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Blog Post 27 May 2022

Five myths about heat pumps

Heat pumps are increasingly being talked about as a low carbon alternative to gas boilers. However, very few of us currently have them in our homes.

To reduce household emissions and reach net zero by 2050, the 23 million homes currently heated by gas will need to move to a low carbon alternative.

You may be considering making the switch to a heat pump. And with energy prices increasing, you’ll want to be sure you’re making the right decision for you and your home.

But how do heat pumps work? Do they work in cold weather? Are they noisy? We answer these questions and more in this myth-busting blog.

Heat pumps don’t work in a cold climate

In Sweden and Norway, which have much colder winters than the UK, heat pumps have already been rolled out at scale, and are a popular home heating system choice.

The coldest month of the year in Ostersund in Sweden sees a temperature average of -4°C to -9°C. In Inverness in Scotland, we can expect temperatures to reach as low as 0°C on average.

Tests show that heat pumps can continue to work effectively in temperatures as low as -16°C, so this technology is suitable for locations with a colder climate.

Your home needs to be well insulated before you can get a heat pump

It’s true that a heat pump will be more efficient if your home is well insulated, but it’s not essential for you to be able to use one in your home.

With the right system and the right installation, heat pumps can work successfully in vast and airy buildings including stately homes dating back to the 1700s, or churches and cathedrals.

Take a look at Plas Newydd country home run by the National Trust in Anglesey and Blickling Hall in Norfolk as great examples of how heat pumps have been successfully installed in older, draughty buildings.

Heat pumps cost more to run than a gas boiler

This is a trickier one to answer. In general, a typical home would have slightly higher running costs with an air source heat pump than a gas boiler, but it depends on the efficiency of the gas boiler you’re replacing, the efficiency you’re able to achieve with your new heat pump, as well as your current and future electricity and gas prices.

To keep your heating costs low with a heat pump, it’s important to work with your installer to design a radiator system that allows you to run the radiators cooler, and setting your controls well. You can read more about effective heat pump and radiator design in our in-depth guide.  

Heat pumps are noisy

Heat pumps do make some noise when they’re running, usually somewhere around 40 decibels. For comparison, the level of noise in the average library is also around 40 decibels.

When your heat pump is installed, the installers must measure noise levels in relation to your neighbours’ homes. To comply with planning legislation, any noise from your heat pump must be less than 42 decibels at the middle point between your heat pump and your neighbour’s property.

In really cold weather, your heat pump might make more noise because the system has to work harder, but this would not be expected in any situation other than coldest days, for example when the temperature falls below 0°C.

An air source heat pump has to be installed next to the house

To get the most efficient set-up from your heat pump, it’s recommended that the system is installed as close to your home as possible. This is because it will require less piping work to connect to the heating system in your home.

However, it’s not necessary for the system to be installed against one of the perimeter walls to function. In fact, heat pumps can be installed up to 20 metres from your home and still work effectively.

It’s worth noting that the further away the system is, the more it will cost you in digging and pipework to connect the system inside your home.

Any heat pump is better than no heat pump

If you’re looking to reduce your household’s carbon emissions, installing a heat pump will always have a positive impact compared to a gas boiler.

Heat pump performance is based on the design of the central heating system as much as the heat pump itself, so if you want to get the most out of your set-up, it’s important to have your house assessed and a system installed by a verified installer to meet your needs.

A well-designed heat pump is often cheaper than alternative heating systems including oil boilers, storage heaters or infrared heating. We have seen how heat pumps have successfully been installed in homes across Scandinavian countries and the systems can work just as effectively in the UK.

Last updated: 25 May 2022