As we transition into a more environmentally-conscious world, many people are searching for ways to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. One option that has gained popularity in recent years is the heat pump.
Heat pumps can be used for both heating and cooling, making them a versatile option for year-round temperature regulation. But like any technology, heat pumps have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of heat pump technology so you can decide if it’s the right fit for your home.
How Do Heat Pumps Work and Why Use Them?
There are two types of heat pumps: air-source (ASHP) and ground-source (GSHP). Air-source heat pumps are the most common type of heat pump.
They are used to transfer heat from the air outside to the air inside your home.
Ground-source heat pumps are less common and transfer heat from the ground outside to the air inside your home.
In the vast majority of countries, air-source heat pumps are more common than ground-source heat pumps because they are less expensive to install.
Ground-source heat pumps require a larger investment upfront, but they are more efficient and have lower operating costs.
In the UK gas boilers will be phased out by 2025 and as a result, there will be an increased focus on renewable heating technologies like heat pumps since they are considered to be greener and more sustainable.
In this article, I will take you through the advantages and disadvantages of heat pumps so that you can decide if they are the right choice for your home.
Related: Heat Pump Statistics
Airsource Heat Pump Advantages
1. Can Be Used In Any Climate
Airsource heat pumps have the benefit of being able to work in any climate. This is because they take advantage of the fact that the air outside is almost always warmer than the ground.
They are capable of drawing heat from the air in temperatures as low as -20°C, and they’re utilized a lot in colder countries places like Finland and Canada.
2. Reduced Carbon Footprint
Airsource heat pumps have a reduced carbon footprint because they emit less carbon dioxide than gas boilers.
In fact, they can reduce your carbon footprint by up to two tonnes per year!
When compared to a new gas boiler, installing a heat pump may result in carbon emissions savings of more than 23 tons of CO2 over ten years.
3. Low Maintenance Costs
Air source heat pumps require very little maintenance and have long lifespans. In fact, they can last up to 25 years with proper maintenance!
Additionally, heat pumps don’t have any moving parts inside, so there are fewer things that can break down.
When compared to gas or oil boilers, heat pumps have much lower maintenance costs.
4. Can Be Used For Both Heating and Cooling
Another great benefit of air-source heat pumps is that they can be used for both heating and cooling your home!
In the summer, you can use the heat pump to transfer heat from your home to the outdoors, and in the winter, you can use it to transfer heat from the outdoors to your home. This makes them a very versatile option for climate control in your home.
5. Government Incentives Available
In some countries, there are government incentives available for installing air-source heat pumps.
For example, In the UK, the current incentive is known as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS), which is a grant that encourages property owners to install low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps.
Subsidies for low-carbon heating technologies can assist property owners in paying for the initial outlay of these systems.
What you’ll get
You can get:
- £5,000 off the cost and installation of an air source heat pump
- £5,000 off the cost and installation of a biomass boiler
- £6,000 off the cost and installation of a ground source heat pump
6. Lower Operating Costs Than Other Forms Of Heating
Even though the initial cost of installing an air source heat pump may be higher than other forms of heating, the operating costs are lower.
Because the sun warms the air (or ground, or water), even though the pump itself is powered by electricity generated from a non-renewable energy source, the energy that heat pumps generate is still considered ‘renewable’.
Related: A Guide To Heat Pump Prices
7. Increased Property Value
Installing an air source heat pump can also increase the value of your property!
This is because buyers are increasingly interested in homes with green features, and a heat pump is a great way to make your home more environmentally friendly.
Homebuyers are also taking into account that at some point they will need to change their gas or oil boilers to heat pumps anyway.
By purchasing a house that already has a heat pump installed, they are getting ahead of this expense.
8. High Seasonal Coefficient Of Performance (SCOP)
Yes, quite a mouthful! The term SCOP is a measure of how efficiently a heat pump can generate heat compared to the amount of electricity it uses.
In other words, it’s a way to compare the efficiency of different types of heat pumps.
The higher the SCOP, the more efficient the heat pump.
Air source heat pumps typically have high SCOPs, meaning they are very efficient at generating heat.
In fact, some air source heat pumps have SCOPs as high as 6! However, the average is 3.4.
9. Improved Indoor Air Quality
As soon as you start reducing the moisture content in the atmosphere of your home, you also start reducing the number of mold spores, dust mites, and other allergens that can cause respiratory problems.
