Life with a heat pump – three owners tell their stories

What is it really like to live with a heat pump? We spoke to three heat pump owners to learn more about their experience of heating their homes with a heat pump.

Susan Holt is an accountant who lives in the Shropshire village of Trefonen, close to the Welsh border. She and her husband live in a three-bed cottage built in the mid-1800s with walls that are about half a metre thick. They had an air to water heat pump installed in the summer of 2022 by an Oswestry-based installation company.

Retired GP Mairi Adam, from the Pollokshields area of Glasgow, also has an air to water heat pump, which was installed by a local MCS certified installation firm in April 2023. She lives in a detached four-bedroom house.

Homeowner Richard Dutton moved with his family to 200-year-old Ivin Waite Farm, a modernised Yorkshire farmhouse close to Harrogate. He had a ground source heat pump installed to provide heating and hot water for the four-bed property.

Reasons to change to a heat pump

Both Mairi and Susan emphasise the importance of doing your research before commissioning an installer, and they used a range of resources for doing so.

Mairi read up on the Home Energy Scotland website and the Energy Saving Trust. She also turned to social media, joining a variety of Facebook groups and following a range of YouTube channels. After doing background research, she spoke to several installers to get their opinions. Similarly, Susan got quotes from a few different installers.

The installation process itself took four days for Mairi’s heat pump (plus an extra day for commissioning – the process of setting it to run correctly). “It was actually remarkably quick and [the installers who came to do the work] were so good” she says.

For Mairi’s home, one challenge was that her central heating used microbore pipes. When an installer completed a survey, it was concluded that the piping system would need to be replaced. This meant the project became larger than she’d originally anticipated and required replacing radiators and installing a new piping system.

That being said, the heat pump part of the job was very straightforward Mairi says. The installers simply “removed the hot water tank from an upstairs cupboard and put the replacement one in my garage on the other side of the wall from where the heat pump was installed outside in the garden. So that side of it was actually nothing major”.

Susan’s installation was more straightforward since the cottage already had a boiler room, which was where her installer put the new hot water cylinder. She didn’t need to change her radiators, and the house was already fairly well insulated. The heat pump itself stands in their garden. She says the entire project took about a week, with another week of commissioning to get the system working as required.

Richard’s installation was understandably more “labour intensive” by comparison. The project required the installation of two 12kW ground source heat pumps with a 200-litre hot water cylinder and 200-litre buffer cylinder with 1500 metres of pipe laid in a paddock adjacent to his home, buried 1.2 metres below the surface.

The ambient temperature of the ground stays relatively consistent, allowing the ground source heat pump system to continually absorb heat energy at a constant rate throughout the year.

Life with a heat pump

At the time of writing (December 2023), Susan had been living with a heat pump for just over a year and is very pleased with it overall. While heat pumps aren’t usually set to heat water as hot as gas boilers, she hasn’t noticed a difference in how warm her radiators or rooms feel. Her heat pump passed perhaps the most important test during a cold snap in December 2022 when it kept the house at a comfortable temperature while it was -8°C outside.

Mairi had her heat pump installed in April 2023, and so didn’t use it much over the summer. The first big test for her system came during a particularly chilly few days in November. She’d been a bit worried as “there’s so much misinformation about heat pumps in the media and online as well”, but fortunately “it’s been absolutely fine” since winter began.

Both Susan and Mairi point out that it does take a little while to get used to using heat pumps. Unlike traditional gas or oil boilers, which can be turned on and off to deliver heat very fast, it’s generally recommended that heat pumps are left running all the time. This can take some getting used to, but as Mairi points out, it means you get “a really nice steady temperature”, compared to the peaks and troughs of burning gas or oil.

Susan explains how with her heat pump “I just tend to turn it down to 15°C at night but it will very rarely come on during the night. And then during the day, I maybe set it to 18°C in the morning and 20°C in the evening”.

For Richard, the ground source heat pump has been a success. He says it has “allowed us to live in a property which we can maintain at a steady 18°C rather than having the heat on for a couple of hours in the morning and the same in the evening”.

The Costs

A variety of government grants have been made available to help homeowners with installing heat pumps, and both Mairi and Susan said the financial support provided an incentive to change their heating systems.

Susan’s heat pump and cost of installation came to around £13,000, of which she could claim back £5,000 from the English government (this grant has since increased to £7,500). Mairi was eligible for a Scottish government grant of £7,500, plus the same amount again as an interest-free loan (which was fortunate as the entire project came to £15,000 with the piping replacement and new radiators).

It’s too soon to say for Susan and Mairi whether the technology has significantly reduced bills, especially given today’s unpredictable energy prices. That said, Susan estimates that it’s probably saved her around £300 over the year, compared to sticking with the old oil boiler. But both see their heat pumps as long-term investments.

For Richard, however, the savings have been very clear. He estimates that his energy usage now costs about one-quarter of what he would pay to heat his home with his older LPG system.

I’m Really Happy!

Having installed heat pumps in their homes, it’s fair to say Mairi, Susan and Richard are pleased with the results. Mairi says that she’s “really happy” with her setup, and Richard points out that the system has “solved all our heating and hot water concerns”.

Mairi and Susan do acknowledge that the cost factor is a challenge, and they both made full use of the government grants available. They also recommended that anyone else thinking of getting a heat pump needs to do their research, understand how heat pumps work, and talk to a few installers to get the best advice for their situation.

As Mairi says, “become knowledgeable, so you can ask installers the right questions, and make sure it’s the right step for you”.

To learn more about heat pumps, how they work, and what it’s like to live with one, read our other articles…