At home with a heat pump: ‘It makes hot water when it’s freezing outside’
Four householders with recently installed air source heat pumps discuss the ups and downs of ownership
John and Carol Deed, Thriplow, Cambs
“We had an air source heat pump fitted in January 2020 and it has proven to be a really good decision,” says John Deed, a former marketing executive in the car industry.
Deed and his wife Carol began considering home heating options for their detached four-bedroom 1970s house when it became clear their 25-year-old oil boiler was “on its last legs”.
“We considered cost as well as environmental impact and this ruled out going with oil again – [it’s] volatile in price, a pain for delivery and of course not good for the environment,” he says. They settled on an electric heat pump to make the most of their green electricity tariff and planned solar panels, which they fitted over the summer. The house already benefited from cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing.
“The first pleasant surprise was how nice it was to have the whole house, which is about 1,700 sq ft, at 20 degrees all day, especially when Covid has confined us to our home for much longer than normal,” says Deed. “The second pleasant surprise was the running cost.”
After a hefty initial outlay, the couple’s solar panels now generate more than enough electricity to run the Mitsubishi heat pump, compared with paying GBP900 a year for oil. The heat pump cost GBP14,000; the government grant of GBP8,400, to be paid over a seven-year period, leaves a net cost of GBP5,600.
“It’s no more noisy than the boiler and quite how it makes piping hot water when the air temperature outside is freezing is a mystery, but we’ll take that!”
‘As useful as a chocolate fireguard’
Alf Mangera, Blackburn
“It was the biggest mistake I’ve made in a long time,” says Alf Mangera, a youth worker in Blackburn, on his decision to fit a heat pump to his home shortly before Christmas.
Mangera bought his new-build house nine years ago and has since undertaken renovation including new insulation, triple glazing and solar panels. “I’m very energy conscious. So the next step was to get an air source heat pump,” he says.
He believes his installer suggested a heat pump model which was not powerful enough to warm the house once the cold winter weather set in. On days when temperatures were above 5C, the single-pump device was able to keep the house warm, but on days colder than 5C “it was as useful as a chocolate fireguard”.
Mangera’s energy use surged from 500 units of electricity a month to more than 2,000 units and “everyone was cold”, he says. The installer later admitted a double pump might have been a better fit and offered to upgrade the model, but Mangera told the installer “to take it away unless they’d put in underfloor heating too”.
“I’ve spoken to other people about their heat pumps – there are some good Mitsubishi models – but I feel like I was given a cheap knock-off,” he says. “I’ve got a mate and he’s had this done; he’s got the double pump with underfloor heating in his new-build and it works great,” he adds. “I wouldn’t consider a heat pump again until the technology has improved.”
‘Technology is improving all the time’
Mark Food, Felsted, Essex
“We had our first heat pump installed about 10 years ago, and it was awful,” says Mark Food, from Felsted in Essex. For seven years, the air source heat pump – which he says was “poorly installed, and poorly built” – struggled to keep the four-bedroom 1930s house warm during cold weather, and drew complaints from the neighbours about the noise.
“Today, we’ve installed the ‘Rolls-Royce of heat pumps’ and it’s brilliant,” says Food. He says the new generation air source pump, built by Mitsubishi, is able to keep the whole house warm and produce enough hot water for the family of four. In total, the family probably spends GBP140 a month on electricity, which is broadly in line with estimates for a combined gas and electricity bill in a large house. “And you can hardly hear it at all,” says Food.
It helps that there is underfloor heating, which is ideal for heat pumps, and that the back extension is built to more energy-efficient standards than required in the past. Food guesses that many of the negative experiences reported about heat pumps probably arise from old, poorly installed models in poorly insulated homes.
“Technology is improving all the time. The trick is to leave the heat pump to run in third or fourth gear – you don’t need to fiddle with it – and it keeps the temperature topped up.”
‘It felt like something we should do’
Tom Kiss, Brighton
“I installed a heat pump in my last home and absolutely loved it,” says Tom Kiss, a web designer from Brighton. “I miss our heat pump! I think they’re absolutely fantastic and I will be installing one in my new home without a doubt.”
Kiss opted for an air source heat pump for his Victorian terrace in early 2019, after “the long, slow death of our gas boiler”, having already put in place internal wall insulation and undertaken a loft conversion.
“It felt like a difficult decision at the time,” he says. “When we looked into it there were some scare stories, which were a bit of a downer, but we did our research. As a relatively privileged middle-class family it felt like something we should do, because we could just about afford to.”
With a government grant, the steep upfront cost of a heat pump versus a boiler made more sense, Kiss says. He paid just over GBP8,500 for an Mitsubishi EcoDan 8.5kW model, and was able to claim GBP6,300 from the government’s renewable heat incentive over seven years. This left a net cost of GBP2,264 – or less than the GBP2,700 quote he received to install a new gas boiler. The new owner of the house now collects the grant payments.
Kiss says his early concerns about noise, or that radiators run by a heat pump wouldn’t get as hot, proved to be unfounded. It’s “not efficient or necessary” for radiators to be very hot to keep the house at a steady 21C, he says, and the pump was placed “literally right next to our back door and we couldn’t hear it”.