How heat pumps left some homes so cold owners took them out
To heat pump, or not to heat pump? That is the question. The answer is a resounding: NO.
That is what readers have told us in response to our article questioning heat pumps and the Government’s £450 million scheme to convince us to install the eco-friendly boiler alternatives.
The Boiler Upgrade Scheme, launched last May, offers grants of up to £6,000 if homeowners rip out their gas boiler and install an air or ground source heat pump.
Hundreds of readers contacted us to express an opinion (thank you).
Frustration: Some heat pump owners have got so fed up they have had the devices removed – or installed additional heating to step in when they don’t generate enough heat
Homeowners who have bought homes with heat pumps already installed – or purchased new builds where pumps were part of the package – have told us about a litany of problems associated with the technology.
This is despite their overwhelming desire to do their bit to save the planet from self-destruction.
Some have got so fed up with them they have had them removed — or installed additional heating systems to step in when the pumps don’t generate enough heat.
Many of the critics are knowledgeable. They include retired engineers and current installers of heat pumps.
Some believe the Government is now in danger of committing a misselling scandal to match that of the promotion of diesel cars in the early 2000s by the Labour government — even though diesel fuel was known to contain pollutants harmful to health.
One engineer told us: ‘The nationwide promotion of heat pumps as replacements for gas boilers needs to be challenged.
Not just economically, but also on availability, reliability and functionality issues. It could easily turn out to be the next major government misselling scandal.’
The best conditions for heat pumps
In defence of heat pumps, both users and installers say they perform well during certain times of the year — spring, summer and autumn (in other words, when they are least needed) — and are good for the environment.
They can also be quiet when new or if only low levels of power are required. But these advantages are outweighed by the negatives.
Heat pumps, typically installed outside at the back or side of a house, perform poorly in cold winter weather, especially if a home is inadequately insulated or the radiators are not big enough to give off sufficient heat.
Furthermore, when running at full power in winter or if key components (fan bearings for example) are suffering from wear and tear, the pumps can be noisy. Repairs are also expensive while the pumps are quite complex to operate.
I’m happy with my heat pump but would urge caution
Bill Griffiths bought a new build four-bedroom home four years ago, in a village close to Alfreton, Derbyshire. It came fitted with an air source pump.
Bill, a former chemist at nearby engineering giant Rolls-Royce, says he is generally happy with his heat pump, ‘a hefty unit with a double fan that sits outside behind the garage’.
This heats a 400-litre water tank (inside the garage) with a supporting buffer tank stopping the heat pump from continually switching on and off.
‘It’s noisy when it’s working hard,’ he says. ‘Akin to a loud extraction fan in your bathroom.’
Noise aside, the 74-year-old says the heating device comes with ‘significant issues’ which those contemplating buying one should be aware of.
He explains: ‘Given the current price differential between gas and electricity — respectively, 10p and 34p per kilowatt hour (kWh) — the heat pump has to run super efficiently for it to reap financial benefits.’
He adds: ‘That means an ambient temperature [the outside temperature] of around 10 c [50F] or higher. Any lower temperature and the pump loses efficiency.’
For example, on February 16 this year, when the temperature was 8C, Bill says the heat pump consumed 19kWh of electricity, costing £6.46, in producing 72kWh of heat.
If gas had been used, the cost would have been higher at £7.20. One nil to the heat pump — a saving for the day of 74p.
But a day earlier, the temperature was lower, at 5C. This meant it took more power (21.2kWh at a cost of £7.20) to produce 59.8kWh of heat. In this instance, the daily cost of gas would have come out cheaper at £5.98 — a saving of £1.22. One all.
Bill concludes: ‘It is an unfortunate paradox that as the weather gets colder, the cost of air pump heating increases — and when heating is not required, the heat pump achieves maximum efficiency.’
As a result, he advises homeowners not to contemplate an air pump unless their property is well insulated. It should also be exposed to the sun when it shines because this increases the surrounding air temperature and improves the pump’s efficiency.
Crucially, the financial mathematics don’t work while electricity remains far more expensive than gas. Like others who contacted us with expert knowledge about how heat pumps work (or don’t work), Bill says there is a danger that they are being missold to many homeowners.
We got £5,000 off to go all-electric
It has taken a while, but Jools Cardozo and partner Steve Fletcher are close to moving into their new dream self-build home in Long Lawford, Warwickshire.
It has been a labour of love, with Steve camping out while completing the project, which will have its own gym and cinema room.
The home is also green-friendly, with solar panels on the roof and a large heat pump situated outside in a narrow walkway.
Green dream: Jools Cardozo and Steve Fletcher’s new self-build home has solar panels on the roof and a large heat pump situated outside in a narrow walkway
The heat pump cost £13,000, although via the Boiler Upgrade Scheme they received a £5,000 grant to mitigate the cost.