This is because these allergens thrive in moist environments.
By using an air source heat pump to reduce the humidity in your home, you can improve your indoor air quality and make your home a healthier place to live.
10. Long Lifespan
As we mentioned earlier, heat pumps have very long lifespans. In fact, with proper maintenance, they can last up to 25 years!
Additionally, heat pumps have fewer moving parts, so there are very few things that can go wrong with them.
This is in contrast to other types of heating and cooling systems which have many moving parts that can break down over time.
The heat pump consists of four components: an evaporator, a compressor, a condenser (or heat exchanger), and an expansion valve (or metering device).
The compressor and expansion valve are the main moving parts in the system, which means there are very few things that can go wrong.
Airsource Heat Pump Disadvantages
1. The Upfront Cost Can Be High
On average, the supply and installation of an air source heat pump will cost in the region of £3,000-£18,000.
Of course, this cost will vary depending on the size of your property, the type of heat pump you choose, and whether or not you need to make any changes to your existing heating system.
This is considerably more than installing a gas boiler, however, as I mentioned earlier you can now apply for a grant to offset some of this cost.
2. Power Consumption May Be Higher at Times
Electricity costs roughly 14.0 pence per kWh. This means that the running costs of your heat pump may be as much as £560 each year. This number is most likely not far off from your gas expenses.
According to Ofgem, the average house spends approximately £636 on natural gas each year.
Depending on the rate at which electricity prices increase versus gas prices, one may become more expensive than the other.
3. Aesthetics Aren’t Great
An air-source heat pump requires an outside unit, and this can be an eyesore.
They are usually placed on the side of a house or in the garden, which means they are visible from the street or from your neighbor’s garden.
Some people may find this unsightly and it can reduce the curb appeal of your property.
4. They Can Be Noisy
The older heat pumps tended to be quite noisy. However, with each new iteration, manufacturers have been able to reduce the noise levels.
Some units can now operate as low as 40 decibels, which is nearly the same noise level as a soft whisper which is around 30 decibels.
6. You Need Ample Outdoor Space
Since these heat pumps require an external unit, you need to have enough outdoor space to accommodate them.
If you live in a flat or an apartment, this type of heat pump may not be suitable for you as there simply isn’t enough space to put the external unit.
The installation of outdoor heat pumps should be kept at least two feet (24 inches) away from walls, plants, and other obstructions like rocks and shrubbery.
8. They Don’t Provide The Same Level Of Heat
One small drawback of an air source heat pump is the fact that they don’t supply the same level of heat as a gas boiler, for example.
Now, this might sound bad, but with every new installation upgraded radiators and/or underfloor heating is recommended to make sure you get the best possible performance.
9. Larger radiators are often required
We briefly touched on radiators in the last point. You may need to install larger ones. It depends on the heat pump’s flow temperature, and radiators must be sized to reflect the same setting.
The lower your set point is, the more efficient your heat pump will be.
10. May Need To Add Additional Insulation
If you are having a new heat pump installed it is essential to improve and add to the insulation in your home.
Heat pumps require a high level of insulation to effectively extract heat from the air, so if your home isn’t properly insulated, it won’t work.
To ensure efficient operation, heat loss through the walls, roof, and flooring must be reduced.
11. Not Ideal For Extreme Cold Climates
The fact of the matter is, that air-source heat pumps tend to lose some efficiency the colder the temperature is outside. This is down to the fact that they are primarily designed to extract heat from the air.
If you live in an area that experiences long and harsh winters, then this type of heat pump might not be ideal for you as it will have to work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, which in turn will increase your energy consumption and running costs.
12. Can Be Difficult To Find A Qualified Installer
Since heat pumps are still relatively new to the market, it can be difficult to find a qualified installer.
Mainly because your local heating and plumbing technician is used to fitting gas boilers and hasn’t upgraded their skill set to include heat pumps.
The house may require new piping and they would need to know the best position to place the outdoor unit.
This is slowly changing as technology becomes more popular, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Make sure you do your research and only use a reputable and qualified installer to carry out the installation.
This will ensure that it is installed correctly and that you get the best possible performance from your heat pump.
