Making Britain more environmentally friendly has become one of the Government's main aims in recent times. Most recently, it announced that the installation of new gas boilers in homes would be banned from 2025. As a result, heat pumps - a more eco-friendly alternative - are set to play a big role in hitting climate change targets and getting to carbon net-zero by 2050. In fact, the Government has said it wants to fit 600,000 heat pumps in UK homes each year by 2028. These pumps are a greener solution as they aren't powered by fossil fuels and are highly efficient. However, they may not be suitable for millions of UK homes.
David Holmes of comparison site Boiler Guide said: 'Heat pumps come at a considerable cost, so it is important that homeowners do their research on suitability 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 like an air conditioning unit that sits outside the home. 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 two units are connected by copper pipework. There is also the option of ground source heat pumps, which use pipes that are buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground. This heat can then be used to heat radiators, under-floor or warm air heating systems and hot water in your home.
How much will it cost to install?
On average, an air source heat pump will cost between £9,000 to £13,000 to install, but this will vary depending on the complexity of the installation. It's a big investment, but the Renewable Heat Incentive was brought in to help people recoup some of their money. 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.
Two to three bedroom detached/semi-detached home
If you live in a two or three bedroom home, you will likely be heating it with a gas boiler at the moment. Heat pumps operate at a lower temperature than gas boilers, so if your home is not well-insulated a heat pump is unlikely to provide the warmth and comfort you need. Gas boilers can heat water to 85 degrees centigrade while heat pumps reach just 55 degrees. It is thought that 25million 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 only going to make the situation worse.
Two to three bedroom terraced house
Some 26 per cent of the UK population live in terraced houses, with some dating back to the 17th century. Poor insulation and a lack of outdoor space could be problematic if you're considering installing a heat pump. 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. It can't be crammed in to the corner of a small garden or squeezed into an alley, for example. In some cases it can be mounted on a wall, but it needs to be somewhere where the settings can be adjusted so it can be serviced by a professional.Air source heat pumps also 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 five million Britons live in flats or apartments, with most getting their heating and hot water from a compact gas combi boiler. If you live in a smaller flat, a lack of indoor space could be an issue as you need to have a large hot water cylinder installed for a heat pump to work. 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. And if you're swapping a system or regular boiler, you might need to switch your existing cylinder for a new one that is compatible with a heat pump.
Modern townhouses and new builds
From 2025, gas boilers will not be installed in new-build homes, and their improved insulation means they 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 are also suitable. The added efficiency of heat pumps could also help people reduce their energy costs.
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 hybrid system combines a traditional boiler with a heat pump, with the system switching between the two depending on which is most efficient. For example, 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 reduce heating costs and carbon emissions. 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.