Heat pumps are an increasingly popular option for property owners seeking to replace their gas or oil boilers. Almost 25,000 heat pumps have been installed in the UK so far this year, and data shows the UK has recently passed 200,000 all-time heat pump installations. As a key element of the Government’s drive to achieve Net Zero by 2050, this growth in heat pump technology is set to continue.
Despite their recent surge in popularity, the technology behind heat pumps is not new, with the first working heat pump having been built between 1855 and 1857. Since then, the technology has been continually refined to produce systems which can be easily installed in any type of property, and a skilled workforce of dedicated renewable heating engineers has grown to provide a high-quality service to home and property owners.
However, unfortunately the increased popularity of heat pumps with consumers has led to examples of poor-quality installations from installers who are seeking to capitalise on this popularity but who do not have the required expertise and skill to specify, install and maintain heat pump systems. This has in turn led to some unfortunate myths and negative publicity around heat pumps, the associated costs, and their effectiveness – when these issues are in fact more accurately related to examples of bad installation practice. This article is intended as a consumer guide on what to look for from a heat pump installer, and what a good quality installation should look like from start to finish.
What are the benefits of installing a heat pump?
To understand the increase in heat pump popularity, and why poor-quality installations represent a risk to property owners, we should quickly examine the benefits that a heat pump can bring.
Heat pumps are becoming more popular in the UK for several reasons, including:
- Reduced energy bills: Heat pumps are much more efficient than traditional gas or oil boilers, with a typical system operating at 350% efficiency. This means it will produce 3.5 units of heat energy for every 1 unit of electricity it consumes, whereas even the most efficient boiler will never exceed more than 97% efficiency. This high level of energy efficiency means that a heat pump used with an appropriate electricity tariff can help you to save money on your energy bills.
- Reduced carbon emissions: Heat pumps are a low-carbon heating solution, as they do not produce any direct emissions at the point of use. Switching to a heat pump can reduce your property’s carbon emissions by up to 65%, helping you to reduce your environmental impact.
- Increased comfort: Heat pumps work most efficiently when they are holding constant temperatures in your property, and slowly increasing or decreasing temperatures to suit your lifestyle, rather than suddenly ‘spiking’ the temperature as is common with gas and oil boilers. This means you’ll stay much more comfortable throughout the day and night.
- Low maintenance: Heat pumps are relatively simple, low-maintenance pieces of equipment, with modern systems having an expected lifespan of more than 25 years, compared with 10-15 years for a typical gas boiler.
In addition to these benefits, the UK government is also offering incentives to encourage homeowners to switch to heat pumps. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers grants of up to £7,500 towards the cost of the installation of an air source or ground source heat pump.
If you are considering installing a heat pump, and are in the process of making enquiries with installers, you should expect them to be able to articulate the above benefits of a heat pump installation to you clearly at an early stage of your conversation with them – being unable to do so would be an obvious red flag!
You should also check that the installer is MCS certified – MCS is a quality assurance scheme for installers and renewable energy products, and demonstrates their commitment to industry standards. What’s more, if you would like to benefit from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme funding mentioned above, your installer must be MCS certified.
What are the requirements for installing a Heat Pump?
Before you commit to having a heat pump installed at your property, it is important to have a heat loss survey carried out by a qualified engineer.
This will help to determine the size and type of heat pump that is right for your home – your installer should appoint an engineer to visit your property; if they don’t, there is a significant risk that your heat pump will not be the right specification for your property, and your installation and running costs will be significantly higher than necessary.
In the heat loss survey, the engineer will consider several factors, including:
- The size, type and construction of your home
- The level of insulation in your home
- The number of occupants in your home
- Your budget
Once the heat loss survey has been completed, the engineer will be able to recommend the best type, size, make and model of heat pump for your requirements. There are two main types of heat pumps: air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps.
- Air source heat pumps extract heat from the outside air, even in cold temperatures. They are the most common type of heat pump installed in the UK, as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.
