Heat pumps

This section explains what heat pumps are and how they can be used to provide heat to homes and buildings.

Why use heat pumps?

  • They are a versatile heat generation resource that can be used at different scales and applications.
  • If driven by energy sources, they have no direct CO2 emissions associated with heating.
  • They can be retrofitted to existing heating systems.
  • The heat generated receives generous subsidies from the Feed-in Tariffs.
  • They are very low maintenance.
  • They produce no local pollution.

Benefits and potential impacts of heat pumps

Cost and funding

Costs vary according to the technology used and the scale of the installation. A heat pump for a small office or an average house would cost between £5,000 and £12,000 (for 5-12kWth system).

As a very general guide, the installed cost of a typical system would be about £1,000 per kWth capacity. This estimate does not include the cost of the heat distribution system - underfloor or central heating.

Bigger savings will be made for installations in homes that are not connected to the gas network. The largest savings will be made when replacing electric heating.

The cost and funding page has more detailed information on the cost of using heat pumps, payback periods and available funding.

How much does it cost and where can I get funding?

Project timescales

Timescales will depend on whether you are adding a heat pump to an existing building or incorporating it as part of a wider new development.

For domestic or small scale heat pump projects, particularly those where planning permission is not needed, the process is likely to take between one and two days.

Air and water source heat pumps can be installed within a day because less civil engineering work is required than for ground source heat pump installations.

How and where heat pumps work

Heat pumps can be used to either provide space heating or hot water heating. In some cases they can also provide space cooling.

There are three main heat pump technologies:

  1. Ground source heat pumps (GSHP)
  2. Air source heat pump (ASHP)
  3. Water source heat pump (WSHP)

A heat pump is very similar to a refrigerator, except that it is used in reverse for heating rather than cooling. A heat pump extracts the solar energy (stored heat) in an external environment (the ground, the air, or a water body) and upgrades the energy to a level that can be used for heating purposes. The diagram below shows how heat pumps work.

Ground and air source heat pumps















Heat pumps can operate throughout England. Available technologies and efficiencies will vary from site to site.

See the ‘Examples of how heat pumps are used' page for an explanation of:

  • heat pump technologies and installation
  • applications for heat pumps
  • a comparison of heat pumps to traditional technologies.

Examples of how heat pumps are used

Practical issues

Systems vary in size according to the type of technology chosen. As a result, the land available is likely to influence the choice of heat pump system.

Heat pumps can be retrofitted to traditional heating systems. Special care is needed to ensure that the system works to efficiencies that are competitive with traditional boilers such as gas and oil.

Information about planning permission for heat pumps and a project checklist of the practical issues is available on the ‘Heat pump project checklist' page.

Heat pump project checklist

Case studies

Here are some examples of how some councils are already using heat pumps:

Cornwall goes retro with heat pumps

Hull uses heat pumps as part of their eco-efficiency plan

Howe Dell leads the way in building an eco-school with heat pumps

Useful links to further information

Ground Source Heat Pump Association website

Ground source heat pumps - on the Energy Saving Trust website

Air source heat pumps - on the Energy Saving Trust website

Heat pump field trial - on the Energy Saving Trust website


1 May 2012

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