Is your home heat pump ready?
Town house, 3 Bed Semi, Flat or Terrace?
Are UK homes right for heat pumps?
The government is aiming to fit 600,000 heat pumps in UK homes each year by 2028 and with a gas boiler ban on its way, heat pumps are likely to play a big part if we are to reach climate change targets and achieve carbon net-zero by 2050.
Heat pumps are an environmentally friendly solution to heating our homes. They don't run off fossil fuels and are highly efficient. The bad news is that they may not be suitable for millions of UK homes.
The home heating experts Boiler Guide have seen huge spikes in website visitors and phone calls from customers looking for advice installing a new heat pump.
Boiler Guide founder David Holmes said:
"Heat pumps come at a considerable cost, so it is important that homeowners do their research on suitability for their home before forking out. While the government is rightly pushing for renewable heating solutions, a one size fits all approach is not going to work. There are many positives with heat pumps but they are not viable for every home in the UK."
How does an air source heat pump work?
An air source heat pump looks a lot like an air conditioning unit that sits outside the home, but it works like a fridge in reverse, and acts like a boiler in that it produces hot water. But, unlike boilers, heat pumps don't create the heat, they simply move it from one place to another.
Air source heat pumps come with a fan unit which brings in heat from the air outside the home. The extracted heat is then condensed and used to produce hot water. The hot water needs to be stored in a water cylinder inside the home where it can supply radiators, taps and showers. The system runs on electricity and the 2 units are connected by copper pipework
2 to 3 Bedroom Detached/Semi-Detached
If you, like the many millions of Brits, live in a 2 or 3 bedroom home, the chances are you'll be heating it with a gas boiler.
Unlike gas boilers, heat pumps operate at lower temperature so if your home is not very-well insulated a heat pump is unlikely to provide the warmth and comfort you need. Gas boilers can heat water to 85 degrees centigrade compared to heat pumps reaching just 55 degrees centigrade.
It is thought that 25 million homes in the UK do not have adequate insulation so if you have a draughty house, ripping out your gas boiler for a heat pump before investing in insulation is not a good idea.
2 to 3 Bedroom Terraced House
26% of the UK population live in terraced houses with some dating back to the 17th century. While you can't beat the character and style of terraced houses – poor insulation and a lack of outdoor space could prove problematic.
Why is exterior space needed?
To extract the heat from the air, a unit needs to be installed outside where it will have plenty of air moving all around it, i.e., not squeezed into an alley. In some cases, it can be mounted on a wall, but it needs to be somewhere where settings can be adjusted so it can be serviced by a professional.
Heat pumps do generate some noise when working, so it is important to consider the impact this might have on you and your neighbours when choosing a location for your heat pump. They also make more noise in cold weather because they are working harder to extract heat.
Nearly 5 million Brits live in flats or apartments with most getting their heating and hot water from a compact gas combi boiler.
If you live in a smallish flat, a lack of indoor space could be an issue for a heat pump as you will need to have a large hot water cylinder installed.
Why is a hot water cylinder needed? Heat pumps do not produce hot water on demand like a combi boiler does, so the hot water needs to be stored in a cylinder until it is needed.
If you're replacing a combi boiler, you'll need to find space to install a heat pump compatible hot water cylinder in your home. If replacing a system or regular boiler you might need to switch your existing cylinder for a new one that is compatible with a heat pump.
For the 4 million homeowners who do not have gas at their property, many will be heating their homes with liquified petroleum gas (LPG) or oil. You will probably have enough space for a heat pump as you'll already have a tank for your fuel and a hot water cylinder. You should see a reduction in running costs with a heat pump thanks to its superior efficiency but good insulation is still very important.
Modern Townhouse (Less than 25 years old) and New Builds.
From 2025 gas boilers will not be installed in new builds and improved insulation means new homes are ideal for carbon free heat pumps. Many modern homes or ones built in the last 25 years or so are also well insulated so should also be suitable.
The added efficiency of heat pumps could also help you reduce your energy costs while cutting your carbon footprint.
So, is a heat pump right for your home?
On average, an air source heat pump will cost between £9,000-£13,000 to install, but this will vary depending on the complexity of the installation. It's a big investment, but that's why the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was brought in, i.e. to help people recoup some of their investment. If you install an eligible system before the scheme closes in March 2022, the government will pay you for the energy it generates for 7 years.
David Holmes said:
"The important point to take away is that for the right property, an air source heat pump can be an effective low-carbon heating system. However, with so many 'ifs' and 'buts' around the technology, it is clear that there is no blanket solution to how we will heat UK homes in the future. Your property and lifestyle is unique, so it is essential that you get professional advice from several different renewable heating experts before making your decision."
Other renewable heating systems to consider
If an air source heat pump will not be able to heat your home on its own but you want to reduce your carbon footprint, there are other renewable heating systems that could be better suited.
A possible solution, for example, is to opt for a hybrid system that combines a traditional boiler with a heat pump. The system will intuitively switch between the two systems depending on which is most efficient, e.g., during the winter the boiler may need to work more to generate water at a higher temperature, and the heat pump would produce hot water during the summer.
Alternatively, solar thermal panels can be installed on a property's roof where they capture the sun's energy and use it to heat water. The hot water is stored in a cylinder ready for central heating and domestic use. Solar thermal panels are not able to generate enough hot water for the average family all year round, but when combined with a boiler or a heat pump they can significantly reduce heating costs and carbon emissions.
Ground source heat pumps are another option, but they are only suitable for properties with outside space for the lengths of tube that need to be buried below ground and they also require hot water cylinders.
For well-insulated properties with plenty of indoor space to store the wood pellets, a furnace, and a hot water cylinder, a biomass boiler could be an effective heating system.