Clean, efficient solutions such as air source heat pumps (ASHPs) represent the future of domestic heating systems. Plus, thanks to the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, the cost of installing a heat pump system has just been cut by £5,000.
Here, I explore and explain some of the most common misunderstandings surrounding heat pump technology so you can make an informed decision about the heating setup you choose for your home.
Most heating products emit some low-level noise, and modern air source heat pumps are no louder than many conventional boilers. A NIBE air source heat pump may reach up to 61 decibels (dB), which is equivalent to conversational speech.
Technological innovations mean that modern air source heat pumps run at a lower volume than previous models. For example, many setups now come with intelligent compressor control, which features inverter technology. This allows contemporary units to operate at the optimum speed for heating and hot water demand, which enables the system to run as quietly as possible.
Extra insulation is effective at absorbing sound and it facilitates a more efficient heat exchange between the outdoor air and the refrigerant, too, further reducing noise levels. In addition, NIBE heat pumps are equipped with a silent mode, which allows the system to operate at a lower volume when needed; for instance, at night.
Effective installation is critical when it comes to minimising the sound your system makes – an MCS 020 (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) calculation should always be completed in order to comply with planning regulations. Care must also be taken to ensure that the ASHP is mounted securely. Units that aren’t sited on a secure base may be more prone to vibrating, which will increase noise levels. NIBE provides air source heat pumps with adjustable feet as standard, as well as additional antivibration mounts for floor standing units.
Bear in mind, too, that locating the heat pump in proximity to numerous reflective surfaces increases the possibility that noise emitted from the unit may reverberate and echo.
Inside the house, an air source heat pump typically requires only slightly more space than a gas boiler. You’ll need to reserve an area for a hot water cylinder, too. The outdoor unit can be as small as 1m wide, though the dimensions tend to vary depending on the size of the house.
When positioning your ASHP, a clearance zone around the unit is required to enable the free movement of air. This is essential to avoid the recirculation of the cooler air which the heat pump usually dissipates from the front of the unit.
These clearance distances are manufacturer specific but, as a rule of thumb, allow for at least 1m in front of the heat pump unit, plus 50mm to 300mm to the rear and sides.
This is one of the biggest myths out there – in fact, most dwellings are already suitable for the installation of a heat pump, and the tech can work with radiators.
Many properties require only minor changes, such as the correct balancing of radiator valves to ensure an even distribution of heat. Some homes may need several radiators to be updated with larger panels, but the work should be minimal in houses insulated to a decent standard that already have properly installed and well-functioning heating systems.
While the number of boiler specialists outweighs the amount of heat pump engineers, the fundamental skills are the same for both types of tech.
The UK has a workforce of 120,000 heating engineers who install 1.7 million heating systems each year. Compared to around 4,000 heat pump installers, there’s a long way to go. We expect this base of installers to grow over the next decade alongside demand for ASHPs.
Heat pumps partner with hot water cylinders to cover both your heating and hot water needs. They can also be used as part of highly efficient thermal storage setups.
For anyone worried about lack of room, there are new space-saving solutions being developed to allow cylinders to be stored in less commonly used areas, such as lofts and garages.
Neil Hope oversees design, technical support and field-based aftersales services at NIBE. With over 20 years of experience in the plumbing and heating sector, Neil also represents NIBE by contributing to trade bodies, including the Heat Pump Association.