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You may not know much about heat pumps and how they work, or whether they are suitable for your home, so let us demystify this technology and explore which homes are most suited to them.

How do heat pumps work?

Heat pumps essentially operate like a fridge in reverse. The heat exchange in the heat pump absorbs heat from either the air, ground or water, depending on the type of heat pump, through a refrigerant fluid which transfers the heat. The heat is then compressed to increase the temperature to heat the home and hot water. Many existing systems can be adapted so that they can be used by heat pumps, including radiators, underfloor heating, and warm air systems.
Heat pumps are suitable for the UK climate all year round as they can operate in temperatures as low as -20C. Heat pumps do require a small amount of electricity to operate but they produce a much greater amount of heat proportionally than the electricity they use.

Types of heat pumps

There are three types of heat pumps, air, ground, and water.
Air-source heat pumps are the least disruptive to install as they only need a small amount of space externally for the unit which looks like an air conditioning unit. The fan within the unit does generate some low-level noise.
There are two designs of ground-source heat pumps – vertical or horizontal which require different amounts of space and disruption. The vertical design requires a borehole that is at least 6 meters deep to place the pipes into. The horizontal design requires long trenches that are 1-2 meters deep where coils of pipes are laid before refilling them. Manufacturers indicate that the ground loop pipes will last 50-100 years.
Water-source heat pumps require access to water on your property to such as a lake, river or stream to place the heat exchange pipes in. The cost of installing a water-source heat pump is the highest cost of the three types.

Which homes are suitable?

Heating systems powered by heat pumps operate differently to conventional heating systems as they tend to run at lower temperatures over long periods of time to heat the home effectively. To get the best from your heat pump you may want to over-size your radiators so that they can release more heat.
Because they run at lower temperatures they are most suited to properties that are better insulated and do not suffer from draughts. Therefore, you should look to draught-proof and insulate your property prior to considering one as this will also impact the size of the system. If you need help we can help you to find local insulation installers.

Incentives

Most heat pumps are eligible for the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme which offers financial support for seven years to homes installing renewable heating systems. It offers a fixed rate per kWh of energy generated based on the technology installed. The scheme is designed to help make renewable technology more affordable and become more mainstream. It also requires you to insulate your property prior to installation.

Next steps

If you like the sound of heat pumps, then it is worth exploring which system would be best for your home and the potential savings you can make. For homes off the gas network or those using electricity to heat the savings are much greater.
You will need to consider the space and resources around your home and the level of disruption you are willing to have when deciding which type and design of heat pump would be best. To help homeowners we have developed a useful heat pump quote tool which generates quotes from three installers.