10 steps to heat pumping your house
By Richard Lowes, Energy Policy Group, 6th of February 2020
It’s pretty obvious that in order to decarbonise heating, we’re going to need a lot of heat pumps. Even the historically quiet-on-heat Ofgem said it yesterday. Air-source, ground-source, air to air, air to water, big ones connected to heat networks – all may have a role in making the most heat out of low carbon electricity. Yet despite us knowing of their importance for years, deployment has been extremely slow and the UK is well behind the Committee on Climate Change’s indicator levels for required deployment .
The lack of deployment is a major policy issue and fundamental changes to heat pump support are needed, in particular, policy needs to support those without access to capital. A grant type scheme would help some as could access to zero cost finance (as you can get in Scotland). So policy makers just need to get on with this, particularly if they’re serious about sorting out the off-gas grid sector this decade – I’m pretty sure the existing primary legislation behind the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) in the 2008 Energy Act wouldn’t even need changing.
But that’s policy, now to reality. It’s likely that if you are reading this blog you have a gas boiler – most people do. It’s unlikely that you have a heat pump. But by 2050, if we’re going to meet the climate goals, no-one can have a gas boiler – unless it can burn a low carbon gas. But who knows if, how and when that will ever happen.
Despite the lack of deployment, if you don’t have a heat pump, and you can stump up some cash, now is actually a great time to get one – and you should. Just think of how smug you can be when you explain to your friends that the magic box in the garden provides your heating, it’s supporting decarbonisation and you’re no longer burning gas imported from across the world. Think how virtuous you’ll feel in the knowledge that the warm water from your shower has been warmed using (at least in part) heat in the air or ground!
But in all seriousness, we need a bigger market for heat pumps. We need more installers, new skills and we need citizens to know more about them. You can be part of that.
You want a heat pump? So what to do:
- You can get quotes for heat pump systems for free. For ease, I’d advise going to an installation company who is ‘Microgeneration Certification Scheme’ (MCS) registered although indirect accreditation routes are available where you employ an installer who works under an MCS umbrella scheme. You can find accredited companies geographically here: https://mcscertified.com/find-an-installer/.
- Get three quotes. The companies will come and visit your house and should carry out a ‘heat loss calculation’ for the building. If they don’t do this calculation, as happened to a friend of mine who was told ‘yeah we’ll just whack in 8kw’, find another installer. It’s a requirement that a full heat loss calculation is done under the MCS and it’s very important to make sure the heat pump is the correct size and radiators etc. are suitable.
- The installer may stipulate larger radiators or suggest underfloor heating – this will be based on the heat loss calculation.
- Make sure you think about noise levels (they can vary significantly), the efficiency of the heat pump (all need to be quite good to get accredited), and the physical appearance (some are less pretty than others).
- Once you’ve got your three quotes, these will give you the cost for the full works, and they should indicate how much you will get annually from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) as well as your expected bills. The RHI rate for heat pumps has been raised in order to increase deployment. Don’t expect to make cash, that’s not how the scheme is designed. But, the RHI payments should at least cover the majority of the capital cost over the seven years you receive payments.
- The heat pump will likely cost a little more to run than a gas boiler – if you can shift your heating load around a bit and use a time of use tariff (Octopus’ ‘Agile’) as I have done, it could be cheaper than gas.
- If you want to go ahead, there may be some required energy efficiency works (if you want the RHI). If you haven’t got full loft and cavity wall insulation you will need to get this (and should get it anyway).
- I’d personally advise against putting in a heat pump if you have single glazed windows and/or uninsulated solid walls. My old neighbour had both, did it and was happy, but that was balmy coastal Cornwall. In general, heat pumps aren’t well suited to leaky buildings and it can lead to high bills. This is good stuff to sort anyway.
- If you’re happy with one of the quotes, say yes. If you are in Scotland, you should be able to get a loan via the Energy Savings Trust from the Scottish Government to pay for ALL OF THE WORKS.
- Once it’s installed and commissioned, you will get an MCS certificate to show the installation is accredited. You can then use this, along with a recent Energy Performance certificate, to claim the RHI which is paid quarterly over seven years.
I hope that’s helpful, perhaps bear in mind that there is nothing set to replace the RHI after next April (though there might be) and summer is a better time to replace a heating system than winter. If you have questions or comments, let’s continue this conversation via twitter using the hashtag #heatpumppunks or contacting me @heatpolicyrich.
N.B. This blog is based on my experience of working on sustainable heating policy, living with a heat pump for some years and recently having a heat pump installed in my own house. I’m sure experiences vary so please let me know if you think any of this advice should be changed. The official GB government advice on installing renewable heating and applying for the RHI is here.
 Committee on Climate Change, (2019), Reducing UK Emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament, Available from: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2019-progress-report-to-parliament/
 This may vary significantly between houses depending on what work is required.
 Ts and Cs do apply but the installer should help you with this.