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Test drive a heat pump

Test drive a heat pump

Why consider test driving a heat pump?

Changing the habit of a lifetime is never going to be easy and for most of us, we’ve heated our homes and hot water in the same way for as long as we can remember. 

Despite huge rises in gas prices, and an awareness that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, we still find it difficult to imagine heating our homes any other way. 

Air source heat pumps have been around for decades, and today heat pumps are the main source of home heating in many parts of the world including Scandinavian countries where winters get much colder than here in the UK.

They are a tried and tested technology, proven to be over three times more efficient than the latest gas boiler, so why is it that so many people are reluctant to look at air source heat pumps as a realistic alternative to gas or oil? 

What you may have heard about heat pumps

We’ve read a lot of misinformation about heat pumps, even in some so called reputable newspapers. The usual things we hear are:  

They’re expensive to install.

Nope, with a government grant available to everybody of £7,500, heat pumps cost about the same as an equivalent gas boiler to install. 

They’re noisy.

Maybe for bats, but for us humans you’ll just hear a very quiet hum, and that’s if you’re standing right next to it. But more on this later. 

OK, but they’re expensive to run.

No again sorry. Heat pumps do work better in well-insulated homes, that’s because they run at a lower temperature than a boiler system, so insulation helps make sure the heat gradually builds and stays in the house. But research has shown that all kinds of homes can be suitable for a heat pump.

Because the heat is now trapped in your home, the heat pump doesn’t have to work very hard to maintain a constant and comfortable temperature. For a well-insulated home with a heat pump, it’s easy to keep a stable and steady 20C all year round.

OK so a heat pump sounds great in theory, but it’s a big step to change from a gas boiler that we know works (expensively). So how can I try an air source heat pump before I commit to having one fitted? 

They’re expensive to install.

Nope, with a government grant available to everybody of £7,500, heat pumps cost about the same as an equivalent gas boiler to install. 

They’re noisy.

Maybe for bats, but for us humans you’ll just hear a very quiet hum, and that’s if you’re standing right next to it. But more on this later. 

OK, but they’re expensive to run.

No again sorry. Heat pumps do need a home to be well insulated, that’s because they run at a lower temperature than a boiler system, so you need good insulation to make sure the heat gradually builds and stays in the house. This can mean adding insulated plasterboard to internal walls, something that’s not too difficult.  

Because the heat is now trapped in your home, the heat pump doesn’t have to work very hard to maintain a constant and comfortable temperature. For a well-insulated home with a heat pump, it’s easy to keep a stable and steady 20C all year round, whether there’s a hard frost or it’s a hot, sunny day. 

OK so a heat pump sounds great in theory, but it’s a big step to change from a gas boiler that we know works (expensively). So how can I try an air source heat pump before I commit to having one fitted? 

Warma’s test drive a heat pump

We’ve teamed up with Dr Mike Fell, an academic energy researcher at University College London. Mike is committed to speeding up the UK’s transition to a fair, low-carbon energy system and his approach combines scientific research rigour with creative solutions. 

Mike has devised a three part system to simulate what it would be like for you to have an air source heat pump in your home.

see

Use our Augmented Reality (AR) tool on your smartphone or tablet to see what a range of heat pump equipment would look like in your own home.

Hear

Play the sound of a heat pump, with directions on how to set the right volume and listen to it in situ.

feel

Guidance on how to set your condensing combi boiler to run in a similar way to a heat pump so you can feel what the heating is like.​

How a heat pump works

heat pump

The Pump

heat pump systems will have a cylinder to store hot water

The Cylinder

radiator

Radiators

control system

Controls

An air source heat pump has a number of parts

The pump. This sits outside and captures the air, mixes the air with a refrigerant which raises its temperature and pumps it into your hot water system. ​

The cylinder, available in a range of sizes to suit your home. This is where your hot water will be stored.

The correct radiators are essential for a heat pump to work properly and larger ones may may be needed, because heat pumps operate at a lower flow temperature. This is the secret to their high efficiency and to maintain the same room temperature as a boiler.

Set and forget or tailor your heating as much as you want. You can do it all from your phone thanks to the smart energy connectivity of a heat pump.

SO LET'S GET STARTED

1. SEE

Use our Augmented Reality (AR) tool to see what heat pump equipment would look like in your own space

Using your smartphone or tablet, scan the relevant QR code below. Now go to the location you would like to view the pump. Click “View in AR” and your phone or tablet will go into camera mode.

Point it where you want the pump to appear. It can take a minute to load so be patient.

Try viewing it from different angles. You can also take photos and videos to share on social media.

Small Pump

Scan or click this option if you have a small to medium (e.g. 1-3 bedroom) or better insulated home. See the positioning instructions above. (This doesn’t show a particular model of heat pump, but is similar in size and form to some available on the market to give you a good idea of appearance.)

Large Pump

Scan or click this option if you have a larger (e.g. 4+ bedroom) and/or less well insulated home. See the positioning instructions above. (This doesn’t show a particular model of heat pump, but is similar in size and form to some available on the market to give you a good idea of appearance.)

Large Pump

Scan or click this option if you have a larger (e.g. 4+ bedroom) and/or less well insulated home. See the positioning instructions above. (This doesn’t show a particular model of heat pump, but is similar in size and form to some available on the market to give you a good idea of appearance.)