Ground Source Heat Pump Advantages
1. Cheaper To Run Than Direct Electric Heating Systems
Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) offer significant financial savings. Heat pumps cost less to operate than direct electric heating systems.
GSHPs are less expensive to run than oil boilers and may be more cost-effective than gas boilers.
Since heat pumps may be fully automated, they require far less effort than biomass boilers.
GSHPs are also more efficient than air-source heat pumps as they don’t have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.
2. Low carbon heating system
Ground source heat pumps have a very low carbon footprint. The only emissions from a GSHP system are from the electricity used to power the pump itself.
This is typically around 1% of the total emissions of a fossil fuel heating system.
In most cases, if a renewable energy source is used to power them, GSHPs have no carbon emissions whatsoever. GSHPs are non-intrusive, safe, silent, and almost hidden from clear sight.
3. Reduced Dependence on Fossil Fuels
By switching to a ground source heat pump, you can greatly reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. This has a number of benefits, both for you and the environment.
Not only will you be saving money on your energy bills, but you’ll also be doing your bit to help combat climate change.
4. Increased Property Value
Installing a ground source heat pump can increase the value of your property. This is because GSHPs are seen as a desirable eco-friendly feature that potential buyers are willing to pay more for.
Many homeowners do not understand how to properly estimate their heat pump’s initial cost when purchasing a new heater.
The average market value of a new heat pump is expected to recoup between 35% and 50% of its original price in the marketplace.
In some cases, it may be a break-even investment, adding value to your property at similar levels to the original purchase.
5. Government incentives are available
The grants available for GSHPs are similar to those for air source heat pumps.
What you’ll get:
- £5,000 off the cost and installation of an air source heat pump
- £5,000 off the cost and installation of a biomass boiler
- £6,000 off the cost and installation of a ground source heat pump
The program is open to houses in England and Wales that are owned by individuals or small non-domestic companies. It will run from 2022 until 2025.
6. Heat Pumps Save Space. (There Are No Fuel Storage Requirements)
When compared to oil and propane furnaces (that require fuel storage), heat pumps don’t take up much space.
There are no bulky tanks or lines that need to be stored on your property. This can be a significant advantage if you have a small home or garden.
7.No Need To Manage Fuel Deliveries
Following on from the last point, because there is no need for fuel storage, you also don’t need to manage fuel deliveries.
This can be a real advantage if you live in a rural area where fuel deliveries are infrequent or unreliable.
8.No Risk Of Fuel Being Stolen
Since there is no outside unit or fuel storage, there is no risk of fuel being stolen from your property.
This can be a significant advantage in areas where crime rates are high or there is a trend of fuel theft in the area.
9. They’re Aesthetically Pleasing
Most heat pumps are small and unobtrusive, making them aesthetically pleasing both inside and outside of your home.
Ground source heat pumps are usually hidden away entirely, with just a few pipes leading from your home to the buried ground loop.
10. They’re Versatile
Heat pumps can be used for both heating and cooling, making them a versatile option for year-round temperature control in your home.
This means you don’t have to have two separate systems for heating and cooling your home.
11. Heat Pumps Are Environmentally Friendly
As heat pumps don’t burn fossil fuels to generate heat, they don’t produce harmful emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen oxides (NOx).
This makes them a much more environmentally friendly option than traditional heating systems such as boilers.
12. They’re Low Maintenance
Ground source heat pumps don’t have any moving parts inside the main unit, which means there are very few things that can go wrong with them.
This makes them a low-maintenance option compared to other heating systems, such as boilers, which have many moving parts that can break down over time.
13. They Have A Long Lifespan
Ground source heat pumps are designed to last for many years, with some manufacturers offering warranties of up to 25 years.
This long lifespan means they could end up saving you money in the long run.
14. The Only Renewable Energy Technology That Can Benefit From The Thermal Energy Storage Properties
There really is no other renewable energy technology that can benefit from the thermal energy storage properties of the ground as much as a GSHP can.
This means that a GSHP can provide you with a source of renewable energy that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
15. They Can Help To Diversify The Energy Mix
As we have seen, ground source heat pumps can provide a significant amount of renewable heat, which can help to diversify the energy mix.
This is important because it helps to make our energy supply more resilient to shocks, such as sudden increases in fossil fuel prices or disruptions to the gas supply.
16. They’re Reliable
As heat pumps are a mature technology, they are very reliable. This means you can be confident that your heat pump will provide you with heating and hot water for many years to come.
