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5 Common Myths About Heat Pumps

When you think of homes with heat pumps, you might think of large, detached properties in the countryside. However, while historically, this has been the type of property most likely to use heat pump technology, this has nothing to do with these homes being the most suitable.

5 Common Myths About Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can reduce both the energy bills and the carbon footprint of all types of properties across the UK, from small terraces to larger homes in the countryside. Let’s look at the most common myths surrounding heat pump installation and usage, where they’ve come from, and whether they’re correct.

1. Heat Pumps Are Expensive

Before 1st April 2022, the only financial incentive available for installing a heat pump was the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI calculated the amount of funding a homeowner would receive from the space and water heating requirements shown on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and then calculated how much of this energy would be classed as renewable following the installation of a heat pump.

The higher the energy usage, the more money the homeowner would receive. This incentivised the owners of larger, older, and less energy-efficient properties to sign up for RHI, as they had more to gain compared to the owners of smaller, newer, and well-insulated homes. Heat Pumps also appealed to the owners of older, poorly insulated properties who previously relied on oil or LPG central heating, as this costs approximately 30% more than gas, and therefore switching to a heat pump could represent a significant cost saving.

Due to the RHI payments being made quarterly over seven years, the customer still had to pay for the heat pump and all the associated costs upfront. These factors led to more heat pumps being purchased by wealthy homeowners who lived in large, old properties in rural locations. This has created the impression that heat pump technology is only for the affluent, which isn’t the case at all.

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme was launched on 1st April 2022 and, alongside Heat Pump Ready, aims to make heat pump technology accessible to everyone. The £5,000 upfront payment towards costs and installation means that everyone receives the same incentive regardless of the size of their home. This presents an exciting opportunity for those in smaller, more energy-efficient homes who will incur lower purchase and installation costs. These homeowners could be left with only £2,000 - £3,000 to pay, comparable to the cost of a new gas boiler.

For those who would prefer to eliminate upfront costs, there is the Heatio Heat as a Service scheme. Rather than purchasing a heat pump, you can simply rent it and make affordable monthly payments covering the heat you want. This works similarly to a car lease or a phone contract.

2. Having A Heat Pump Installed Will Be Inconvenient

Under the old RHI scheme, higher incentives were paid to those who opted for a heat pump with a higher Seasonal Coefficient of Performance (SCOP) value. The SCOP value measures a heat pump's efficiency while considering the changes in the temperature outside over a year. For example, a heat pump that uses 5,000kWh of electricity to generate 20,000kWh of heat over a year would have a SCOP of 4. (20,000 / 5,000 = 4)

This led to homeowners favouring high-efficiency heat pumps with lower operating (flow) temperatures, which weren’t always the best choice for their property.

Larger, older, and less energy-efficient properties often had very old heating systems, which required significant upgrades to operate at these lower flow temperatures.

This work often involved raising floorboards, installing new pipework, and fitting larger radiators. Customers who may have been able to afford the installation and receive significant savings often decided against a heat pump due to the inconvenience that the installation would involve. This led to the technology's reputation for needing costly and inconvenient installation work.

Newer, more energy-efficient properties are likely to require minimal upgrade work to get them ‘heat pump ready’, meaning that the installation can be carried out with minimal inconvenience to the homeowner and at a much lower cost.

3. Heat Pumps Don’t Work In Winter

Heat pumps work in temperatures down to -20°C and are popular in countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, which experience much colder winters than the UK. With this being the case, why do we often hear of people in the UK having heat pump installations that do not work in winter?

Did you know the colder it is outside, the bigger your boiler needs to be to keep your home warm and cosy? The term "bigger" refers to the kilowatt (kW) capacity of the boiler or heat pump, just like a car engine the bigger the engine, the more powerful the car. The bigger the heat pump's kilowatt capacity, the more powerful it is.

When we hear about a heat pump “Not Working” in winter, what this means in many cases is that the heat pump is not big enough to meet the heating demand of the property in the winter months.

Larger, older, and less energy-efficient properties proved more difficult to accurately design the heat pump size as it was more difficult to assess their energy efficiency and insulation levels. This often led to installers fitting undersized heat pumps that weren’t powerful enough to provide the required heat level in the colder months.

With the Heatio Smart Energy Monitoring System, it is now possible to precisely calculate the size of the heat pump you need and how much you will save.

4. Heat Pumps Cost A Fortune To Run

Larger, older, and less energy-efficient properties proved more difficult to design accurately. This often resulted in the heat pump using more electricity than expected. This is because the heat pump had to work harder to heat the home to the required temperature increasing the running costs to the homeowner.

We often hear the answer: "Why don't we just fit a larger heat pump". This can also have a negative impact on the running costs of a system as an oversized heat pump can result in more power being needed to power it, increasing the running costs. Oversizing a heat pump would be the equivalent of driving a lorry to pick up a loaf of bread from your local supermarket, while undersizing would be the equivalent of crawling on your hands and knees to the shop. One uses far too much energy to get going, and the other requires a huge amount of energy over a longer period to achieve the same result.

The only way to avoid high running costs is to accurately design the heat pump size, resulting in accurate energy usage predictions and happy customers and more confidence in the technology.

Getting an in-depth home energy assessment from Heatio or installing one of our Smart Energy Monitoring Systems will ensure that your heat pump accurately meets your home's needs. You can find out more by joining our free Heatio Energy Challenge Group.

5. Heat Pumps Place Extra Pressure On The National Grid

The introduction of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, Heat Pump Ready, and Heat as a Service have made heat pumps a viable option for most UK households. They are expected to become especially popular with those in newer houses, usually close together in built-up urban areas.

High-density heat pump installations combined with more people having electric vehicles, solar and battery storage will put extra pressure on the National Grid. This pressure can be reduced by running heat pumps at off-peak times, allowing homeowners on smart tariffs to benefit from lower energy costs.

Work is underway to improve the National Grid, ensuring plenty of electricity will be available for everyone as we reach the target of Net Zero by 2050.

So what does this mean for heat pumps in the future?

In summary, it is fair to say that how the Renewable Heat Incentive funding worked led to Larger, older, and less energy-efficient properties being attracted to it. The properties required significant upgrade works to become heat pump ready, resulting in high-cost installations. Due to the age of the properties, it was difficult in many cases to predict the insulation and energy efficiency resulting in incorrectly sized heat pumps being installed and systems not meeting the heating demands of the property in winter and higher than forecasted running costs for the customer.

Going forward under the new schemes, newer, more energy-efficient properties will receive greater incentives than ever. They will require significantly fewer upgrades to the heating system, and with advances in technology and awareness, we are better than ever at sizing and specifying heat pump systems. The result will be more successful heat pump installations in more homes with greater confidence in the technology across installers and homeowners.

If you’d like to learn more about how heat pump technology could benefit your household or just want to find new ways to save money on your energy bills, why not join our free Energy Challenge Group?

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