Wall Mounted Pump

Scan or click this option if you have a small to medium (e.g. 1-3 bedroom) or better insulated home, and are thinking about getting your heat pump installed at height. See the general positioning instructions above. (This doesn’t show a particular model of heat pump, but is similar in size and form to some available on the market to give you a good idea of appearance.) Note that this visualisation shows a pump mounted with the lower edge 2m above the ground.

Hot Water Cylinder

Scan or click this option to see smaller to average sized cylinder. Typically it is positioned out of the way in a cupboard. It is also better for it to be near to your heat pump, so as little heat as possible is lost from the pipe connecting the two. For the AR view, you might find it easier just to put it in the middle of a room and get a good look at it!

To find out more about the parts of a heat pump system that go inside your home, please visit the inside page.

To view more heat pump options in your space, and for guidance on positioning outside your home, please visit the outside page.

Hot Water Cylinder

Scan or click this option to see smaller to average sized cylinder. Typically it is positioned out of the way in a cupboard. It is also better for it to be near to your heat pump, so as little heat as possible is lost from the pipe connecting the two. For the AR view, you might find it easier just to put it in the middle of a room and get a good look at it!

To find out more about the parts of a heat pump system that go inside your home, please visit the inside page.

To view more heat pump options in your space, and for guidance on positioning outside your home, please visit the outside page.

2. HEAR

Modern heat pumps are very quiet. But it can be helpful in positioning to get an idea of the sound they make.

Simply click play on the audio track below to listen to the type of sound a modern heat pump makes when working at its hardest. How will you know you have the right volume? Read on for a guide – or to give you a rough idea, set it to be about the same as a quiet fridge.

TOP TIP: If you have a Bluetooth speaker or second phone or tablet, put it where you plan to install your pump and play the sound on that. Walk around and listen to it from different positions.

 

To set the right volume...

sound

Open an online decibel monitor or download an app (such as Sound Meter for Android or Decibel X for iOS).

speaker

Find somewhere quiet. Start playing the sound above on your speaker or second device, and measure the sound level 1 metre (3 feet) away from it.

adjust volume

Adjust the volume of the sound until you have an average reading of about 50 dB. (This is similar to a quiet fridge, and quieter than many gas boilers.)

position the speaker

Now position the speaker or second device where you plan to place your heat pump, and take a listen!

3. FEEL

Instead of making your radiators scalding hot like a gas boiler, heat pumps make them warm for longer. Luckily, most modern boilers can be run in a way that simulates this so you can feel what it is like. Find out how here.

1. This part of the test drive will involve turning down the “flow temperature” on your boiler. This is the temperature the boiler sends water to the radiators.

2. The innovation agency Nesta have created an easy guide to how to do this. Follow the guide here >>>

3. Don’t make this adjustment if you have a hot water tank, because it has to be heated above a certain temperature to prevent bacterial growth.

4. You will turn down the flow temperature using a knob or digital control on the front of the boiler.

5. If you use a thermostat with a timer to control your heating, you will probably need to set it to come on earlier than usual as it will take longer to heat up. But it should still get as warm! If it doesn’t, try turning the flow temperature back up a bit.

NEXT STEPS

It is essential you use an installer who is MCS accredited. They will survey your home to assess what size of heat pump you need, as well as other aspects of the systems like tanks, piping, radiators, insulation and controls.

Survey

Installers will need to visit you home to assess what size of heat pump you need, as well as other aspects of the systems like tanks, piping, radiators, and controls. You will probably want to get several quotes.

Installation

This can take several days depending on the amount of work involved. Once complete, your installer will demonstrate how the heat pump works, and give you commissioning and MCS installation certificates.

Operation

Heat pumps work differently to gas boilers, and your installer will explain how they are different and how to ensure your home stays toast warm all year round.

Here are some recommended resources to inform the next steps on your heat pump journey

A background guide to heat pumps from a trusted agency. Plus explore the site for information and ideas on how to make your home more energy efficient.

A new service from Nesta brings people interested in heatpumps together with heat pump owners where you can visit the homes of people who have a heat pump. This enables you to talk honestly about what it’s like to live with a heat pump and ask any questions to an unbiased independent heat pump owner. Register your interest here.

Expert and impartial advice on home heating. The website has lots of free information, and you can also pay for different levels of bespoke advice. They provide a useful run-down of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

This Government tool draws on basic information about your home to give you an idea if it is suitable for a heat pump. It then provides links to support schemes and further advice.

What Grants Are Available for Air Source Heat Pumps.

Through the Government’s boiler upgrade scheme, anyone can receive a grant of £7,500 towards the installation of a new heat pump bringing installation equal to that of an average modern combi gas boiler.

More grants are available through the ECO4 scheme and the Local Authority Flex scheme that are designed to fully fund the installation of a heat pump alongside other energy efficient measures such as insulation and solar panels.

Fill out our quick and easy form to see if you’re eligible.

About Mike Fell

Dr Mike Fell is a senior research fellow at UCL Energy Institute. His work focuses on social aspects of energy use, including how we can reduce carbon emissions from home heating by using heat pumps instead of gas boilers.

His previous work has seen him seconded to the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy during 2017-18, and in 2013 undertook a POST/EPSRC Fellowship in the House of Commons Library (briefing MPs on subjects in science and the environment). Prior to joining UCL he was the energy commissioning editor at Earthscan (a leading publisher of books and journals in sustainability).

Because heat pumps are not yet widely used for home heating in the UK, he developed pump:chic as a way to make it easier to imagine what it might be like to have one.