17. Virtually silent
The fact that ground source heat pumps are not taking heat from the air means that they are virtually silent when they are running. There is no fan or other moving parts that can make noise.
So, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of your home without worrying about the noise from your heating system.
18. They Improve Air Quality
Since ground source heat pumps emit no point-of-use emissions or any air pollution, they can actually help to improve the air quality.
If you think about how much gas and oil boilers produce, it is easy to see how they can have a negative impact on air quality.
19. They Can Be Used In Any Climate
Since the vast majority of GSHPs pipes are buried underground, they are not affected by the weather or climate.
This means that GSHPs can be used in any climate, whether it is hot, cold, wet, or dry.
If it is frozen above ground, the earth below the frost line is still a toasty 30-40 degrees, which your heat pump can take advantage of.
Ground Source Heat Pump Disadvantages
Now that we have gone through the advantages of a GSHP, it is time to take a look at the disadvantages.
Before we do that, it is important to remember that every technology has its advantages and disadvantages. It is up to you to decide whether the advantages of a GSHP outweigh the disadvantages.
1. They Can Be Expensive To Install
One of the biggest disadvantages of a GSHP is that it can be expensive to install.
This is down to the fact that you need to have a ground loop installed, which can be costly. You also need to bore holes into the ground, which can add to the cost.
The installers will need heavy machinery to dig the trench for the ground loop. This can cause damage to your property and those machines are not cheap.
2. They Require A Lot Of Space in your Garden
Another disadvantage of GSHPs is that they require a lot of space. This is because you need to have a ground loop installed, which can take up a lot of space in your garden.
A horizontal system requires 700 square meters on average. A vertical system requires access for the drilling equipment, but boreholes are only 20 centimeters wide.
3. Efficiency Affected By Soil Type
Even though GSHPs can be installed in various different soil types, clay or sandy soil actually reduces the efficiency of the system.
Mainly down to the fact that these types of soil do not conduct heat as well as other soils, such as chalk or gravel.
When your GSHP technician carries out their survey, they will be able to tell you what type of soil you have and whether it will affect the efficiency of your system.
3. Tricky To Install In Retrofits
Most new builds fit GSHPs, so they ensure that the gardens are large enough to accommodate them. However, if an older existing garden is being retrofitted, space can be more limited.
This means that you may struggle to find enough space for the ground loop, which could make the installation more difficult.
A Vertical ground source heat pump would be the best alternative in this situation, however, they are more expensive than a horizontal system.
4. May Incur Costs Beyond The Initial Installation
If you are having a GSHP installed, you will also need to factor in the costs of additional insulation and airtightness.
This is because GSHPs are designed to work with highly insulated and airtight buildings. So, if your property is not already up to these standards, you will need to make some changes.
To get the most out of a ground source heat pump, your home must be well insulated.
This implies cavity wall insulation, roof insulation, and double glazing. The heat pump won’t function effectively or efficiently if there isn’t enough insulation.
5. Disruptive Installation
Installation is normally carried out over the course of 4 – 5 days, but this can be disruptive.
As we mentioned before, you will need a trench dug in your garden for the ground loop.
In order to do this, their machinery will need to access your property, which can be disruptive.
You will also need to factor in the noise from the drilling equipment, which can be loud.
6. Greenhouse Gases
This may sound a bit confusing since it is often claimed to be environmentally beneficial and sustainable.
There are certain greenhouse gases trapped beneath the earth’s surface. Extraction of geothermal energy occasionally releases some of these greenhouse gases.
To access the earth’s heat, it must first be drilled into. However, this release is considerably less than the amount of man-made greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels. Geothermal energy is still an environmentally advantageous choice.
8. Can Lead To Increased Electricity Bills
If you have previously relied on oil and gas to heat your home and provide hot water, you will see an increase in your electricity bills.
This is because a GSHP uses electricity to power the compressor and circulate the refrigerant.
You are also no longer sharing the costs between oil and gas like you were previously.
9. Planning Permission May Be Needed
In most cases, the installation of a ground source heat pump does not require planning permission.
If you live in a designated historic structure or conservation zone, you’ll need to get council approval.
This is not something you would need to do with an air source heat pump as they can be installed without needing to make any external changes to your property.