- Ground source heat pumps extract heat from the ground, which is a more consistent source of heat than the air. This makes them more efficient, but they are also more expensive to install.
A good engineer will also make any recommendations which will maximise the efficiency of your heat pump. These may include upgrades to your pipework and radiators, as heat pumps work best with radiators with larger heating surfaces, or to the level of insulation in your property.
Where should the Heat Pump be installed?
The engineer will consider the space you have available at your property when making a recommendation on the type of heat pump which will best meet your requirements. Air source heat pump systems comprise an outdoor unit, which contains the heat exchanger and will draw in air to heat your water, and a hot water tank inside your property to store hot water for use in the home.
Ground source systems also have a heat exchanger unit (although this can be located indoors as well as outdoors) and a hot water tank, however they will also require sufficient outdoor space to bury long coils of pipe – which contain the fluid the system uses to draw heat from the ground and pass it to the heat exchanger and into your home.
As part of a good installation experience, your engineer should be extremely clear with you on the internal and external space requirements for the heat pump system and consider their placement in a way that optimises the space they use while also meeting their technical operating requirements. This assessment should also account for any pipework and cabling associated with the system and the route it needs to take.
What Should Happen During the Heat Pump Installation?
The exact stages of the installation will vary depending on whether you are having an air or ground source heat pump installed, and if you are having any other upgrades to your existing heating system and pipework completed at the same time. However, the following general stages are common:
- Fitting of the internal unit: The internal unit of a heat pump, which will include the hot water tank, is typically installed in a utility room or airing cupboard – a good installer will have discussed its location with you prior to commencing any works. This internal unit is connected to the existing heating system and to the heat exchanger unit.
- Fitting the heat exchanger unit: the heat exchanger for an air source heat pump is typically installed on a concrete pad in the garden but can also be wall mounted in some circumstances. Ground source heat pumps can be installed internally and externally. The heat exchanger is connected to the inside unit using refrigerant pipes and electrical cabling – again, in a good quality installation the routes of these pipes and cabling will have been carefully considered, and exposed pipework should be properly insulated to maximise system efficiency.
- Commissioning: Once the heat pump is installed, it will need to be commissioned by the installer. This involves checking that the system is working correctly and setting it up to your individual requirements. At this stage, a good installer should take the time to educate you on how to use your new system, including the thermostat and any controls on the internal of external units you need to be aware of.
Naturally, throughout this process the installer should give you a clear indication on their expected timings, and how long the works will take to complete, and they should operate in a way which minimises any disruption to your day-to-day life. If they happen to encounter any issues during installation which would not have been possible to identify during the survey, these should be immediately brought to your attention so you can agree a solution together.
Heat pumps are a low maintenance solution to comfortably heating your home while lowering your carbon emissions and energy bills. Their increasing popularity has sadly led to inexperienced installers incorrectly specifying and installing heat pump systems, resulting in some property owners having a poor experience of heat pump ownership. To protect yourself from this risk, make sure to select an MCS certified installation company.
Before the installation begins, they should be able to give you an accurate indication of the benefits you will personally experience, correctly specify the right system for your property, make recommendations on further changes you can make to improve the efficiency of your system, and prepare a considerate plan for where the system and associated pipework and cabling will be located.
While the installation itself is ongoing, you should be kept up to date on progress, and works should be organised to minimise disruption. Once the works are completed, a good installer will take the time to educate you on how to get the most from your system, and ensure you fully understand how it should be best used.
Your quick checklist when deciding on a heat pump installation:
As a trusted installer of heat pumps and other renewable energy technologies such as solar PV and battery storage, Caplor Energy stands ready to support consumers and businesses on their sustainable energy journey. With MCS certification, outstanding customer testimonials, and a long heritage of servicing the renewable energy sector, we bring the expertise and commitment to deliver renewable heating solutions tailored to your unique requirements. Embrace the power of heat pumps today, and let us guide you towards a greener, more prosperous future.