Installing air-source heat pumps can cost up to £20,000 in older properties, while some owners have been quoted £30,000. They can also be less efficient in cold weather and generate much more noise.
Heating experts are throwing cold water on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to replace the country’s 25million gas boilers as part of his ‘net zero’ climate change plan.
Our homes are responsible for 40% of UK carbon emissions, and switching to electric air-source heat pumps could help shift away from fossil fuels like gas, green campaigners say.
Air-source heat pumps will reduce carbon emissions, but they are forced upon us at a time when every penny counts, said Andrew Pinder, founder of Pinder Cooling and Heating.
“They are extremely expensive to install in an older property, a cost that no one needs right now,” he said.
Pinder also warned that heat pumps are less efficient in very cold weather and take time to heat homes to the desired temperature.
Push-ups are far from attractive either. “Condensing units on the side of people’s homes and constantly running fans making loud noises aren’t exactly experiences to be enjoyed.”
Pinder added: “The systems are designed to run all the time, so to achieve and maintain the desired temperatures, you can expect to hear these fans all day long.”
Technology works best in new construction, but most of us don’t live there. “Those who stand to benefit from installing an air-source heat pump are rare. They’re just not made to fit into existing properties,” he said.
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The government is offering a £5,000 grant to encourage a switch to the £450m boiler upgrade scheme, but Pinder has warned that this is not enough. “Without further grants or financial support, people will not be able to complete the necessary installation.”
The government should focus its heat pump efforts on new build, said Jack McGovern, director of heating engineers The Glow Group. “Existing owners can look at costs between £10,000 and £14,000. If you pay less, I’d be concerned about the quality of the installation, the likely running costs, and the life of the unit.
McGovern said heat pumps may work for some households, but warned of a race to install them in millions of older homes. “We need a tailored approach. There is no one size fits all.”
Mike Foster, CEO of Energy and Utilities Alliance, is also skeptical. “Some of the options offered to achieve net zero homes involve exorbitant amounts of money, which, frankly, people don’t have.”
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Faisal Hussain, general manager of QA Scheme Support Services and general manager of the HIES consumer code, said installation costs are high because radiators will usually need to be replaced. “Heat pumps operate at a lower temperature, so they need bigger radiators.”
He said the “microbore” pipes might also need to be replaced because they are too narrow, adding to the cost. “Finally, the hot water tanks will also need to be replaced because with heat pumps you need a specific type of hot water tank.”
He said heat pumps have been proven across Europe for years, including many commercial buildings in the UK.
They can work in the right house, but there are too many exceptions. “Some won’t work because the house is too old or doesn’t have enough insulation, or because the people living there need it to be super warm.”
Plans to phase out gas boilers have been all the rage but there are no simple solutions in the fight to reduce household greenhouse gas emissions.