Category - Heat Pumps
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Will Scholfield, Engineer

13 Sep : Updated 21 Feb ● 7 min read

Are heat pumps worth it? A revised and updated guide for 2024

The UK government continues its push to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Heat pumps and hybrid heat pumps form a large part of their plans, and the government is encouraging homeowners to have them installed.

However, are heat pumps currently worth the investment?

This guide will examine this question, discussing the different types of heat pumps, their pros and cons, alternatives, and whether it's worth it to install one in your home.

What types of heat pumps are there?

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps are also known as ground-to-water heat pumps. They work by transferring heat from the ground that surrounds your home to heat the radiators or underfloor heating inside your home.

A ground source heat pump can also be used to heat water that's stored in a hot water cylinder, which can then be used to supply hot water for your home.

How do ground source heat pumps work?

It works by using a mixture of water and antifreeze known as thermal transfer fluid (TTF). When installing a ground source heat pump, a loop of pipe is buried underground in your garden. This will either be a long loop of pipe that's inserted into a borehole or a long or coiled pipe that's buried in a trench.

The thermal transfer fluid passes through this pipe and absorbs heat from the ground. The heated fluid then passes through a heat exchanger and then a heat pump. This causes the temperature of the fluid to rise, and then this heat is transferred to water.

Air source heat pumps

An air-source heat pump system, also known as an air-to-water source heat pump, transfers heat from the air outside of your home to water.

As with ground-source heat pumps, air-source heat pumps absorb heat via a fluid. This passes through a heat exchanger and then a heat pump before the heat is transferred to the water.

This water is then used to heat your home and provide you with hot water.

The benefits of heat pumps

Heat pumps are growing in popularity, and it’s clear to see why with these benefits:

1. Heat pumps are energy efficient

A heat pump is more energy efficient than a gas boiler which helps to reduce carbon emissions. Both an air-source heat pump and a ground-source heat pump use electricity in order to compress and transfer heat energy.

Heat pumps are more efficient than other heating systems because the amount of heat they produce is more than the amount of electricity they use. A heat pump can also run on green energy, which makes them even more efficient and eco-friendly.

2. Heat pumps have long lifespans

Heat pumps are more durable than conventional heating appliances, such as gas boilers, and last around 15 years on average.

3. Heat pumps are safer than gas boilers

Although gas boilers are generally safe, there is still a chance of something going wrong. After all, a gas boiler burns combustible fuel to generate heat. This causes a lot of pressure and can lead to various problems.

If you have an air-source heat pump or a ground-source heat pump, then you won't have this concern. Heat pumps are inherently safer than gas boilers due to both the absence of a flammable fuel source and the lack of products of combustion, including carbon monoxide. There's no fuel or combustion to worry about.

The drawbacks of heat pumps

While there are many benefits of heat pumps, there are a few disadvantages to consider: 

1. Heat pumps are very expensive

Unfortunately, it currently costs a lot of money to have a heat pump installed. If you want to install an air source heat pump, it will cost between £7,000 and £20,000 in total.

Ground source heat pump installation is even more expensive - expect to pay between £15,000 and £40,000 in total.

Clearly, air-source heat pumps are much more affordable than ground-source ones. Still, they're both costly investments.

2. You might have to replace your radiators

Heat Pumps work better when the water in the radiators is heated to a lower temperature, so you may need to replace some of your radiators with larger ones to make the most of your heat pump's efficiency.

This is why the cost of installation could be high compared to replacing a gas boiler, where you would simply connect to the existing radiators.

3. They're not ideal for all types of heating systems

Heat pumps work best in homes with underfloor heating systems. Of course, the majority of homes in the UK don't have this type of heating system. Although they still work well for heating radiators and supplying hot water, heat pumps are best suited to new builds.

Are heat pumps worth the investment?

The main downside of installing a heat pump is the prohibitively high upfront cost. Although you could save money on your energy bills, it will take a long time for you to recover the costs of the installation (if you ever do).

Whether or not the investment is worth it depends on your financial circumstances and the type of heat pump you choose.

As mentioned, air-source heat pumps cost a lot less than ground-source ones. If you're able to find an air source heat pump in the lower price range, it may be worth having one installed. However, if you pay around £7,000 for a heat pump, it may not have as much longevity as a more expensive model.

Due to the high costs of heat pump installation, the UK government has made £450 million of funding available to installers. These grants are awarded on behalf of property owners to reduce installation costs. This is known as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS).

Depending on the type of heat pump you choose, you may be eligible for £5,000 or £6,000 in grants from the BUS. If you're eligible, a heat pump could be worth the investment. Still, if your heat pump installation costs £40,000 in total, you'll still need to pay around £35,000.

What are the best alternatives to heat pumps?

Are heat pumps looking a little too costly right now? Here are some alternatives you could consider for the future.

A gas or oil boiler with a heat pump

Using a hybrid system, such as a gas or oil boiler, combined with a heat pump is a good alternative to using a heat pump alone. This is particularly true for older homes with small radiators.

How does this work?

Most air source heat pumps work at a water flow temperature of 40 to 45°C, but gas and oil boilers usually work at a water flow temperature of 65 to 75°C. This means that heat pumps on their own are often unable to heat older homes to an adequate temperature without replacing radiators.

By combining the two systems, gas or oil boilers can assist heat pumps to provide enough heat to your home when the weather turns chilly.

Electric boilers

Electric boilers don't use natural gas, which makes them a good eco-friendly alternative to heat pumps. They're also far less expensive than heat pumps and far easier to install. It's unlikely that your home would require new water storage cylinders or radiators if you installed an electric boiler.


Final thoughts from BOXT

Currently, many homeowners will find the cost of installing a heat pump prohibitive. Although you could save money on your energy bills, the upfront costs are still very high.

The main reason for installing a heat pump is that it's much more eco-friendly than a traditional boiler. However, it may be worth considering an alternative, such as a new boiler from BOXT, which is much more affordable.

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