7 Facts About the Benefits of Heat Pumps

If you’re thinking of investing in a heat pump, you’ll want to do your homework first. In this article, we explore some of the research into heat pumps and how they could benefit you.

7 facts about heat pumps to help inform your decision

Heat pumps have many benefits.
Here are seven important facts about this exciting technology.

Heat pumps are far more efficient than traditional heating systems

Without a doubt, one of the most attractive things about heat pumps is their efficiency. On average, their COP (coefficient of performance – the ratio of energy put into the system, compared to what comes out), is typically around 300%, according to the Energy Saving Trust. By comparison, new gas boilers today will be around 90%-95% efficient, which is clearly a lot less than a heat pump.

What this means is that for every unit of electricity used to power a heat pump, you get on average three units of heat out of it. By comparison, for every unit of gas you put into a boiler, you get less than one unit of heat.

However, there are a variety of factors which affect the performance of a heat pump, including:

  • Different types of heat pump (air-to-air, air-to-water, ground source, water source) offer varying COP.
  • Individual manufacturer designs.
  • How well insulated the home is.
  • The design of the heating system, particularly the designed operating temperature.
  • The way people use their heat pump.
  • The quality of the heating system installation.
  • The weather conditions outside.

Numerous manufacturers sell heat pumps and are required to provide an energy label with the product to explain the products’ COP in a standardised way. But it’s important to understand that the heat pump might work more or less efficiently in your home throughout the year due to differences in climate.

Heat pumps reduce your energy usage

According to Ofgem (the UK’s independent regulator for the gas and electricity market), the average home in the UK uses around 12,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of gas every year for heating and hot water. Since heat pumps are around three times more efficient than gas boilers, you will use approximately 66% less electrical energy to deliver the same amount of heating and hot water using a heat pump (i.e., about 4,000 kWh of electricity).

Since electricity currently costs more than gas, a well-designed heat pump system will generally cost approximately the same to run overall. For example, from October to December 2023, electricity cost 27 pence per kWh, whereas gas cost 7 pence per kWh and with these prices, you’d need a heat pump system to achieve a COP of 3.9 to be cost-neutral in terms of running costs. With today’s energy prices, it’s important to work with your installer to design and maximise the system efficiency and optimise the running costs. However, many factors influence running costs and it’s important to consider carefully with your installer:

  • If you insulate your home as part of your heat pump installation, you’ll use less energy overall so your bills could end up lower.
  • The way you operate your heat pump can influence your bills – someone who keeps the temperature lower but steady could end up paying a lot less than someone switching on the heating in short hot bursts.
  • Modelling by Cornwall Insight, a consultancy, suggests that electricity prices will gradually decline over the rest of the decade (though they’ll still be a lot higher than pre-2021). By contrast, natural gas prices are projected to rise, according to data from Statista, which could make gas boilers more expensive in the long run.
  • Certain energy providers are offering special electricity tariffs to encourage heat pump usage, where you pay a lower price for the energy used by the heat pump.

Most people find heat pumps preferable

Multiple surveys with people who have heat pumps installed indicate that the vast majority prefer their new system to what they had before.

For example, in one survey of 670 heat pump owners across Europe and the UK, 81% of respondents said the heat pump had improved their comfort levels, and only 1% said their comfort levels had gone down. Overall satisfaction with the technology was very high too – 88% of people said they were either very happy or somewhat happy.

Heat pumps are safe

Heat pumps are extremely safe and stable systems. So long as they are correctly installed and maintained, they pose no health and safety risks.

MCS Certified, a UK standards organisation for home energy, explain that “the installation, operation and maintenance of heat pump systems do not normally present excessive health and safety requirements and should normally have a low/medium risk”.

Heat pumps often don’t require massive changes to the home

You may have heard that having a heat pump installed will require lots of changes to your property.

Heat pumps are more cost-effective in homes that are well-insulated and that have larger radiators, so some changes may be beneficial to optimise the capacity and running costs. However, the scale of the work might be less than you think. According to a survey of 742 heat pump owners in Great Britain:

  • 85% of homes didn’t require any energy efficiency upgrades (such as wall or loft insulation)
  • On the flip side, 93% of homes did need at least one new radiator installed
  • The process of installing heat pumps and new radiators typically takes 2-4 days

Heat pumps can significantly reduce carbon emissions

One of the main reasons the government is encouraging the take-up of heat pumps is to help the country achieve its legal obligation of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A study in one academic journal reported that 37% of the UK’s emissions are linked to the use of gas boilers to provide heat (both for residential and commercial). So, by switching to an electricity-powered heat pump, you’d be helping the country on that journey.

According to 2023 analysis, the average UK resident’s home energy usage is equivalent to 2.2 tons of CO2, and University College London estimates that around 80% of this is related to heating space and water. By replacing a gas boiler with a heat pump, you could cut your home’s emissions by almost a third. On the global scale, this could have a huge impact – the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, reckons that on current projections, the use of heat pumps could cut global CO2 emissions by at least 500 million tonnes by 2030.

Many countries have already made a success of the transition to heat pumps

In 2022, the UK installed around 55,000 heat pumps according to The Guardian. However, the country is still some way behind the world leaders, and only about 2% of UK homes have one according to 2021 figures. Many other countries have far higher rates of heat pump adoption than the UK.

What this shows is that, with the right support, heat pumps do work in a range of climates:

  • In Norway, 60% of households use heat pumps
  • Over 40% of Swedish and Finnish homes use them
  • In France, over 600,000 heat pumps were installed in 2022 alone
  • Other countries in Europe like Italy, Estonia and Switzerland also have high levels of heat pump ownership
*Note that many European nations classify Air to Air Heat pumps within their totals, the UK currently do not include Air to Air heat pumps in sales data and heat pump totals.

Well-informed decisions

With the current interest in heat pumps, it’s worth doing your research to ensure that investing in this technology is right for you. As this article shows, there are plenty of benefits to having a heat pump installed. But it’s always valuable to read widely, get independent perspectives, and speak directly with installers to come to your own conclusions.