Boilers vs Heat Pumps: Which is Best for Your Home?
Due to the increasing urgency and awareness around climate change we are more concerned than ever before about the way we use energy. As a nation we need to find ways to lower our carbon emissions and a big part of that will be changing the way we heat our homes.
Heat pumps are widely recommended as a more environmentally friendly heating system to the traditional gas boiler, but there are pros and cons to consider before making the change. If you are looking to install a new heating system but wondering which is the best choice for your home, read on to find out which system is victorious in the battle of boilers vs heat pumps.
What is a boiler?
The majority of UK homes rely on a boiler to provide heating and hot water. Using natural gas, oil, electricity or biomass such as wood pellets as fuel for combustion, the boiler heats water for radiators, underfloor heating and domestic use. In many homes, the boiler works alongside a hot water cylinder which includes an immersion heater (powered by electricity) to supplement the hot water supply. For the purposes of this comparison, we are looking at a natural gas boiler as this is what over 80% of UK households are currently using.
There are different types of boiler to consider including regular (conventional), system or combi and a wide range of power outputs to suit homes of different sizes. Find out more in What size boiler do I need?
What is a heat pump?
A heat pump is a far more recent technology which is more complex, but ultimately performs the same function as a boiler, i.e. a heat pump generates heat in order to produce hot water for your home. The heat pump extracts latent heat either from the ground or air (or natural bodies of water), uses it to heat an element which transfers this heat to a coolant. This coolant or refrigerated liquid is compressed until it reaches a high enough temperature that it can heat water for your home.
Heat pumps require just a small amount of electricity to run and can extract heat from the air or ground in temperatures as low as -15°C. This means they can provide hot water and heating for your home all year round, but they are less efficient (will use more electricity to produce heat) in colder weather.
There are a few different types of heat pump to consider including air source heat pumps (air to air or air to water), ground source heat pumps and water source heat pumps. In most cases, air to water or ground source heat pumps are recommended as a replacement for a boiler.
Which is best for your home?
While your heating system should be tailored to your home and lifestyle, here we have compared gas boilers and heat pumps on their key features and benefits to help you choose the best option for your home.
When comparing the boiler and heat pump in terms of efficiency, the heat pump is the clear winner. Many older boilers are only 50-75% efficient which means that 25-50% of the energy used is wasted. Modern condensing boilers, however, can achieve efficiencies of 92% with only 8% wasted, so replacing an older boiler with a new model could significantly reduce carbon emissions.
However, even the most efficient boiler cannot beat the heat pump for efficiency. Heat pumps can be 350% efficient as they use only a small amount of electricity to produce 3-4 times as much heat for use in your home.
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A typical gas or oil boiler is expected to work effectively and efficiently for 8-12 years, providing it has been serviced annually. A heat pump, however, can last for 15-25 years as they have far fewer moving parts with very little to break.
To install a heat pump in your home you will need to have outside space. An air source heat pump includes an outdoor unit which is approximately the size of a washing machine. In some cases, there will also be an indoor unit including the heat exchanger (which is also larger than the average boiler) and then a separate hot water cylinder. A ground source heat pump requires lots of pipe which is buried underground either vertically or horizontally depending on the amount of outside space you have. There is then an indoor unit which can vary in size between a small box and a boiler.
A gas boiler is considerably more compact, especially if you have an all-in-one combi (combination) boiler which produces hot water on demand using water directly from the mains. A system boiler also requires a separate hot water cylinder while a regular boiler needs both a hot water cylinder and a feed tank in the attic.
The cost of installing a gas boiler is considerably cheaper than buying a heat pump. On average, a gas boiler replacement is likely to cost between £1,500-£2,500 including labour. When you compare this to the likely cost of £6,000-£8,000 for an air source heat pump or £10,000-£18,000 for ground source, it's clear that the upfront costs of installing a boiler are more attractive.
In addition, for heat pumps to work effectively, the property needs to be very well insulated and the heat delivery system needs to have a large surface area. This may mean you need to improve insulation or install larger radiators or underfloor heating.
However, there are some other factors to consider when assessing the installation cost as renewable heating systems like heat pumps are eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. Under this scheme you would earn money for the energy your heat pump generates for 7 years after installation. This is intended to help you recoup a large amount of the installation costs over time.
Although heat pumps use electricity to run which is around 4 times the price of gas, the fact that the heat pump is so efficient means that it uses very little electricity and the running costs are therefore comparable. Electricity prices are likely to fluctuate but should solar and wind power become the normal method of generation, these prices are likely to fall. Fossil fuels like gas and oil are running out so it is likely these prices will continue to rise.
While it's important to get a gas boiler serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer every 12 months to ensure it runs efficiently and safely, heat pumps do not require annual servicing. Regular checks by a professional will help it to run more effectively and efficiently, but they are not as essential as there are fewer components to check and no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Both boilers and heat pumps are now available with timers, programmers, automated and smart controls designed to help you heat your home with ease and efficiency. The complexity of the functionality will depend on the make and model you choose.
One of the biggest attractions of heat pumps is that they do not produce carbon emissions when in operation, unlike a gas boiler. They use a small amount of electricity to run but their high efficiency makes them the far more environmentally friendly choice. If the electricity powering the pump is generated through solar energy or wind farms rather than coal this is even better as carbon emissions would be zero.
So, boiler or heat pump?
The choice between a boiler and a heat pump should be made based on what is most important to you, how suitable it is for your home and, of course, your budget. Heat pumps are effective and efficient heating systems which greatly reduce a home's carbon footprint, are easy to maintain and can generate income through the RHI scheme. They are a particularly good option for homes off the gas grid which would otherwise rely on oil, coal or electricity for their heating. If, that is, you can afford the upfront installation.
If you live on the gas grid or are not able to afford the cost of a heat pump, you can still significantly reduce your carbon emissions and heating costs by replacing an old inefficient boiler with a modern condensing one.
If you are ready to get quotes for a heat pump, boiler or even both, send us an enquiry today. We'll put you in touch with up to 3 approved installers in your area who will provide free no-obligation quotes for your new heating system.
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