Popular on the continent and in North America, air source heat pumps are a different, energy-efficient way to provide both cooling and heating to your home at any time of the year – even winter. Some homeowners can benefit from savings of up to £1,350 a year on their energy bills in addition to a payment of up to £1,030 in grants from the government every year.
Air source heat pumps cost between £6,000 and £10,000 for supply and installation. Last year, in Britain, over 22,000 heat pumps were installed by homeowners and enquiries to installers are going up year on year.
In this article, CompareCompanies looks at:
- air source heat pumps and how they work,
- what is an air to water heat pump,
- what is an air to air heat pump,
- the advantages of air source heat pumps,
- the disadvantages of air source heat pumps,
- planning permission for air source heat pumps,
- the financial incentives on offer to you when you install an air source heat pump,
- how to get the best deal on an air source heat pump for your home
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Air source heat pump
Air source heat pumps work in a similar way to solar panels. There’s a chemical liquid inside the air to water heat pump which uses heat from the air to cause that liquid to evaporate. A pump then takes out the evaporated chemical from the steam generator and moves it into a smaller chamber. As the chemical inside starts to approach boiling point, that steam is then transferred over to a condenser and heat is then released into your heating system.
Air source heat pumps produce the warmth that’s needed to power radiators, underfloor heating systems, and warm air convection systems. There are two different types of air source heat pump:
- Air-to-water – an air-to-water air source heat pump system heats water which it sends through your internal piping to your radiators.
- Air-to-air – this system takes the warmth from the air outside your home. It uses takes that warm air and delivers it to your warm air vent heating system. Please be aware though that you can’t use an air-to-air heat pump for heating water.
Air source heat pump maintenance
Air source heat pumps require very little maintenance. If, during a particularly cold snap, you find that the pump is beginning to accumulate ice, your pump will, on most occasions, resolve that issue itself. However, from time to time, it may need a bit of help and you will need to switch the machine off before defrosting it.
Some homeowners choose to buy a small shelter to cover the outdoor element of the heat pump to protect it from the worst of the British weather.
Advantages of an air source heat pump
Significant reductions in energy bills possible
According to the Energy Saving Trust, a homeowner (4 bed detached) can expect to make the following annual savings by switching to an air source heat pump…
||Average energy bill saving
|Electric (older models)
Up to £7,000 and more in payments from the Renewable Heat Incentive program
Depending on the size of your system and your property, you could be eligible to receive up to £7,000 or more over the course of seven years from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. We’ll cover this scheme later in the article.
Works great for bath water and for the washing
An air to water heat pump can provide enough heat for bathing and for your washing up to a temperature of around fifty-five degrees Celsius.
Ideal for homes with underfloor heating and/or warm air vents
Underfloor heating and warm air vent systems don’t require the power produced by a standard conventional boiler system so that they work at their peak efficiency and power.
Significant reductions in your carbon footprint
The Government have been running campaigns encouraging homeowners to be as energy efficient as possible in recent years – to the extent that they provide subsidies for boilers, insulation, and air source heat pumps.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, a 4-bedroomed semi-detached property can reduce their carbon footprint by these amounts every single year with an air source heat pump…
||Savings on carbon dioxide
|Electric (older models)
Very easy to install
Compared with ground source heat pumps, installation of an air source heat pump is relatively quick, simple, and straightforward. In addition, you can start using your pump as soon as it’s installed. Most installations are done in less than a day.
No need to store fuel
Many homes not connected to the gas supply network run on LPG, gas, or oil boilers to provide them with heat and hot water. With an air source heat pump, there’s no need to take delivery of fuel from a supplier nor find somewhere around your property to install it either.
Switch to cooling mode during summer
You can reverse the process that your air source heat pump uses to convert cold air into warm air to provide a refreshing cooling solution to your home during summer.
Build onto your system
For larger homes, you can install separate air source heat pumps for upstairs and downstairs to ensure a consistent level of warmth across your entire property.
No need to worry about soil or ground conditions
One major factor to consider if installing a ground source heat pump is the quality of the soil or ground underneath. Ground source heat pumps work by using the higher natural ambient temperatures underground to heat the water in the pipes below soil. Because air source heat pumps don’t use the ground for their heat, their expected levels of performance and savings can be far more predictable.
Disadvantages of an air source heat pump
They can be noisy (reaching a maximum decibel limit of sixty up to a metre away) – think of an air conditioning unit as something comparable. Your installer will recommend a location on the outside of your property where the noise won’t be heard from inside your home. A system will generally make more noise during the winter because it has to work harder to provide the heat your home needs.
