Heat Pumps

Is either an Air Source or Ground Source heat pump right for? Find out what to look for in your heat pump with help from The Eco Experts. Plus, get free quotes.

In these difficult economic times, many people are looking at ways to reduce unnecessary spending. As energy costs continue to spiral, many people are turning to renewable energy solutions as a means to reduce their own costs, and also to generate income by selling excess energy via the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme. There are several ways to generate renewable energy, but heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular.

What kinds of pumps are available and how do they work?

Heat pumps work by transferring heat from one place to another - usually by moving heat from outside the building to the inside, using a small amount of electricity in the process. You may think that temperatures in winter would be too low for them to work properly, but because they work in a similar way to modern refrigerators, they are able to work with air temperatures below zero. Basically there are two main kinds of heat pump: air source and ground source.

Air source pumps: as the name might suggest, transfer heat from the air outside to provide heating. There are two kinds of air source pump. 'Air to air' pumps work by transferring heat to an air distribution system, which means that although they can provide heating, they are not able to provide hot water.

However, this does mean that they can provide air conditioning as well as heating. 'Air to water' systems transfer heat to a water-based system (for example a wet central heating system), and so can provide both heating and hot water. They can also make use of water heating for other purposes such as swimming pools, and are ideal for underfloor heating.

Air source pumps usually require an external unit to be fitted to the building, although is not normally necessary to gain planning permission. There is a minimal operating noise, which may be a consideration if you are thinking of installing an air source pump.

You can learn more about Air source heat pumps here.

Ground source heat pumps: work in a similar way, but instead of harvesting heat from the air, they take heat from the ground. This can be done in two ways; either by taking heat directly from the ground, or by tapping into an underground water source such as a borehole or well.

In both cases cabling or pipework will need to be laid in the ground to enable the heat to be collected. Whilst this can be 'compressed' to enable maximum cable length in a small area, this can still be an inconvenience if space is limited, and installation is more complicated than an air-source pump, and is consequently more expensive.

You can learn more about Ground source heat pumps here.

Although both kinds of pump use a small amount of electricity during their operation, this amount is minimal, and because the source of the energy is renewable they do contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

What are the pros and cons?

Before installing a heat pump, it is important to understand some of the possible drawbacks. Both systems operate by producing a constant heat supply, but this tends to be at a lower temperature than standard heating systems. In other words, heating is provided at a constant temperature over a longer period of time.

Because of this, you will need to make sure your home is already equipped to preserve heat. This can be done by ensuring you have excellent insulation and windows and doors are designed to keep the heat in. If your home isn't well insulated, heat will be wasted.

You will also need to consider the 'footprint' of each system. As already mentioned, air source systems need an external unit to be attached to a wall, whereas ground source systems require cabling to be laid underground, which can cause significant disruption during installation. However, ground source pumps are generally considered to be more efficient because ground temperature fluctuates less than air temperature.

Nevertheless, the main advantage of heat pumps over more 'traditional' heating solutions is that significant savings can be made, both by reducing energy costs on your home, and by earning additional income by selling any excess energy you create.

Of course, you will need to consider installation costs. Installing an air source system is likely to cost between £6,000 and £10,000, whilst a ground source system will be more expensive to install (between £9,000 and £17,000). However, because heat pumps are considered to be renewable energy solutions, they are eligible for grants to pay installation cost providing you use an accredited installer, and the resulting reduction in energy costs will reduce your ongoing costs.

It is difficult to give exact figures about the possible savings to be made by installing a heat pump, because there are many factors to take into account, such as the existing energy-saving measures you already have in place, the size of your home etc. Savings will also vary depending on the system you are replacing, and the efficiency of your existing boiler.

As a general rule, savings made by replacing a gas-fired system will be lower than if you are replacing an electric or oil-fired system, but of course, any level of saving is welcome, and it seems that traditional energy costs such as oil or gas will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

Of course, it is also possible to generate income by feeding any excess energy produced back to the National Grid, using the FIT scheme. Again, it is difficult to be precise about amounts which could be made, as individual circumstances vary widely, but this is another factor to take into consideration when thinking about possible returns on your investment.

Is a heat pump right for me?

If you are considering installing a heat pump, you will need to consider all the elements very carefully, as this is a major investment, and it is essential to be aware of the factors involved. Take time to consider your needs and expectations, as well as researching the options available with different installations. Y

You would also be wise to take expert advice about your individual situation, to be sure that you make am informed choice, and end up with the best possible solution for your needs. Fill in the form below or give our Eco experts a call and find what type of system may work for you.

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