Are air source heat pumps really as rubbish as everyone is saying? The reality is that it depends on a number of factors and in this guide we’ll explain what they are in plain English.
Air source heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, as they are in line with the governments carbon neutral goals of 2050 and a greener and cleaner alternative to gas boilers.
Whilst heat pumps can be an efficient way to heat and cool your home, there are a few disadvantages that you should be aware of before you decide to make the switch to this type of heating.
What is an air source heat pump?
An air source heat pump (ASHP) functions by moving warm air from outside to the inside of your home and incorporates this heat into your traditional wet central heating system.
Wet simply refers to your traditional radiators, that are heated and radiate heat using hot water.
Heat pumps work in a similar way to a refrigerator, they use a refrigerant gas to absorb heat and release it where required e.g. your central heating.
Not only can heat pumps heat your home, but they can cool it too, which is one of their major advantages, essentially they reverse the regular process and are able to absorb heat from inside your home and transport it outside.
Disadvantages of Air Source Heat Pumps
High upfront costs
Compared to other kinds of home heating methods, the cost of installing an air source heat pump is relatively expensive.
Usually, prices start between £3000-£11,000, which can be far more expensive than the £4000-£6000 it costs for solar panels – though this is still not as expensive as ground source heat pumps.
Running costs are generally cheaper than being on the grid, though this does depend on many factors, including the size of your home and the desired room temperature.
In order to combat this, the government has introduced a Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme that allows homeowners to claim the costs of using the heat pumps back for a period of up to 7 years – though it is important to remember that new build properties are not usually eligible for this scheme, there are schemes for other methods that do include new builds in their incentive.
Not great in winter weather
Another drawback of air source heat pumps is that they tend to be a less effective method of heating in the winter.
These pumps can be incredibly noisy when running, which means that as you use them more in the winter they are louder and inevitably more costly.
These issues can ultimately cause more wear and tear on the system, eventually damaging the unit and leading to it needing to be replaced more often than other types of home heating appliances.
Because they are constantly running during the colder weather, they tend to be less efficient in winter.
This is due to the low coefficient of performance levels of the heat pumps, meaning that they need more energy to heat up rooms efficiently.
As a result of this, they can take some time to heat up in the morning which means you could be left with a cold house until midday.
Your home may require additional upgrades
Whilst it may not seem like a big deal, the size and layout of your home is an important factor as to whether these heat pumps are an ideal choice for you.
If you have a highly insulated home with lots of double glazing and smaller rooms, it is likely that air source heat pumps will be efficient.
However, if your home is larger or less insulated, you may find that there is not enough energy to properly heat your rooms.
Another disadvantage of air source heat pumps is that if your home does not have access to either solar or wind power, it will need to be powered by electricity.
This means that the heat pumps are unable to be completely carbon neutral, so if you are looking for a totally green option then you may perhaps want to reconsider.
Another thing to remember is that these heat pumps perform better with underfloor heating and large radiators, in order for you to reap the cost-saving benefits. If you don’t already have these things, then this would be a further cost for you.
Air source heat pumps are also notoriously tricky to install. Although they are easier than their ground pump counterparts, these heat pumps still require disruption to your house through the invasive nature of penetrating the building’s cladding.
They also require a unit to be installed on the outside of your home, which usually is not very attractive and can reduce the curb appeal of your property.
As well as this, the bigger your property is, the larger the unit that will need to be installed – more space around the unit will also be required to get a good airflow circulating.
It is also worth considering whether the size and noise produced by the unit will be a nuisance to your neighbours, because if your home is close to another building then the noise may disrupt them.
In extreme circumstances, you may even need to consult your local planning authority to check whether planning permission is needed.
Though the maintenance required to ensure that air source heat pumps last for a long time is less than with other methods of off-grid heating, there are still a number of tasks that you will be expected to conduct throughout the year.
You will likely be asked to undertake yearly checks on the system, before winter ideally, to check the condition of the air inlet grill, as well as ensuring any debris is cleared from the grill. Though this is not too difficult, it can be a pain to have to repeat this annually.
Most air-source heat pumps come with warranties that last between 5-10 years, as well as the option to extend them if you commit to having a professional service check every few years. This service check is usually free, but it can be a nuisance to remember to schedule one.
It is also important that you receive an annual service check from an engineer if your heat pump has external refrigeration pipes because they are more vulnerable if exposed.
Damage to these pipes or changes to the liquid inside can be detrimental to your property if left unchecked.
Disadvantages of Air Source Heat Pumps Summary
Overall, air source heat pumps are a great way to save money and use more sustainable energy in your home.
Though, as we have explored in this guide, they do have some drawbacks and so we recommend them only if you are committed to the maintenance aspect of owning these heat pumps, and have a well-insulated home that will let you reap the cost-saving benefits in the long run.