Heat pumps explained: experts answer your questions

The Department for Energy Security & Net Zero has asked industry experts to answer some of the most common questions homeowners have about heat pumps and the technology involved.

Record numbers are choosing to install clean heating systems in their homes, such as air and ground source heat pumps. Households can take advantage of a £7500 grant via the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.  

About heat pumps  

Heat pumps are highly efficient electric appliances that transfer and intensify heat from the outside air or ground into a building. They can produce around 3 units of heat for every unit of electricity they use. They significantly reduce a property’s energy demand when replacing technologies such as gas boilers. 

The £7,500 Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant means some families can now install a heat pump for less than the average cost of a gas boiler, when taking advantage of competitive heat pump offers. It is one of the most generous heat pump installation schemes of its kind in Europe.

To help raise awareness around the actions homeowners can take to make their homes more energy efficient, more information can be found through the Welcome home to energy efficiency campaign.  

Industry experts answer some of your most common questions

How do heat pumps work?  

Charlotte Lee, CEO at the Heat Pump Association, says:

Heat pumps capture heat from air, ground or water which is then passed through a heat exchanger. This is then absorbed by the refrigerant gas, raising the temperature, after which it is moved to a compressor, where pressure is applied to create a higher temperature. From here, it passes through another heat exchanger, where energy is transferred to the water that flows through your radiators or underfloor heating and to the water stored in your hot water cylinder.

How much do heat pumps cost?  

Joanna O’Loan, Knowledge Manager at Energy Saving Trust, says:

Air source heat pumps are the most commonly installed in the UK. Including VAT, labour costs and the Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant, you could expect to pay around £6,500 to £11,500 depending on the work required. Some installers are now offering highly competitive installation costs, so it’s worth exploring your options. We’d recommend getting at least 3 installers to quote, so that you can compare costs and design.

Do heat pumps save money?

Jo Alsop, co-founder at Warmur, says:

Based on current energy prices, heat pumps can save a typical gas household around £234 per year when they opt for smart electricity tariffs and remove the gas meter. Actual savings can vary depending on how efficiently the heat pump operates. Modern, well optimised heat pumps perform well at higher temperatures, but households may wish to consider cost effective insulation and some radiator swaps to reduce running costs further.

Do heat pumps make a noise?

Poppy Szkiler, founder and CEO at Quiet Mark, says:

A well installed Quiet Mark certified heat pump should not create noise disturbance. Heat pumps are located outside and are typically quieter than gas boilers. Just as a boiler needs routine checks, an annual heat pump service will help it remain clean and ensure it runs efficiently and sounds as quiet as possible.

Do heat pumps work in cold weather?

Katy King, Deputy Director, Sustainable Future Mission at Nesta, says:

Yes. Even in weather below freezing, there’s heat energy in the air and ground that heat pumps can use. Research shows that heat pumps are more than twice as efficient as fossil fuel heating in cold temperatures, and they also outperform oil and gas at temperatures approaching -30°C.

Do heat pumps work in older homes?  

Bean Beanland, Director for Growth at the Heat Pump Federation, says:

Yes. The challenge in older buildings is minimising heat loss (through insulation, where possible, but not an essential prerequisite) and having suitably sized heat emitters (radiators, underfloor heating and so on) but this challenge is not unique to heat pumps. The newest models of high temperature heat pumps make it easier to transition from fossil fuels to a heat pump.

Do heat pumps work with radiators and do they heat water?   

Richard Halsey, Innovation Director for Growth at Energy Systems Catapult, says:

Yes. A heat pump heats the water in much the same way as a gas boiler. On the Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project, we found that heat pumps can operate efficiently at moderate and high flow temperatures. As with any heating system, optimising system design can drive efficiency and reduce energy bills. As part of system optimisation, some radiators may need to be changed to larger ones. A good designer will help consumers to maximise efficiency, reduce disruption and costs.  

Heat pumps can provide domestic hot water. Usually, a heat pump will warm up water in a tank gradually over time. However, space saving technologies such as heat batteries are an option for consumers with limited space.

How can I get a heat pump?

Zoe Guijarro, Principal Policy Manager for Net Zero Homes at Citizens Advice, says:

Start by finding out if your home is suitable for a heat pump or if it would benefit from some energy efficiency work first to make sure your heat pump works as efficiently as possible. You’ll also need to be sure you have enough space to have a heat pump and water cylinder installed.  

There are different online tools available that can help, such as Check if a heat pump could be suitable for your home on GOV.UK. Once you have decided to go ahead, it is advisable to understand the costs involved and if you might qualify for any grants to help with the costs of installation. You can check what support is available, and contact reputable suppliers or installers for a quote.

How do I find an installer?

Alex Hughes, Scheme Manager at MCS, says:

MCS is a mark of quality which demonstrates adherence to industry-recognised standards for renewable products, contractors and their installations.  Installers operating under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme must be MCS certified.  

If you are considering a low-carbon installation for your home, community or small business – you can search for MCS certified installers that operate in your area using the Find a Contractor tool on the MCS website. Always look for the MCS logo for reassurance that your installer is certified.

Further information  

You can find out more about heat pumps from the following organisations:  

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