What is a heat pump and why are they important?

November 4, 2021

Energy Saving Trust Blog from October 2021


Heat pumps are hot right now, after the UK Government announced in its Heat and Buildings Strategy that these low carbon heating systems are going to play a key role in getting us to net zero by 2050.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about heat pumps, so decided to answer some of the most common queries below.

What is a heat pump?

heat pump is a low carbon heating system, which captures heat from outside and moves it into your home. Heat pumps are suitable for many homes, and tens of thousands have already been installed across the UK.

The UK Government expects that millions of heat pumps will need to be installed in homes over the next 10-15 years to meet our net zero targets.

How expensive is it for me to have a heat pump fitted?

The most common type of heat pump in the UK is an air to water heat pump, which costs around £7,000 – £13,000. This varies depending on the brand, model and size of heat pump, the size of the property, whether your home is a newbuild or an existing property, as well as whether you need to change the way you distribute heat around your property.

ground to water heat pump costs between £20,000-£30,000 depending on the size of your property. The additional cost for the ground source heat pump installation comes from the external work in the garden, where either ‘slinkies’ or ‘boreholes’ need to be installed. Like an air to water heat pump, the cost of a ground to water heat pump will also depend on things like the brand and size of the model you choose, size of the property, and whether you need to install anything extra like radiators or underfloor heating.

If I don’t have enough outside space, what are the alternatives?

Air to water heat pumps are easier and quicker to install than ground to water heat pumps as they don’t need any land to be dug up for installation and do not take up too much outdoor space. Or, if a heat pump isn’t quite right for you, for example, if you don’t have the space for one, there are other renewable heating options that might work.

Solar water heating systems use solar panels, called collectors, fitted to your roof. These collect heat from the sun and use it to heat up water that’s stored in a hot water cylinder. A conventional boiler or immersion heater can be used to make the water hotter, or to provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable. You’ll need around 4-5 square metres of roof space for solar panels, which receives direct sunlight for most of the day.

Biomass systems burn wood pellets, chips or logs to heat a single room, or to power central heating and hot water boilers. While burning the wood does emit carbon dioxide, it is at a lower level than coal or oil provided the fuel is sourced locally. Biomass is considered a sustainable option if new plants and trees continue to grow in place of those used for fuel.

How loud is a heat pump?

Unless the heat pump is working very hard (for example, in very cold weather), you can expect the noise to be a similar volume to a fridge, if you were standing within a couple of metres. You could easily hold a normal conversation next to it, without raising your voice.

Will a heat pump save me money on my energy bills?

The running costs of a heat pump will depend on how your heat pump is designed and operated. Savings on your energy bill will also be affected by the system you are replacing. Costs will be affected by several factors, including:

  • What fuel you are replacing and how much it costs.
  • Your electricity tariff.
  • Which type of heat pump you install and how efficient it is.
  • The design of your central heating system.
  • Your location and its average air or ground temperatures throughout the year.

If I had a heat pump installed and wanted to move, could I take it with me to my new home?

Unfortunately not, this would become part of your house or flat’s assets when you sell the property. But when you come to sell your home, having a heat pump installed will make it more attractive to potential buyers and it could increase the value of your property.

How much less carbon does a heat pump emit compared to other heating options?

Heat pumps are powered by electricity. The UK’s electricity is becoming increasingly low carbon, as more renewable sources are connected to the electricity grid, replacing existing gas and coal power stations. This makes a heat pump an extremely low carbon heating option, and increasingly so as our electricity grid further decarbonises.

You can find out more in our in depth guide to heat pumps.

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