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SpotDif’s ultimate 2024 guide to heat pumps

If you’re exploring the possibilities of updating your home’s heating system in 2024, SpotDif’s guide to heat pumps offers a thoughtful overview of your options. Whether you’re considering an upgrade to your home heating system, looking to reduce your carbon footprint, or seeking to save on energy costs, this guide is designed to help you make an informed decision.


In this guide, we will explore the different types of heat pumps available in the UK, including air source, ground source, water source, and hybrid models. Each type has unique advantages that can suit various needs and environments. We’ll delve into how these systems work, the benefits they offer, and the key factors you should consider before making a purchase.


From understanding the basic operations to comparing costs and efficiency levels, our comprehensive overview will equip you with all the information you need. Let’s dive in and discover which heat pump could be the best fit for your home.


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A heat pump installed on side of a modern office

What are heat pumps?

Heat pumps are an efficient and eco-friendly alternative to traditional heating systems like boilers and electric heaters. They function by extracting heat from external sources—such as air, ground, or water—and transferring it indoors to heat your home and provide hot water.


Unlike traditional systems that generate heat through combustion or electrical resistance, heat pumps transfer heat, which is more energy-efficient and reduces carbon emissions. They use a small amount of electricity to operate and are effective in various climates.

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Finding the best heat pumps in the UK can be challenging. But you can save time and money by comparing your quotes online. We’ll ask you a few questions and supply the most competitive prices in your area in seconds. So whether you’re looking for the best air source heat pumps or installation quotes for ground source heat pumps, we’ve got you covered.

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Air-source heat pumps (ASHPs): Utilise the outside air as a heat source.


Ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs): Harness heat from the ground.


Water-source heat pumps (WSHPs): Extract heat from water bodies.


Hybrid heat pumps (HHP): Integrate an air-source heat pump with a traditional gas boiler, automatically switching between them to maximise efficiency.


Each type has unique benefits and installation requirements, which we will explore in detail later in this guide. Heat pumps not only provide heating in the winter but can also offer cooling in the summer, making them a versatile option for year-round home comfort.

How does each heat pump type work?

In the UK, selecting the right heat pump can be pivotal in enhancing home comfort, reducing energy costs, and minimising environmental impact. But how does each heat pump type work?

 

Ground source heat pumps


Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are known for their efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in colder climates where air temperatures can fluctuate significantly.

 

By extracting heat from the ground, which remains at a more constant temperature, GSHPs provide stable and continuous heat. Installation involves burying pipes in the garden or drilling deep wells, making the initial setup more invasive and expensive. However, the long-term energy savings and low operational costs often offset the upfront investment. GSHPs are particularly suitable for rural properties with sufficient land for installation. 


For a more in-depth look at ground source heat pumps, take a look at our dedicated ground source heat pump page.


Air source heat pumps


Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) are among the most popular heat pumps in the UK due to their lower installation costs and versatility. ASHPs extract heat from the outside air and are capable of operating efficiently even in temperatures as low as -15°C. 


They require less space than GSHPs and are easier to install, making them ideal for urban settings or smaller properties. While they are slightly less efficient than GSHPs, especially in extremely cold weather, modern units are increasingly effective and can significantly reduce heating bills.


For a comprehensive exploration of air source heat pumps, please visit our dedicated air source heat pumps page.


Hybrid heat pumps


Hybrid heat pumps combine the features of a traditional heat pump with another heating system, typically a gas, oil, or electric boiler. This combination allows the system to switch between the heat pump and the boiler depending on temperature, cost, or efficiency, providing a flexible and reliable heating solution. 


Hybrid systems are particularly useful in regions with colder winters where a heat pump alone might not suffice. They offer the benefits of renewable energy use and reduced emissions while ensuring comfort during the coldest days.


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Heat pumps are a great alternative energy source for your home or business. With long service life, low maintenance costs and cheaper energy bills, you can begin saving money with SpotDif.

busines heating fans on roof

How heat pumps heat your home

Heat pumps are a fascinating and efficient solution for heating and cooling homes. They operate on a simple principle: moving heat from one place to another, rather than generating heat directly.


This process involves a cycle of evaporation and condensation, and it uses a refrigerant as the medium to transfer heat. Here’s a closer look at how heat pumps work:


The basic components


A typical heat pump system includes several key components:


Evaporator coil: Absorbs heat from the air or ground source.


Compressor: Pumps the refrigerant through the system and raises its pressure and temperature.


Condenser coil: Releases the absorbed heat into the heating system of the house.


Expansion valve: Regulates the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator.


The heating cycle


Absorbing heat: In the heating mode, the heat pump extracts heat from outside sources—air, water, or ground. The refrigerant in the evaporator coil absorbs this external heat, causing it to evaporate and turn into a low-pressure gas.


Compression: This gas then passes through the compressor, which increases its pressure and temperature, turning it into a high-pressure hot gas.


Heat release: The hot gas moves to the condenser where it releases its heat to warm up the building. As the refrigerant loses heat, it condenses back into a liquid.


Pressure reduction: Finally, the liquid refrigerant passes through the expansion valve where its pressure is reduced, cooling it down before it returns to the evaporator to absorb heat again.


The cooling cycle


In cooling mode, the process is reversed. The indoor coil acts as the evaporator, absorbing heat from the indoor air and cooling it.

The heat is then transferred outside where the outdoor coil acts as the condenser, releasing the heat.


Reversing valve


A key component that allows the heat pump to switch between heating and cooling modes is the reversing valve. This valve changes the direction of the refrigerant flow depending on the mode.

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Comparing types of heat pumps in the UK

Each type of heat pump offers distinct advantages and, in our experience, it’s best to choose a heat pump type that’s suitable for your settings and requirements. 


Here, we compare different aspects to help you understand which might best suit your needs.


