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How do heat pumps work?

Heating & Air Conditioning, Information, Mechanical

You will have heard a lot in the news about the UK Government’s new grant scheme that is being introduced to encourage customers to switch from gas boilers to heat pump systems.

And while heat pumps are at this moment more expensive that traditional gas boiler systems, the common belief is that the price to purchase them for consumers will come down over time as the technology develops and demand increase.

But a big question that a lot of customers have is – what is a heat pump?

In its simplest form, a heat pump takes the air in a home and increases it.  The general principle behind how it works is the same as that of a fridge in reverse which, rather than increasing the air temperature, cools it.

It works like this:

1 – Air taken from the property is pumped over a heat exchange surface located on the outside of a heat pump.

2 – The heat from the heat exchange surface is warm enough to cause a refrigerant liquid in the heat pump to evaporate into a gas.

3 – This gas is put through a compressor to increase the pressure of the gas which causes the temperature of it to rise.

4 – This heated gas is then passed over the internal heat exchange surface which can then be used to heat the air around a home or used as hot water in taps and the central heating system.

5 – As the heat is transferred into the home, the gas falls in temperature and returns to its original refrigerant liquid state.

6 – It then returns to the outside heat exchange surface for the process to be repeated once again as part of a homes heating system.

what are heat pumps and how do they work?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of heat pumps?

Advantage – A heat pump costs less to run.  As energy prices increase, the energy efficient heating system of a heat pump uses a lot less energy to run that a gas combi boiler.

Disadvantage – High upfront costs.  A heat pump is not a cheap purchase to make which is why the Government are introducing a grant scheme to try and help reduce the initial cost for consumers.

Advantage – Less maintenance.  While a gas boiler should be checked once a year (especially to keep its warranty valid), a heat pump only needs to be checked over by an expert every few years.

Disadvantage – They are difficult to install. It is not a simple case of taking out a gas boiler and adding in a new heat pump.  A specialist fitter will need to inspect your property and provide you with a bespoke quote for your homes needs.

Advantage – It is greener. The reason the Government are introducing this grant is part of their commitment to becoming net-zero by 2050 and they wouldn’t be doing that if heat pumps were no more efficient than gas boilers.

Disadvantage – There can be issues in cold weather.  There is something called ‘Seasonal Performance Factor’ or SPF which shows how a heat pump will perform in certain conditions.  In the UK, the weather can be somewhat topsy turvy and a particularly cold winter could damage a fitted heat pump system.

Advantage – Long life span. A 15 year lifespan is a realistic feat for current market heat pumps.  Manufacturers will suggest they can last a lot longer but that does not take into account weathering and other variations.

Are they worth the investment?

While the upfront cost of a heat pump can make some peoples eyes water, they are cheaper to run, cheaper to maintain and theoretically, last longer.  But there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to heat pumps as they are a relatively new technology for home heating systems in the UK.  If you are giving some thought to switching to a heat pump, you can speak to one of our Mechanical Division fitting experts by calling us today.


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