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Should i have a new gas boiler or heat pump? Feb 2022

The question remains for all people who are needing to upgrade their heating system soon.....

Should I have a new Gas Boiler or a Heat Pump?

As with so much of the latest technology, when thinking about heating your home people are beginning to ask about the latest systems. Should they have a new gas boiler or a heat pump?

Electric cars…Biodegradable Coffee Pods…Reusable Nappies. With the increased emphasis on products that are kind to the planet, there’s no end of eco-friendly alternative products available to the budding eco warrior. When it comes to home heating, the green solution can be found in the form of a ground or air source heat pump.

Unfortunately though, the solution which damages the environment the most is often the most effective (would you rather do a 5 hour drive in an EV, or a torquey diesel?). So, begs the question - will we all be switching to a heat pump, or sticking with our existing boilers?

What is a Ground/Air Source Heat Pump?
Heat pumps present an efficient solution to heating water for your home that can be used for central heating and outlets such as taps, baths, and showers. They work by absorbing heat from their surroundings into a fluid. This fluid passes through a heat exchanger and into the heat pump which raises the temperature and transfers that heat into the water used around the house. The fluid then returns to cold and the cycle begins again.

Air Source
These work by taking heat from the air (even when it’s cold!) outside your house and are easier to install and less intrusive than ground source heat pumps.

Ground Source
Ground source heat pumps feature pipes that are buried in the ground, either horizontally at a shallow depth, or vertically deep underground. Due to the requirement to bury the pipes, these are more complex and expensive to install. Horizontal systems require a large area of ground coverage and vertical systems need specialist drilling to get them deep enough.

Hybrid Heat Pump
As always, whenever there’s distinct product categories, someone has to come along and build a ‘crossover’ product. In this case, we’re talking about ‘hybrid’ systems, which combine a conventional gas or oil boiler with a ground or air source heat pump.

These systems are useful where the supply of hot water from the heat pump is outstripped by the demand of the household; a conventional boiler setup will do some of the heavy lifting and ensure you’re never without hot water. This is useful for larger properties, or those which utilise large amounts of hot water from the outlets, for example busy households with multiple adults.

Hybrid systems are also well suited to properties which are poorly insulated as the conventional boiler is able to effectively warm the house before the warmth dissipates.

If you need a replacement boiler though, replacing it with a hybrid system is a much larger investment than choosing between a gas boiler or a heat pump?

Advantages of a Heat Pump
What’s all the fuss about?

Ground and air source heat pumps are more environmentally friendly than their conventional, fossil-fuel burning counterparts.

The only power they utilise is electricity; where on average 40% of electricity is supplied by renewables, this presents a more sustainable option than a conventional boiler.

Increased Lifespan
A big cost associated with conventional boilers, particularly older units, is that of ongoing repairs and maintenance. Landlords in particular are required to have gas boilers serviced every year, and it makes sense for general domestic property owners to have their boilers serviced at least annually - a lot of house insurance policies stipulate this as a condition of insurance too.

A heat pump, of any variety also requires an annual service. However, a well looked-after heat pump system could last twenty five years; far longer than a conventional boiler who’s life will be around the ten year plus mark.

Increased Safety
Unlike conventional boilers, heat pump systems do not burn any gas or oil. This results in a heating solution that is inherently safer.

Greater Efficiency
A real bonus of opting for a ground or air source heat pump is the increased efficiency. Typically, a conventional boiler will operate at around 90% efficiency (all that steam pouring out of your flue? Wasted heat) whereas a heat pump, which uses less energy than it generates, can run at 400% efficiency!

More Versatility
Another awesome feature of heat pump tech is that it can actually be run in reverse, to cool down your property - a bit like air conditioning. You won’t get that with your average Worcester-Bosch.

Disadvantages of a Heat Pump
Nothing’s perfect these days…

High Installation Costs
Switching to a ground or air source heat pump, or a hybrid system, is a serious investment which can require surveys as well as the necessary excavations or installation costs.

The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that these initial costs could be as much as £26,000, however, there are presently government incentives and schemes to lighten this financial load a little.

High Running Costs
If installed at a property with very poor thermal insulation, or if simply used incorrectly, heat pumps can start to cost a lot to run. With their only energy source coming from electricity, which is typically more expensive per kilowatt-hour than gas, a poorly running heat pump system could actually cost more to run than a conventional boiler setup.

An air source heat pump uses a fan system to introduce heat into a property. Therefore, if you have a large open plan space, this will work. But if your home has a more traditional layout of individual rooms, you will only get heat into the one in which the fan is installed.

Additional Infrastructure Required
Unfortunately, switching to a heat pump system is not as simple as ditching your old boiler. You will most likely also require ancillary equipment such as appropriate hot water storage tanks, larger radiators or underfloor heating, and increased insulation.

So, new Gas Boiler or a Heat Pump?

We started this article by questioning whether you should choose a new gas boiler or a heat pump? We think this question can be answered by looking at how appropriate they are for the majority of households, and whether they should move away from their boilers.

We think the answer to this is simply, no.

Clearly there are several fantastic features of a heat pump systems, such as increased efficiency, versatility, longer life and, of course, less harmful impact on the environment.

These advantages, however, are undermined by the fact that many houses simply aren’t geared up for the type of heat that a heat pump can offer; (i.e. slow and steady) they either have terrible thermal insulation - so any heat generated by the pump would be lost before it can accumulate - or the demands for the hot water are more than what the heat pump can provide.

Couple this with the significant financial outlay associated with installing a ground or air source heat pump, and you have a large portion of property owners in the UK who just aren’t going to have their needs met by any system other than a gas boiler.

So, gas boiler or a heat pump? It appears that despite the benefits of a ground or air source heat pump, gas boilers are here to stay…which begs the question…when was your boiler last serviced?

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Adam Dilger
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We offer ground braking reliable heating solutions across the Northwest. With 20 years experience our engineers install, service and maintain your central heating systems. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn >>
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