12 steps to getting a heat pump
Here we outline the main steps to think through if you are planning to get a heat pump.
1. Consider what kind of heat pump would work for you
Heat pumps are a substantial investment, so it’s important to make sure you get the right one. Air source heat pumps are on average around £6,500, while ground source will cost more like £13,500 including installation.
Air source heat pumps: air to water
Most of the heat pumps installed in the UK are air to water, as they don’t require much space. They provide both water and space heating. They can be installed on almost all properties, including flats. They are generally about the size of a fridge and require a place outside where they can be fitted to a wall or on the ground, with space for a good flow of air around them.
All air source heat pumps do produce some noise, as they contain a fan and compressor, but the modern ones are much quieter: about 40 to 60 decibels, which is similar noise levels to a fridge or dishwasher and therefore rarely a problem.
Air source heat pumps: air to air
Air to air heat pumps are just air conditioners that have been put into reverse. They blow hot air into your house, so they only do space heating. You would need something else for hot water. Air to air pumps do have some advantages. The pumps are cheaper and have good efficiency. Since they don’t use radiators, you won’t need to install bigger ones, although you may need ducting (pipes) in order to carry the hot air around to different rooms.
Ground source heat pumps
Ground source heat pumps take heat from the ground instead of the air, using pipes buried outside the house. This makes them much more efficient, and silent. However, they are more expensive and only suitable for a limited number of homes because they require considerable amounts of outside space.
Horizontal ground source heat pumps need pipes that are buried in a long trench in your garden, about a metre deep. You’ll need an area about twice the size of your home. Vertical ones have pipes in a series of boreholes instead – down to 70 or 100 metres. This means they require much less garden space. But they are far more expensive to install, and you will need space for the drilling machinery.
Hybrid heat pumps
Hybrid systems combine a heat pump and a traditional boiler. The theory is that the heat pump does most of the work, but the boiler helps out in particularly cold weather, when heat pumps struggle. One study shows that hybrid heat pumps potentially save 30% of GHG emissions compared to typical gas condensing boilers over a lifetime of 20 years.
Hybrids have some advantages. For the UK as a whole, they would take pressure off the electricity supply during peak times. However, they would still be relying to some extent on the grid.
A hybrid system can also be cheaper if you already have a boiler and are just installing a heat pump to work alongside it, because you may get away with a lower capacity heat pump and not replacing your radiators.
Gas fired and water-source heat pumps
You can also get gas-fired heat pumps. They do use less gas than boilers, but aren’t massively cheaper than electric ones, so there doesn’t seem much point in getting one: better to get off gas altogether if you can.
A roof-mounted air source heat pump has reportedly been installed for the first time in the United Kingdom, as part of a pilot project at the University of Salford. The hope is that, if it proves effective, this might overcome the issue of size and location for many homeowners, enabling more to make the switch.
2. Look at getting a retrofit assessment
If you’re unsure what heat pump would work best in your home and whether you have the right set up for it, you may want to get advice from an installer or retrofit assessor.
A retrofit assessment will consider all possible energy saving measures in your home, including heat pumps, insulation, and other steps. An assessor will visit your house, speak to you about how you use the space and your own needs and recommend possible changes. They will estimate costs and carbon savings for each option, and say what stages you could make the changes in. TrustMark has an introductory page or a more detailed guide.
If you are a homeowner and want to arrange a retrofit assessment, you can contact RetrofitWorks to arrange an initial appointment. TrustMark also has a directory of tradespeople, including builders and retrofit assessors. A well-qualified assessor will have trained with a trusted specialist retrofit training body, such as the Retrofit Academy.
3. Choose a specific heat pump model
When deciding on a specific model you’ll probably want to consider: the size of the heat pump, its efficiency, and its noise-levels.
The main measure of a heat pump’s efficiency is called the coefficient of performance (COP). It measures how many units of heat you get out per unit of energy you put in. Ground source heat pumps average a COP of around four, and air source about three.
However, the COP varies depending on the weather. So, when you’re comparing individual pumps, you want to look at the average COPs they manage over a heating season. This is either given as the Seasonal Coefficient of Performance (SCOP) or the Seasonal Performance Factor (SPF). Heat pumps also come with energy ratings based on their SCOP. These range from A+ to A+++ (the more pluses the better).