Ground source heat pumps


  • Upfront cost and potential savings: Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are typically the most expensive type of heat pump to install. We’ve found that this cost can range from approximately £15,000 to £50,000 in the UK, depending on the complexity of the system and the amount of groundwork required.


    Despite the high initial cost, the operational costs of GSHPs are lower due to their high efficiency, and they can lead to substantial energy savings over time.


  • Installation: The process involves extensive digging for trenches or drilling boreholes, which not only adds to the cost but also requires significant space for the heat pump unit itself.


  • Energy efficiency:  GSHPs are extremely efficient because they draw heat from the ground, which maintains a constant temperature year-round, providing more consistent heat with less energy. Homeowners can expect lower energy bills and a system that pays for itself over time through substantial energy savings.


  • Maintenance: Ground source heat pumps require minimal maintenance, often just needing periodic checks and filter changes to ensure optimal operation.


  • Durability and longevity: Thanks to their underground components, ground source heat pumps are less susceptible to weather-related wear and tear, we’ve found that they typically offer a lifespan of up to 50 years.


  • Versatility: Although primarily used for heating and cooling, ground source heat pumps can also be integrated with other home heating systems to provide hot water.

ground source heat pump info

Air source heat pumps

  • Upfront cost and potential savings: Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) are generally more affordable than GSHPs, with installation costs usually between £5,000 and £15,000. The price depends on the size and type of unit, as well as any additional modifications needed for your home. 


    While the initial investment is significant, ASHPs can lead to substantial cost savings over time through reduced energy bills, especially in climates where they can efficiently replace traditional heating and cooling systems. 


  • Installation: ASHPs are less intrusive to install than GSHPs, which helps keep the installation costs down. They typically require less space and no extensive ground work, making the overall setup process quicker and less disruptive to your property. This accessibility not only simplifies the installation but also potentially reduces the total time and labour involved.


  • Energy efficiency: Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) are highly praised for their energy efficiency. They can extract heat from the air even at temperatures as low as -15°C. 


    Modern ASHPs are designed to be about three to four times more energy efficient than traditional heating systems, meaning that for every unit of electricity used to run the pump, three to four units of heat are produced. This efficiency translates to reduced energy usage and lower heating bills. We’d suggest opting for ASHPs if you’re looking for a cost-effective and sustainable heating solution.


  • Maintenance: Air source heat pumps require regular maintenance such as cleaning filters and checking the fan and compressor, but these tasks are generally straightforward and can often be performed by the homeowner.


  • Durability and longevity: While exposed to external weather conditions, air source heat pumps are designed to be robust and can last up to 15-20 years with proper maintenance, slightly less than their ground-source counterparts.


  • Versatility: Air source heat pumps offer exceptional versatility, capable of heating, cooling, and sometimes even providing hot water, making them a comprehensive solution for year-round climate control in various settings.

air source heat pump diagram
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Water source heat pumps

  • Upfront cost and potential savings: Water source heat pumps (WSHPs) have costs similar to those of GSHPs, generally ranging from £10,000 to £40,000, influenced by the accessibility and proximity of the water source.  


    However, their operational efficiency can be very high, leading to lower running costs comparable to those of GSHPs.


  • Installation: The installation might require specific permissions and environmental assessments, which can add to the total cost.


  • Energy efficiency: WSHPs are extremely energy efficient because they utilise the thermal stability of water sources, which requires less energy to heat or cool compared to air or ground source systems. This efficiency can significantly reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills.


  • Maintenance: Water source heat pumps (WSHPs) typically require periodic inspections to ensure that all water conduits are clear of debris and that the system's components are functioning efficiently.


  • Durability and longevity: Due to their operation in water, which provides a stable thermal environment, WSHPs often exhibit increased durability and can last beyond 20 years with proper maintenance.


  • Versatility: Like other types of heat pumps, WSHPs can provide both heating and cooling solutions. They are particularly effective in properties near water bodies, exploiting the constant temperatures of water for efficient thermal exchange.

water source heat pump diagram

Hybrid heat pumps

  • Upfront cost and potential savings: Hybrid heat pumps combine a standard heat pump with another heating system, such as from gas boilers. This type of system typically costs between £6,000 and £50,000, depending on the complexity and the type of secondary heating system used. 


    The cost-effectiveness of a hybrid system can be very appealing, especially in areas with colder climates, as it ensures heating is cost-effective and efficient all year round.


  • Installation: Hybrid heat pumps are installed by integrating an air-source heat pump with a traditional gas or oil boiler, which can often utilise existing heating system infrastructure, reducing the complexity and cost of installation.


  • Energy efficiency: Hybrid heat pumps optimise energy use by switching between the heat pump and the boiler based on efficiency and external temperatures, potentially offering higher overall energy savings especially in varied climates.


  • Maintenance: The maintenance for hybrid heat pumps involves servicing both the heat pump and the boiler components, but the system's ability to switch between modes can reduce wear and tear on each, extending service intervals.


  • Durability and longevity: The dual nature of hybrid heat pumps allows them to adapt to different heating demands and environmental conditions, which can enhance their overall durability and extend their operational lifespan compared to single-system units.


  • Versatility: Hybrid heat pumps are known for their flexibility and versatility. These systems combine the renewable efficiency of heat pumps with the reliability of traditional boilers, making them ideal for regions with severe winters. 


Hybrid systems can automatically switch between energy sources based on temperature, cost, or efficiency, providing a seamless heating experience. This adaptability ensures homeowners always have the most cost-effective and efficient heating source active.

hybrid heat pumps diagram
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Anna Dearden
Home Sector Specialist
Combining in-depth research with an interest in all things home improvement, I aim to keep SpotDif readers up to date with interior design trends, renewable energy options, and more.
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