Should I install a heat pump now? - Grand Designs Magazine
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Should I install a heat pump now?

With gas boilers being phased out, when is the right time to make the switch?

By Victoria Purcell | 10 February 2022

As part of the government’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, heat pumps are being hailed as a low-carbon alternative to gas boilers. With energy prices going through the roof, is it the right time to make the switch?

The cost of installation is a barrier to uptake for many. Currently, an air-source heat pump (which transfers warmth from the outdoor air to indoors) costs from £8,000-10,000, and a ground-source heat pump (which draws warmth from beneath the ground) from around £13,000.

Both systems run on electricity. Since Britain generates around a third of its electricity from burning natural gas, the jump in wholesale gas prices has pushed up electricity prices. The government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme is set to make £5,000 grants available for heat pump installations from April 2022. Will taking advantage of this initiative make it financially advantageous to install a heat pump?

Should I install a heat pump now? This open-plan house has an air source heat pump

A 8.5-kilowatt air source heat pump warms this home in Hull. Photo: Andy Haslam

Should I install a heat pump now?

Property and construction expert and broadcaster Kunle Barker puts this question to a panel of experts during a discussion about sustainable self-build and renovation during Grand Designs Live Online Ask an Expert Weekend in February 2022.

‘The cost of fuel makes a huge difference right now,’ says sustainable building and energy efficiency expert David Hilton, director of Heat and Energy Ltd.

‘The cost of electricity went from an average of 14p to 25p literally overnight, and then up to 32p. But gas went up from 4.1p to 4.6p. So then suddenly you think, maybe I should be staying on gas for the next few years?

‘Do the improvements to the fabric of the building first, reduce your gas use, and then in 10 years make another decision on whether it’s the right thing to do to change to a heat pump.’

‘Insulate. Do that first,’ David continues. ‘I know there’s no government incentives for it, but it’s the right thing to do.’

Should I install a heat pump now? This open-plan house has a ground source heat pump

A ground source heat pump keeps this 5-bedroom Lincolnshire self-build home cosy. Photo: Andy Haslam

Insulate first

Robert Tiffin, a thermographer, retrofit coordinator and director at Eco Tiffin, agrees that insulation is the best place to start when it comes to making homes more energy efficient: ‘Heat pumps are a great invention and they are more sustainable, but clients aren’t really aware of the extent of the work that needs to be done.’

Once the costs involved and the timeline becomes clear, Robert finds that many clients decide to improve their insulation instead: ‘With an existing building from the 1990s or older, you can reduce the gas demand by 50% relatively easily with insulation. The average energy bill, before these price rises, was about £1,200 pounds a year, so if you can knock that in half to £600 pounds [by insulating], then you’re talking about serious savings.

‘And then, at a later date, when you can afford it, install a seven or 10 kilowatt heat pump, which will reduce that gas demand even more.’