boilers.

Are heat pumps cheaper to run than boilers?

Gas boilers have been traditionally considered the cheapest way to heat a home. However, this might no longer be true considering the rise in gas prices as of April 2022 and heat pumps' impressive 300-400% efficiency. You could also run a heat pump for free if you power it using, for example, a solar panel system.

Can a heat pump replace a boiler?

Yes, it can, but you must ensure that your home is suitable for a heat pump. You can also combine them into a hybrid heating system.

What are the disadvantages of a heat pump?

Heat pumps' main disadvantages are their high cost to buy and install and the space needed to install them.

Are boilers being phased out?

Gas boilers in the UK will be phased out, though it is still unclear when this will happen. For now, you must be aware that gas boilers are not banned at the moment. Check our Gas Boiler Ban – Myth Busting for more information.

Luis Antonio Gómez Pérez

About the author

Luis Antonio Gómez Pérez

Trained as a journalist, Luis Antonio has plenty of experience researching and writing about the use of different energy sources for domestic purposes. He also keeps up to date with the future of domestic heating and how traditional and alternative heating solutions may impact household economics.

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