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The pros and cons of a heat pump

Part 2 of a 5-part series

The government is offering households £5,000 grants to install heat pumps. It may be tempting to jump at the opportunity. But have you looked at the pros and cons of a heat pump?

Sustainable business owner Rebecca Heaps used to work in family property development. She’s seen heat pumps fitted in all kinds of situations. “They’re lovely when they work,” she says, “but we absolutely would not retrofit”. The problem is, to work efficiently, heat pumps rely on your home being perfectly insulated.

Heat pump advantages

If you live in a well-insulated newbuild, a heat pump is one of the most efficient heating sources going.

  • Because heat pumps rely on electricity, they are much safer than gas central heating.
  • Traditional central heating can be drying, but heat pumps offer a more pleasant quality of air.
  • They work quietly and efficiently.
  • Despite their high upfront costs, heat pump running costs can be low.
  • They work in reverse during the summer, meaning you can cool your house with the same system.
  • And they require less maintenance than traditional boilers.

Heat pump disadvantages

But before you go for the government’s scheme, consider the disadvantages.

  • Installing a heat pump can be pricey, with costs ranging between £8,000 and £45,000. And running costs will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your home, how insulated it is and your heating habits.
  • Heat pumps work less effectively in very cold weather. That means if you live in an area that regularly experiences freezing conditions, a heat pump may not be for you.
  • Heat pumps are hard to instal and require major work done to your house.
  • You may need special planning permission to install a heat pump. Northern Ireland and Wales always require you to get permission. In England and Scotland, it all depends on the size and age of your property.  
  • Your heat pump will never be carbon neutral as it needs electricity to work. And the refrigerant chemicals used can be highly toxic and not at all sustainable.

Will a heat pump save me money?

The thing you are probably wondering is will a heat pump save me money? There is still much debate about this.

  • While some sources suggest a heat pump can last up to 50 years, others say it will need replacing within ten or 15.
  • If you’re making the switch from gas, you won’t see a big dip in your spending, since  electricity is still more expensive than gas.

In the end, whether or not a heat pump is right for you will depend on a number of factors. Make sure you’re ready before you make the swap.

Find out how heat pumps work in our first article in the series. And learn whether heat pumps are environmentally friendly in part 3.