What to think about when switching to renewable heating

Paul Lane, Director of Highland Plumbing and Heating, has been installing heat pumps and solar thermal for over 10 years and he has seen his fair share of horror stories about high electricity bills and cold houses. He believes that this is due to poor applications, not poor products.

When fitting a heat pump to replace an oil or gas boiler, what is the biggest consideration that home owners should be aware of?
The biggest consideration should be home insulation. Heating a space is quite a simple process – to retain the heat is not regularly thought about. If a person is cold outside, they insulate themselves by adding layers. We should treat our properties the same way.

When receiving a proposal from an installer, what should consumers be most aware of? 
When a proposal is received, customers should be asking many questions. Can I see the heat loss calculations? Why have you chosen that particular heat source? How much disruption will there be in the property during installation?

Customers should be aware that heat pumps are completely different to gas and oil boilers. They run at a much lower flow temperatures, meaning radiators don’t get as hot to touch, but still heat the space adequately. They are also designed to run for longer periods, not the traditional on/off for 20 minutes to take the chill out of the air.

From your professional experience, what is the biggest reservation people have about heat pumps when it comes to replacing oil or gas boilers?
The biggest reservations people have are initial outlay, the level of work needed to the rest of the system and running costs. All justified, in my opinion. This is why customers need to obtain more than one quotation, speak to installers and do as much research as possible.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about air source heat pumps?
The biggest misconception about heat pumps is installers and engineers claiming that they don’t work. There is absolutely no doubt that the technology works, but it’s the application that fails. Heat pumps have been tarnished with a bad brush due to years of very poor installations. Let me reiterate: heat pumps work!

When it comes to choosing an air source heat pump what should consumers be looking for and what features should they ensure that ASHPs have?
Customers should consider back up support from their manufacturer and they should look at SCOP to gauge the efficiency of the heat pump. Most heat pumps have a ‘drop off’, which is an external temperature at which they struggle and need additional heat from a backup heater. This should be considered along with system design and integrating your chosen heat pump into your existing system.

With money being no object, what would you consider to be best renewable heating solution for a home in the UK?
With money being no object, I would insulate my property to the standard of a passivhaus so I wouldn’t need a heat source. I am a huge fan of solar thermal; apart from running a small circulator, it’s free energy. Ultimately, air source and ground source heat pumps extract solar thermal energy from the air or the ground. Solar thermal can also make big contributions to space heating during spring and autumn.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the renewable heating industry in the UK?
The biggest challenges facing the renewable industry in the UK is skilled labour. Training needs to vastly improve and apprenticeships in the renewable sector need to increase. This will help improve the quality of renewable heating installations.

What do you think the future holds for the heat pump industry as a whole?
Heat pumps are not the solution to net zero. They will, however, have a huge part to play in getting us to net zero. The industry is going to become a lot larger over the next five years seeing demand for installations soar. As previously stated, we need to improve training of heat pump applications to ensure the industry heads in the right direction.

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