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A good look at heat pumps

Heat pumps are again in the news, with grants having just been extended to more homes as the ‘boiler tax’ is delayed by the government, as reported in the This is Money website – which also gives a very handy overview of the changes.

The problem with heat pumps is that most of us are very unaware of what they really are about, as suggested by the New Statesman:

A 2022 survey by the sustainable consultancy firm, DG Cities, found that almost half of respondents (46 per cent) only knew “a little” about heat pumps. One in five said they had heard of the systems, but didn’t actually know what they were.

Misinformation about heat pumps – whether they work effectively in cold weather or will reduce a bill-payer’s heating costs – is rife. Last week, the Energy Minister, Martin Callanan told Sky News’ ClimateCast that “vested interests” are “funding campaigns of misinformation” about heat pumps.

Given the potential for decarbonisation in switching to heat pumps, the government must do much more to increase their uptake. Last year, Rishi Sunak pushed back the deadline for the phase-out of fossil fuel boilers by ten years to 2035. It is expected a further ten million gas boilers will be installed before we hit that deadline.

In Sweden, heat pumps are the ubiquitous choice of central heating system and have been used by residents for around 40 years.

There does seem to be a fair amount of ‘misinformation’ being spread about them, with the likes of GB News saying that heat pumps are a waste of time – the more we force it down throats the more people say NO – and yet the government has held its nerve , with the energy efficiency minister praising DeSmog’s investigation uncovering “false and misleading stories” planted by the gas boiler industry.

Looking beyond the culture wars over green technologies and looking to a solidly practical observer, Which? magazine looks at heat pumps vs boilers: the key things you need to know – and comes firmly on the side of the heat pump:

Heat pump installers Heat Geek explain that: ‘If you hear of people struggling to heat properties with heat pumps because it’s cold, that’s because the lower temperatures show up any design, installation and commissioning flaws.’

A large-scale survey of 2,500 heat pump owners and 1,000 gas boiler owners conducted by innovation agency Nesta and Eunomia Research and Consulting found that heat pump users are highly satisfied with their heat pumps, viewing them to as safe, reliable, quiet heat sources that are effective for space heating and producing hot water. It found similar satisfaction levels between heat pump and gas boiler users. 

The survey did find that heat pump users were likely to feel less satisfied than gas boiler owners when it came to ‘ease of use and control’, as heat pump users felt less confident. If you’re not using your heat pump to its best advantage because you haven’t been shown how, then you could find yourself cold, or overpaying in energy bills. 

Note that the same applies to a boiler where, again, a lot depends on installation and usage. In either instance, it’s important that you fully understand how to get the best out of your appliance. 

And to finish, here’s a solid overview of how they work from Which?

Heat pumps: how they work and types explained – Which?