The pros and cons of heat pumps - what you need to know

The UK has shown commitment to tackling the climate crisis by setting a significant – and necessary – target to meet net zero emissions by 2050. Whilst this legislation makes the UK the first major economy to set such a progressive target, it is vital that the action taken to get there is just as bold and ambitious.

In their latest report, The International Energy Agency stresses that no new gas boilers should be sold after 2025 if Net Zero targets are to be achieved by 2050. As an alternative, heat pumps are expected to be a better, low carbon option to heating homes, so should you be considering them when installing new heating systems? 

Here, Associate Director, Phil O'Loughlin discusses the pros and cons of heat pumps and answers the most commonly asked question - are they worth it? 

What is a heat pump?

Heat pumps are systems that move heat from one place to another by using a compressor and circulating a structure of liquid or gas refrigerant. The primary identifier of heat pumps is that they don't "create" new heat. Instead, they transfer existing heat. 

Heat pumps: pros and cons

It's important to be informed about the upsides and downsides that come with selecting heat pumps prior to your advancement of the decision. Whilst there are a multitude of heat pumps benefits which make them a great investment, there are still some drawbacks that must be weighed up. Below we'll discuss the pros and cons that come with installing both air source and ground source heat pumps. 


Lower running costs

Heat pumps, when combined with other renewables such as solar, can be cleaner and more economical to run than systems based on combustion. The more energy efficient the systems are, the greater long-term savings on energy. Currently, heat pumps represent one of the most energy efficient alternative to fuel, oil, and electrical systems when it comes to heating - with efficiency rates reaching as high as 300%. Even though prices of ground source heat pumps can be more expensive, this environmentally friendly investment can help reduce energy and carbon consumption even further due to the stable nature of the low-grade heat source.

Less maintenance 

Heat pumps require less maintenance than combustion heating systems, along with being straightforward to control, simple to maintain, and user-friendly. During the commissioning process, installers will set the core parameters of the system so that the end user has minimal interaction with the controls. Subsequently, the building operator can adjust their desired room temperatures via third-party controls or BMS. Because the entire air source heat pump system is simple and effective, it only needs occasional servicing and maintenance checks from the owner and professional technician. 

Safety improvement in air quality 

As heat pumps do not require any on site combustion process, they are much cleaner and safer in operation. 


Carbon emissions 

Provided the heat pump system is well designed to interact with the entire system, it can reduce the buildings carbon emissions by optimising the seasonal efficiency of the system. 

Provide cooling 

During summer months, and depending on the model, heat pumps can reverse the cycle. This means the unit will act as an air conditioner instead, making it multi-functional. Air to air heat pumps can conveniently be switched to cooling mode during warmer periods.

Extremely reliable 

Air source heat pumps have a long lifespan if properly maintained, lasting up to 20 years. A warranty period is included with almost all air source heat pumps.

Government support grants 

You may be eligible for free heat pump grants through the Government backed Energy Company Obligation scheme.  

Can produce warm air and water 

Depending on the type of heat pump selected, you could be able to heat water, allowing you to use it for space heating and hot water. This is determined by the heating system's temperature or the velocity of the flow. The water flow must be around 55 degrees to hold heat, and it will have a maximum temperature of 35 degrees unless you employ a heat exchanger for space heating. The air source heat pump is a heating system that combines space and water heating and requires a flow rate of 55 degrees or greater. 



High upfront cost

Heat pumps have a high upfront cost. However, their operating costs do translate into long-term savings on energy bills, leading to a path of reduced carbon emissions.

Difficult to install 

Before installation research must be undertaken to understand the movement of heat, local geology, and the heating and cooling requirements for the property. Thus, compared to traditional boiler replacements, heat pump installation requires significantly more planning and preparation. The design of the system must be thoroughly completed with a detailed heat loss calculation carried out to ensure the property is well insulated, along with a correct assessment of the heat pump output required and the right sizing of the chosen heat emitters.

Wider sustainability implications 

Some of the fluids used for heat transfer have wider sustainability implications and raise environmental concerns and must be considered. Therefore, it is recommended to use biodegradable fluids. 

Significant work

The installation process requires significant work and disruption to the property/garden if you a retrofitting. For example, air source heat pumps may require penetrations to be made through the building cladding. If the property doesn’t have a reasonably sized outdoor area where pipes can be buried, then you’ll have to rule out a ground source heat pump completely. It makes both economical and practical sense to plan it in as part of a new build, rather than installing later. It can save you time and money to plan any earthmoving into an early stage of the build process.

Carbon neutral 

Heat pumps rely on electricity to operate, which means they will never be entirely carbon neutral. However, since heat pumps are electric, they represent a perfect fit for solar applications. This is an effective carbon free model. Coupled together with solar panels, heat pumps could lead to a zero net energy.

Electricity usage will increase 

As mentioned above, heat pumps do need electricity to work, so if you install a heat pump, you’ll likely see an increase in your electricity usage.


So, are they worth it?

The benefits of heat pumps undoubtedly indicate that they are a smart investment for a long-term heating solution. Despite the large upfront cost, they are proven to reduce energy bills, be a lot more energy efficient, and reduce carbon emissions.

With a growing emphasis on energy efficiency in homes and commercial properties, its essential we plan for renewable heating. Here at RPS, our expertise will take the pressure off, ensuring that your project is on time, budget and compliant with strict regulations.

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