What is a heat pump and how do they work?

Here's your complete guide to heat pumps with AXA. Explore how they work, the types of heat pump available, their pros and cons, the costs involved & more!

Heating and energy

10 March 2023

As the world moves towards a greener future, the installation of heat pumps in UK homes and buildings is on the rise. These systems offer a more efficient and sustainable solution for keeping your space warm than conventional heating.

At AXA, we're here to help you understand everything about heat pumps, from what a heat pump is to how a heat pump works. Our guide will answer all your questions and highlight both the benefits and drawbacks of this new heating solution.

A heat pump’s working principle is that it moves heat cleverly from hotter areas to colder ones. The device uses a small amount of energy to transfer heat from one place to another rather than generating heat itself. 

A heat pump operates by utilising a heat pump refrigerant. This refrigerant absorbs heat from the outside air or ground and transfers it into the building for heating purposes. During summer, the process can be reversed to cool the building by removing heat from the inside and transferring it outside.

In this section:

What types of heat pumps are there?

So, what are the different types of heat pumps? There are two main types of heat pumps and each uses a different heat source: air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps.

Ground source heat pump

Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) extract heat from the ground using a network of underground pipes. These heat pumps are efficient and reliable, even in colder climates, making them a popular choice for home heating. A HSHP heat pump tends to be more expensive to install but offers lower operating costs and a more consistent heat supply.

Air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps (ASHP) draw heat from the outside air and are suitable for homes or apartments in milder climates. Apartment heat pumps are usually air sourced and can be installed easily. Although air-source heat pumps are cost-effective, their efficiency decreases in extremely cold weather.

How much do heat pumps cost?

With energy prices rising, it is only natural to look for tips on saving electricity at home. The cost of heat pumps varies according to the source and the maintenance of the two types of heat pumps.

The cost of installing a heat pump typically falls from £5,000 to £45,000 with ongoing expenses on top of that. Air-to-water heat pumps usually begin at around £5,000, while ground-source heat pumps tend to cost between £13,000 and £35,000, with some reaching up to £45,000. The amount of energy a heat pump consumes will depend on factors such as the insulation of your home and its size.

Benefits of heat pumps

Heat pumps offer several benefits for homeowners looking for an energy-efficient heating solution. Here are some of the key advantages you can expect from heat pumps:

  • Energy efficient

    Heat pumps are highly efficient, using only a small amount of energy to transfer heat from one place to another - this means you can expect lower energy bills compared to traditional heating systems like boilers
  • Eco-friendly

    Using renewable energy sources, heat pumps help reduce carbon emissions and are an environmentally friendly option
  • Versatile

    Heat pumps can be used for both heating and cooling, making them a versatile option for UK homes in a variety of climates
  • Grants available

    There are certain grants available the offset the costs of installing an air source heat pump, such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

Drawbacks of heat pumps

However, when deciding to switch to a heat pump system, it’s essential to be aware of some of their drawbacks too:

  • High upfront cost

    The initial cost of installing a heat pump can be substantial, particularly for ground source heat pumps which can cost upwards of £13,000
  • Weather dependency

    Air source heat pumps may not be effective in extremely cold temperatures, as they rely on outdoor air to generate heat
  • Noise

    Some heat pumps can be noisy, particularly outdoor units, which may concern homeowners
  • Maintenance

    Heat pumps require regular maintenance to function optimally, which can be expensive and time-consuming
  • Limited use

    Heat pumps may not be suitable for larger homes or commercial properties, as they may not be able to generate enough heat to meet the demand

Installing a Heat Pump

Installing a heat pump in a house can be a big decision to make, and there are many factors to consider before you make the switch. 

The type of heat pump you choose to install will have a significant impact on the cost of the installation. For instance, a ground source heat pump installation is typically more expensive compared to an air source heat pump installation

This is because ground-source heat pumps require the installation of underground pipes, which increases the cost and complexity of the installation. However, air source heat pump installation costs are lower and less complex as this type of unit only requires outdoor installation.

Regardless of the type of heat pump you choose, it is crucial to check that your house has the necessary requirements for the installation.

What are renewable heat incentives?

If you're looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bills, you may want to consider the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI scheme is a government incentive in the UK to promote the adoption of renewable heating technologies, such as heat pumps. 

The scheme provides financial incentives to encourage households and businesses to switch from traditional fossil fuel heating systems to renewable heating systems, such as air-source heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps.

To make the most of the RHI, you must install eligible renewable heating systems and register for the scheme. You will then receive quarterly RHI payments for seven years based on the amount of renewable heat produced by the system. To be eligible for the RHI scheme, the renewable heating system must meet specific technical and environmental criteria, such as being installed by a qualified installer.

Now that you know and are well-informed about heat pumps and their many benefits and potential drawbacks, you can make an informed decision about heat pump installation. If you found this guide useful, be sure to check out more home tips and guides at AXA home insurance.

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