‘For me, a heat pump was a no-brainer,’ says Jools, who like Steve is in her 50s. ‘We wanted to make the house all-electric and environmentally friendly.
‘But it’s an expensive bit of kit which I am sure many people would baulk at on cost grounds.’
To ensure the pump heats the house adequately, they have installed large radiators — two in some rooms. They have also insulated the house thoroughly and put in underfloor heating.
‘Time will tell whether we’ve made the right decision,’ says Jools. ‘But we’ve done everything by the book.’
The couple’s self-build journey will be the focus of Channel 5 programme Build Your Dream Home In The Country, showing tomorrow night at 7pm (also available on My5). It will be presented by DIY expert Mark Millar.
We put in a back-up heating systems for heat pumps
Peter Taylor, from Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, also sits in this camp. Peter, a retired electronics engineer, inherited two air source heat pumps when he bought his current property nine years ago.
In autumn last year, he decided to install a new oil heating system — not to replace the heat pumps, but to kick in during the winter when the pumps don’t work efficiently. He is delighted he took the step.
Peter says: ‘Air source heat pumps are useless when the outside air is between –1C and 3C — and the conditions are foggy and humid. They cause the outside fan unit to repeatedly ice up, resulting in insufficient hot water to heat the house.’
The design of these pumps, he says, is ‘fundamentally flawed’ and their promotion through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme a ‘potential misselling scandal’.
Christine and Alan Holland, from Hungerford in Berkshire, have gone down the same route, installing wood burning stoves to complement the two heat pumps in their Georgian home.
‘It is impossible to get the pumps to provide us with heat up to 20C, without them running 24 hours, seven days a week,’ says 76-year-old Christine. ‘Their cost then became unaffordable.’
With the stoves now in operation, Christine says they are ‘cosy again’. ‘My view,’ she adds, ‘is that heat pumps are only suitable for small new build properties that are fitted out with the very best insulation.’
Heat pumps, typically installed outside at the back or side of a house, perform poorly in cold winter weather, especially if a home is inadequately insulated or the radiators are too small
Chris Wiggin got rid of the heat pump in his home four years ago —and he doesn’t regret it for one minute. Chris, a 79-year-old retired engineer, bought his four-bedroom bungalow near Bishops Cleeve in Gloucestershire five years ago.
It came with a heat pump. But he soon realised the pump could not heat the radiators beyond lukewarm. He spent most of the autumn of 2018 ‘freezing’ in the home he shares with wife Linda.
‘I had a choice,’ he says. ‘I could replace the radiators with larger ones, or install underfloor heating.’ But he chose neither, instead opting for a gas boiler.
With the Government determined to ban the installation of new gas boilers from 2035, Chris says it has a lot of work to do if it wants to convince the general public of the merits of heat pumps.
‘I can see heat pumps being a damp squib,’ he opines.
The final word goes to Dilys Lownsborough, a retired fashion designer, who bought a West Sussex new-build property seven years ago with an air source pump located at the back.
Dilys had countless problems with the unit as a result of it breaking down. Three years ago, she had it removed.
Yesterday, she told Money Mail: ‘There will be people out there who think heat pumps are wonderful.
‘But I don’t like tepid baths or showers — and I prefer being kept warm when a gale is blowing outside.
‘My advice is simple: Don’t be seduced by all the hype. Avoid heat pumps like the plague.’
Heat pumps – the good and the bad
- Environmentally friendly — cost effective if used with solar panels.
- Long-lasting if it is installed properly.
- Safe to run — no open flames, no danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Can contribute to a healthy home as a result of providing a constant controlled humidity and temperature throughout the year.
- Can switch from heating to cooling with the flip of a switch.
- Grants are available (£6,000 for ground source heat pumps, £5,000 for air source).
- Dependent upon expensive electricity.
- Cannot compete with conventional gas boilers for heat output.
- Will often require existing radiators to be replaced with larger ones.
- Insulation — walls and loft — and double glazing are a necessity.
- Expensive to install (between £7,000 and £13,000 for an air source pump, up to £30,000 for a ground source one). This is before grants available under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.
- Air source pumps can be ugly and noisy. Ground source pumps require a big garden for pipes to be buried under.
- Many houses — terrace homes and flats — are not suitable for air pumps.
- Government grants are attracting ‘cowboy’ installers.
- The units require glycol (anti-freeze) to be replaced regularly, otherwise the pumps can get seriously damaged.
- Worst of all, they can be less effective in cold temperatures — which means supplementary heating may be needed.
* Compiled with assistance from David Haskell, author of heat pump book All Smoke And Mirrors, £12.99.
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