Air heat source pumps are semi-renewable and can save you money on your home heating costs. But are they right for your lifestyle and property?
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When it comes to installing a new central heating system most of us will immediately think of boilers, gas bills and getting an energy efficient model.
However, boilers aren't the only way to heat your home and, thanks to central heating pumps and more specifically air heat pumps, they're not the most environmentally friendly way, either.
But how do they work? What do they cost? How many different air source heat pump systems are there? And is an air to air heat pump right for your home? Read the uSwitch guide to air source heat pumps to find out.
What are air heat source pumps?
Air heat source pumps, or air to air heat pumps, are a subset of central heating pumps. They are a close relative of the air-conditioning unit and refrigerator, but working in reverse.
The air heat pump is placed outside the home, usually around the back or side, and absorbs heat from the air in the atmosphere. Don't worry if it's cold outside, as an air to air heat pump can absorb heat from air that's as cold as -15° C. This air is then heated within the unit using a heat pump.
The heat pump works by taking the heat in the air and absorbing it into a fluid within the unit. The fluid is then compressed — which raises the temperature — and pushed into radiators or underfloor heaters to heat the property.
As a result, air heat source pumps are semi-renewable and can save you money (see below for air to air heat pump prices and costs), but crucially they are also very low maintenance and don't need fuel deliveries to run.
Is an air heat source pump suitable for my property?
Deciding whether an air to air heat pump is suitable for your property is the most important step. The heat pump mechanism uses electricity to heat the air but, as the pump works best on lower temperatures, the units are best suited to underfloor heating systems, or large radiators with a greater surface area.
Likewise, as the unit heats air at a lower temperature than conventional systems, it work best in well-insulated homes with effective insulation and draught-proofing. It also sits outside the property, so you need some free space for it to be attached to the wall or ground.
Air source heat pumps are a particularly good investment if you are building a property because this reduces the installation costs.
Is an air heat pump environmentally friendly?
It depends on what fuel you're replacing, but generally air heat pumps are environmentally friendly and produce less CO2 than traditional systems.
Because the main component being used for heating is air it is based on a renewable resource. This is why they may qualify you for the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (see below). However, the unit will still need some electricity to run so, while it's environmentally friendly in comparison to other forms of heating, it isn't free of carbon emissions.
How much does an air heat pump cost?
The price of installing an air source heat pump is typically between £6,000 and £8,000, according to the Energy Saving Trust. How much it costs to run will depend on your individual property, particularly whether you use underfloor heating or not, how big your home is, and how well insulated.
It will also depend on whether you set the system up correctly, which your installer should explain. It is likely that you will leave the heating on for longer for instance, but at a lower temperature.
Whether an air heat pump is cost-effective or not will depend largely on what fuel-type it is replacing. If your property is attached to mains gas, it is unlikely that an air source heat pump will save you much money.
If, on the other hand, it will replace an electric or coal system, there is a good chance it will be a cost-effective solution.
For those who haven’t yet installed a system, from 2014 you may also be able to get money for running your air to air heat pump unit through the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme for up to £500 a year. Installations after 1 August 2011 may also be eligible for grants for installation costs with the Renewable Heat Premium Payment Scheme.
Remember to ask around for a number of quotes if you're looking into a system. Your installer should also be able to tell you whether you could qualify for grants or payments.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of an air to air heat pump?
The main advantages of an air source heat pump are:
- They generate less CO2, so they're better for the environment
- They don't need much maintenance once they're installed
- You can use them for air-conditioning in summer
- They use electricity more efficiently than electric heating units
- You could be eligible for grants and even payments
The main disadvantages are:
- You need a suitable property with sufficient space to handle a unit outside your property
- Ideally your property should have underground heating installed to maximise the efficiency of the heat produced
- They can be colder than traditional radiator units, so you may need to keep them on for longer
- You won't see much savings if you're switching from mains gas
What other types central heating pumps exist?
For information on the various types of central heating pumps available and to discover which best suits your needs, have a look at our guide to central heating pumps and systems.
How else can I can source energy in a more environmentally friendly way?
There are a number of 'green' energy plans on the market.
Although these aren't always the cheapest available, they do make it possible to strike a balance between getting a good deal and sourcing a percentage of your energy from sustainable sources. You can find a full list here.
For more ideas on conserving energy, you can have a look at our list of energy saving guides.