You may need bigger radiators
If you replace a standard central heating system using radiators with an air source heat pump, you’ll probably need to install larger radiators to get the warmth in your rooms that you want. Suitable sized radiators may cost between £150 and £350 a unit (depending on manufacturer and range) and there may be additional pipework needed at an extra cost.
Air source heat pumps are installed on the outside of your property so your installer will need to find somewhere suitable to fit it. It can be placed either on a wall or on the ground however, whichever you choose, it will need space around it to work at its optimum. If you have a wall which faces the sun, this would be ideal.
There won’t be any boiling water dispensed by your taps if you have an air to water heat pump. However, the water will be hot enough for a bath in most cases.
Not suitable for every home
If you have a recently-installed gas or oil boiler, you may not see a saving. In some cases, the amount of money you pay for energy may increase slightly. For homeowners with a recently-installed electric storage boiler or LPG boiler, you will most probably make good savings but at up to two thirds less than the amounts indicated in the above table.
To receive maximum benefit from an air source heat pump, you’ll need to make sure that your home (including your roof) is fully insulated. Insulation is a great investment in any home so ask an installer if he or she thinks the insulation in your home is enough to justify the installation of a heat pump and, if not, what you need to do.
Less efficient during winter
An air source heat pump needs to work harder during winter so the electrical input needed will rise (that means you’ll save less money on energy when it’s cold outside).
Green but not necessarily 100% green
Your air source ground pump requires around a quarter of the electricity it uses to come from an external source – for example, the mains. It is possible to hook it up to a renewable source like solar panels to get rid of the need for mains power. If you have a system already, ask an installer about how they would connect the systems to each other. If you don’t, this will require further investment on your part.
Planning permission for an air source heat pump
Different planning permission rules apply across different parts of the UK. At the time of writing, those regulations are:
England and Wales
No planning permission is needed for air source heat pumps in England and Wales if the following conditions are met:
- the installation must comply with the planning standards laid out in the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and it must only be used for heating/cooling
- the air source heat pump must not be within one metre of the edge of your property
- it must be installed on a flat surface (ground or roof is fine) but if it’s off the ground, it must be 1m away from the elevation edge
- installation must be done so as to be as discreet as possible
- the outdoor unit cannot be any larger than 60cm cubed.
If you live in a listed property or a conservation area, you will need contact your local planning department for advice. For homeowners in a conservation area or near a world heritage site, your outdoor unit must not be visible from the roadside.
In Scotland, no planning permission is needed unless:
- there is already a heat pump within your property’s boundaries
- it is less than 100m away from your next door neighbour
- it can be seen from the open road
- you live in a conservation area, world heritage site, near a listed building, or on scientific research or archaeological grounds.
As with England and Wales, if you live in a listed property, you should contact your local council and ask for their planning team.
In Northern Ireland, you’ll need planning permission if:
- this would not be the only heat pump installed within your property’s boundaries
- if the pump will be installed within 30m away of a house (other than the one which is benefiting from the heat pump)
- it can be seen from the open road
- the external part of the pump is more than 2m high
- you want to install the pump on your roof
- you live in a world heritage site, near a listed building, or on scientific research or archaeological grounds.
Listed property owners should contact their local authority and ask to be connected to their Planning Department.
Financial incentives for an air source heat pump
Homeowners who have had air source heat pumps installed in their homes to Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) standards are eligible for quarterly payments from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. Please note that this scheme is no longer available to residents in Northern Ireland.
England, Scotland, and Wales
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average homeowner living in a 4-bedroom detached house will earn between £875 and £1,030 from RHI payments each year for the seven years after installation.
At time of writing, you will be paid 10.49p for every kWh of renewable heat produced by your air source ground pump.
Getting the best deal on an air source heat pump
Whenever you’re making a major investment in your home, it pays to shop around. That’s true whether you’re looking for a conservatory roof replacement, double glazing, or an air source heat pump.
What advantages does shopping around give you? When an installer knows that there’s competition for your business, prices come down while the level of quality in the parts used, during the installation, and for after-care remains the same.
We’ve partnered with dozens of accredited MCS installers (and installers who have been trading solidly for over a year and who are ready to apply for MCS registration or Category One registration) across the country. We can put you in direct contact with them – they’ll visit your home, answer your questions, and leave you with their very best quote.
You’re under no obligation to accept any of these quotes and our service is free too. So we can put you in touch with trusted local traders, please fill in the form above.