9 heat pump myths, explained

How does a heat pump work?

There’s a lot in the news right now about heat pumps – and for good reason. Their ability to heat your home without gas or oil means they’re a big part of the government’s Net Zero strategy. But with so many different opinions on exactly how they work and whether or not they’re worth the investment, it’s tricky to know what’s what.

But fear not. We’ve debunked some of the biggest heat pump myths out there to help you decide whether you’re ready to make the switch. It may well be easier than you think…

But first, what exactly is a heat pump?

Heat pumps are a green alternative to traditional boilers. They work by absorbing heat from the air or ground outside, compressing it until it reaches a high temperature, and circulating it around your home to keep things cosy, even in winter. They don’t use any oil or gas, just a small amount of electricity to power the system. And they’re highly efficient too, making them much better for the planet.

Myth #1: They don’t work in cold weather

This is one of the most common myths out there when it comes to heat pumps, and it’s simply not true. Even when we’re wrapping up warm in the winter months, there’s still enough heat in the air and ground for heat pumps to absorb. In fact, the refrigerant in the heat pump can absorb heat in temperatures as low as -15°C. And because they compress the heat to a much higher temperature, it’ll still keep your home feeling cosy, no problem.

In the UK, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get temperatures that are too low for an air source heat pump. But for those who live in really cold countries, a ground source heat pump may be best, since they’re more efficient in freezing temperatures. That’s because the ground doesn’t really fall below 10°C, even in the harshest winters. It might surprise you to learn that Sweden, with its frigid winters, is actually one of the biggest adopters of heat pumps in Europe.

Myth #2: Heat pumps are very noisy

Heat pumps often get a bad rap for being noisy. And while they’re by no means silent, if they’re installed properly and in the right place, they actually generate less noise than you might think. Air source heat pumps emit 50-60 decibels 1, which is only slightly higher than a low library whisper. Ground source heat pumps are even quieter as there’s no fan to worry about. And newer models are getting quieter and quieter, with thicker chassis and better fans.

If a heat pump does start making loud noises, it’s usually a sign that there’s something wrong.

Myth #3: Heat pumps always require planning permission

In most cases, you don’t need planning permission to install a heat pump as they fall under Permitted Development – but the requirements for this vary from country to country so it’s always important to check.

In the rare instance that they do need planning permission, it’s usually down to noise levels carrying across to neighbouring properties. That’s why it’s so important to get it installed by an expert – they’ll make sure it’s in the best place possible, i.e. away from any boundaries, to reduce the need for planning permission.

Myth #4: Heat pumps aren’t green because they use electricity

Many people think that because heat pumps use electricity, they can’t be green. But while heat pumps do need a small amount of electricity to get going, they’re much more efficient than traditional boilers, with the ability to generate 3.5kWh in heat for every 1kWh of electricity used. Plus, there’s no polluting gas or oil to worry about either.

To really up your heat pump’s green credentials, you can switch to an energy tariff that uses 100% renewable electricity. That way, you can rely on eco-friendly wind or solar power to power your system in the greenest way possible.

Myth #5: They need a lot of maintenance

Once they’re all set up, heat pumps actually require very little maintenance – often far less than a traditional heating system. Depending on the model, they should last at least 20 years 2, and there’s usually no need for replacement parts during their lifetime. A quick annual service should keep it working happily for many years to come. And for extra reassurance, British Gas heat pumps come with a 5-year warranty and central heating cover for the first year.

Myth #6: They’re just too expensive

We’ll admit, heat pumps are pricier to buy and install than your standard boiler. But with a longer lifespan and less need for expensive repairs, they can actually work out more cost-effective over the years. Plus, with the government’s Renewable Heating Incentive, you could get over £7,000 in payments spread across seven years to help with the cost. And if you buy one from us, you’ll get 7 years’ interest-free credit to help make things more affordable too.

The government has also announced its plans to invest in heat pump development to make sure they’re as cost effective to buy and run as a traditional boiler. Which could make them a lot more accessible to a lot more people. Find out more about the Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Myth #7: You need a huge garden for a heat pump

While ground source heat pumps do require a reasonable amount of outside space (around twice the footprint of your property), an air source heat pump is much more compact and can be mounted on an external wall like an air con unit. So a huge garden (or even a garden at all!) really isn’t necessary. In some cases, they can even be installed in apartment buildings. And as the technology develops, we’ll continue to see more and more heat pumps available for all sorts of property types.

Myth #8: Heat pumps only work in new builds

Since you will need a fairly well-insulated home for a heat pump to work properly, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re only for newer, more energy-efficient properties. But the good news is that heat pumps can work in the vast majority of British homes – even those that suffer a bit of heat loss in the colder months. Of course, if you live in an older, draughtier house, you’ll need to get it properly insulated before you think about getting a heat pump, including loft and cavity wall insulation and double-glazing. But for most of us, this won’t take too much work – and it’ll significantly increase your home’s efficiency and drastically lower your heating bills to boot.

Myth #9: They only work with underfloor heating

Heat pumps are ideal for underfloor heating systems, but they also work really well with radiators too. Since they function best at a slightly lower temperature than traditional boilers, you may need to install a couple more radiators or replace them with slightly bigger ones to really reap the benefits. But every home and heat pump is different, so our expert engineer will help you decide exactly what you need. And if your home’s already well insulated, you may not need to make any changes at all.

Ready to switch to a heat pump? Register today

We’re currently installing air source heat pumps in the South West of England, with more regions coming soon. And with hassle-free installation by our expert engineers, plus interest-free credit options available, we’re making it as simple as possible to switch. So if you’re ready for cleaner, greener heating, register your interest for a heat pump today.

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Additional information

  1. Source: Air-to-water heat pump system aroTHERM plus | Vaillant

  2. Source: Air source heat pumps | Centre for Sustainable Energy (cse.org.uk)