Best Buy Kensa, and recommended buys Vaillant, Stiebel Eltron, MasterTherm and Grant all have A+++ rated heat pumps in their product range. The energy label for different brands and products can be found on their websites.
When deciding on a specific heat pump model, also consider the warranty offered. A well-maintained heat pump should last around 15 years, so it’s worth getting a model that’s covered for a while.
4. Think about your insulation and radiators
Improving your home’s insulation, draught proofing, replacing some radiators, etc, means that you will be able to install a heat pump which is smaller both in size and in terms of energy consumption, quieter and overall simpler to run. You may want to install larger surface radiators or underfloor heating. You can also visit the Carbon Coop website to find out more about the debate on how much insulation is required to effectively fit a heat pump.
5. Work out what you can afford
Unfortunately, heat pumps – and the required insulation – can be expensive: from £6,500-£17,000. Energy Saving Trust recommends you get quotes from at least three different installers to understand the potential costs.
If you visit the website of UK innovation charity NESTA, you can find a calculator to estimate the cost. You enter the information such as which part of the UK you live in, property type, number of bedrooms and other variables. It then states which type of heat pump you could install, which government grant (see point number 6 below) you might be eligible for, and an estimated price range. It’s based on statistical modelling of installations recorded by MCS.
Remember to include associated costs such as any additional home insurance costs (see number 11).
Unfortunately, even though you’ll save a lot of energy by using a heat pump, you’re unlikely to see any cost savings from this at the moment. Electricity is currently about three or four times the cost of gas, so even though your heating will be three to four times more efficient, these are likely to cancel out if switching from a gas boiler.
The Government’s ambition is to bring heat pump costs down by between 25-50% by 2025, and towards parity with gas boilers by 2030. It has, however, been argued that this seems unrealistic.
The Climate Change Committee estimates 2023 costs for heat pump capital and installation to be £12,000, which is down 7% from 2019.
6. Check whether you can get government support
Government schemes are key in helping many people afford the cost of heat pumps. Schemes change from time to time, so it’s worth doing an internet search for the latest information.
England and Wales: Boiler Upgrade Scheme
The government is providing grants for heat pumps in England and Wales under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. The grant is available for homeowners and can give you £5000 off the cost and installation of either an air source or ground source heat pump.
Your installer will need to apply for the grant for you, so make sure to speak to them about it.
Scotland: Home Energy Scotland loans
In Scotland, grant funding for heat pumps is up to £7,500 or £9,000 for households which qualify for a rural uplift. The remainder of funding requested can be taken up as an optional interest-free loan.
7. Set a realistic goal
A heat pump is a long-term investment and may not be something you can implement straight away.
So why not set yourself a realistic stage-by-stage goal for saving?
8. Decide your timeline
You may want to decide when you’d like your heat pump by and map out a timeline. If you need internal work to your home, such as new radiators, it’s important to get this done at a moment that suits you.
9. Find a good installer
Make sure you use an installer who has been accredited through the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. If in Scotland, you can search for information and customer reviews on MCS installers in your area through the Renewables Installer Finder.
It is a good sign if they are also registered with other organisations and bodies, such as Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd (REAL) and the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, which encourage high installation standards.
You can also read the government-funded guide 'Heat pump talk' which shows you how to have effective conversations with heat pump installers from start to finish.
10. Think about planning permission and registration
Most heat pumps do not require planning permission. However, there are some exceptions, particularly if you live in a listed building or conservation area, so it’s good to check with your local planning department.
You should also tell your local district network operator (DNO) about your heat pump plans. They are the company that brings electricity to your home. Your installer should have all the information you need to complete the DNO’s forms.
Once your heat pump has been installed, it will need to be registered with the Microgeneration Installation Database (MID) within 10 days of installation. Your installer should do this for you.
You should also receive certain paperwork from your installer, including a Building Regulations Completion Certificate, MCS Certificate and Heat Pump Handover Pack.
11. Check your insurance policy
Make sure your insurance policy covers any changes you plan to make to your home. Your insurance company should be able to give you a quote if it doesn’t cover you already.
12. Find out about maintenance
It’s important to maintain your heat pump to make sure you get the most life out of it – which should be 15 years or more. Luckily, maintenance is fairly straightforward: ask your installer to write down exactly what you need to do.
Many manufacturers offer a 10-year warranty, and some will offer an extension at a cost. Check whether you need to do anything to ensure that your heat pump remains compliant, for example getting it serviced each year.