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Are heat pumps really environmentally friendly?

Part 3 of a 5-part series

People have been talking about heat pumps and the environment in recent months. You might be asking yourself the question: are heat pumps really environmentally friendly?

It’s a contentious issue. The government says heat pumps are better for the environment as they are more energy-efficient. But according to critics, heat pumps are expensive and not always very effective.

Heat pumps are certainly expensive and difficult to install. They don’t work well in extremely cold weather, and they will never be carbon neutral. But online sustainability promotor, Green Match, says heat pumps are worth it, saying they “represent a smart investment in the long run”.

Is that for everyone though?

What’s not often mentioned in the press is the fact that heat pumps only work effectively in a well-insulated house. According to Kevin Sales, renewables sales manager for Grant UK, most homes built after the 1990s will have adequate insulation.

But if your house was built earlier, the chances are you will have to insulate before making a heat pump a viable option.

Could electric boilers be part of the solution?

Senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth’s School of Engineering, Jovana Radulovic says electric boilers may be a green option. Writing for the Conversation, Radulovic says that those put off by the work involved in installing a heat pump may consider an electric boiler instead. Currently, between 80 and 85% of UK homes use gas boilers.

High electricity prices often put consumers off switching from gas to electric. But Radulovic believes with renewables at the heart of electricity production, the cost should stabilise. Electric boilers could well “play a part in meeting our environmental targets,” she says.


Whether a heat pump is the most environmentally friendly heating option for you depends on several factors. Do your research before you commit. Read the Which guide. Get non-binding quotes from Green Match. And if you do decide to take the plunge, read our article on what the UK is going to help homeowners fit heat pumps.