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What are air source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps could lower your heating bills and help you do your bit for the environment. You can even get money off installation costs too. Here’s the lowdown on this sustainable form of heating.

Air source heat pumps could lower your heating bills and help you do your bit for the environment. You can even get money off installation costs too. Here’s the lowdown on this sustainable form of heating.

Sofia Hutson
Utilities expert
minute read
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Last Updated 21 JULY 2022

What are air source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) use heat from the air outside to warm up your home and hot water. And the good news is that you don’t need to live in Barbados for them to work! ASHPs manage to heat up your home even when the temperature outside is as low as -15 degrees.

There’s a buzz about air source heat pumps right now because people are looking for alternatives to gas central heating. If we can use more sustainable sources of heating, we can help the UK lower its carbon emissions and stave off climate change.

How do air source heat pumps work?

ASHPs work by taking heat from the air, which is then used to warm a liquid refrigerant. That fluid passes through a compressor, which uses electricity to raise the temperature. That heat then moves through your heating and hot water pipes.

Although air source heating runs on electricity, it’s still an energy-efficient way of warming up your house. That’s because it produces more heat than the electricity it uses.

What are the benefits of air source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps have a few major benefits. For instance, they could:

  • Reduce your fuel bills
    Looking to lower your energy bills? Air source heat pumps could be one way to do it. If you’re currently using electric heating, you’ll probably see a big decrease in your fuel bills.
  • Lower your carbon emissions
    ASHPs are way more energy efficient than traditional gas or electric heating. It’s estimated that the average total CO2 emissions from domestic energy use can be reduced by up to 40% following the installation of an ASHP.
  • Earn you money
    The government has a scheme encouraging people to switch to more environmentally friendly types of heating. This means they’ll give you money if you install a renewable heat technology, like a biomass boiler or an air-to-water heat pump.

    Interested? There’s even a calculator so you can see how much you could earn
  • Low maintenance
    Once your heat pumps are installed, you don’t need to do much else.

What are the downsides of air source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps come with disadvantages, too.

  • High upfront costs
    It costs more to install an air source heat pump than a traditional gas boiler.
  • Reduced efficiency in winter
    ASHPs work in temperatures as cold as -15 degrees. But the colder it is outside, the harder your heat pump has to work to produce heat. So you’ll find it uses more electricity during winter.
  • Outdoor space needed
    You’ll need somewhere outside your home where a unit can be fitted to a wall or placed on the ground. It must also have a decent amount of space around the unit to allow a good flow of air.

How much does an air source heat pump cost?

Installing an air source heat pump can be a pretty big investment – it could set you back somewhere between £7,000 and £13,000, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

How much you pay will depend on the size of heat pump, size of your property and the complexity of the installation works needed.

Can I get help with the cost of installing an air source heat pump?

Yes, a new government initiative was launched in April 2022 to encourage more people to switch to cleaner heating systems such as heat pumps. Under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS), you can apply for a grant of £5,000 towards the cost of installing an air source heat pump.

To be eligible for the grant, you’ll need:

  • To be a homeowner or private landlord living in England or Wales
  • A property with an installation capacity up to 45kWth (don’t worry – this covers most homes)
  • A valid energy performance certificate (EPC), with no outstanding recommendations for loft or cavity wall insulation.

Also be aware that new-build properties (apart from some self-builds) aren’t included in the scheme, and the grant can only be used to replace traditional fossil fuel heating systems (gas, oil or electric).

If you live in Scotland, you may be eligible for a Home Energy Loan to help you pay for the installation of an air source heating system. There’s a loan available and you may be able to claim up to 75% cashback.

If you’re in Northern Ireland, you can find out about grants on the nidirect website.

How does the Boiler Upgrade Scheme work?

If you’re interested in getting a new low-carbon boiler, you’ll need to find an MCS-certified installer in your area who is able to carry out the work. This ensures that your boiler installation will be carried out to the correct standards. It’s a good idea to get quotes from more than one installer to make sure you’re getting value for money.

Once you’ve found an installer you’re happy with, they will apply for the grant on your behalf, with the £5,000 saving deducted from your bill.

Energy regulator Ofgem, which is running the scheme, might get in touch with you to carry out checks on the installation.

See more about BUS on GOV.UK

What types of air source heat pumps are there?

You’ll find there are two types of ASHP:

Air to water

Air-to-water heat source pumps heat air from the outside and channel it into your radiators and hot water. These qualify for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which means you could get money back for investing in them.

Air to air

Air-to-air heat source pumps work almost like a fridge in reverse, transferring heat to your heating and water supply.

Air source heat pumps: what to consider

Sold on the idea of getting an air source heat pump? Before you take the plunge, there are a few things to think about, like:

Have you got somewhere to put it?

The heating units are usually fitted to a wall or on the ground outside your house. An airy space on a sunny wall is perfect.

What type of heating have you got?

ASHPs operate at low temperatures, which mean they’re great for underfloor heating. If you haven’t already got a central heating system in place, then you’ll need to install one for the heat pumps to work.

Is your home properly insulated?

The more insulated your home is, the cosier it’ll be.

What kind of heating are you replacing?

You’ll find you make bigger savings if you’re replacing electric heaters, which aren’t very economical.

What alternatives are there to air source heat pumps?

If air source heat pumps aren’t right for you, there are other ways to generate your own heating. These include solar panels and wood-burning stoves.

If you have a big garden, you could look into getting a ground source heat pump. These cost a bit more to install, but are better at heating your home. For you, this means lower fuel bills. It’s great news for the environment, too.

Frequently asked questions

How do I have air source heat pumps installed?

You’ll need to speak to an MCS-certified installer. Look for recommendations online – you should be able to find someone local to you without too much trouble.

How efficient are air source heat pumps?

Some air source heat pumps work better in colder temperatures than others. While they should cover all your heating needs here in the UK, it’s worth doing lots of research to check which particular model will work best for your needs.

How much do air source heat pumps cost to run?

How much your ASHP costs to run will depend on a few things, including how big your house is, its insulation and how high you like to have the thermostat. These will also affect the running costs.

Do I need planning permission for my air source heat pumps?

You shouldn’t need planning permission, but your ASHP may be visible from the street, so it’s worth double-checking with your council. ASHPs make noise a bit like that from an air-conditioning unit, so you’ll also want to keep it somewhere where it won’t bother your neighbours.