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‘Our bills are lower and the dog’s a big fan’: meet the couple who ditched a gas boiler for a heat pump

<span>George Smith and Lily Graham-Stewart installed an air source heat pump as part of a full home refurbishment.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Leckie/The Guardian</span>
George Smith and Lily Graham-Stewart installed an air source heat pump as part of a full home refurbishment.Photograph: Michael Leckie/The Guardian

Hailed as a greener, cheaper and more energy-efficient way of heating our homes, heat pumps are proving to be something of a conversation starter of late, thanks in part to the government’s boiler upgrade scheme recently increasing its level of support to homeowners. Now offering £7,500 for each household towards the cost of a new heat pump (up from £5,000 previously), it means it can now be technically cheaper to install a heat pump than the average gas boiler.

For the uninitiated, the most common types of heat pump (which technically both heat and cool the home using electricity rather than gas) are ground source and air source pumps. Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) absorb heat from the air, generally proving easier and quicker to install, whereas ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), absorb heat from the ground. The added cost with GSHPs are largely down to the more technical and complex installation method.

Both versions have been shown to be much more efficient at heating the home than their boiler counterparts, as well as potentially more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly. It’s estimated that heat pumps can reduce an individual’s carbon emissions by up to 70% if making the switch. But while the science behind them is impressive and demand is certainly growing (tens of thousands have already been installed in the UK), understandably, many households remain hesitant to take the plunge.

  • The heat pump serves both the heating and hot water system

Firmly in the “pro” camp is recent convert George Smith, 33, from Wickford in Essex. Smith, who lives with his partner Lily Graham-Stewart, 34, and dog Reggie, had an ASHP installed in November 2022 as part of a full refurbishment when moving into his home (including a rear extension, loft conversion and insulation upgrade). The ASHP, which serves the house’s heating and hot water system, was chosen primarily for environmental reasons, says Smith. Cost was another major motivation. “There was a grant at the time, which prompted me to consider it,” he explains. “Due to the war in Ukraine, gas prices were also rising, so I thought it was a sensible idea to move from gas to a fuel source we potentially have more control over.”

How has it measured up cost-wise? “Because I bought my house and refurbished it straightaway, I don’t have a direct ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison of monthly costs, having never run a boiler before in this house,” he says. “But, having spoken to friends who have similar-sized properties in the area, my bills do seem to be considerably lower, so I’m confident it was a sensible move financially.” Energy company Ovo estimates British households using a heat pump save on average £500 against a gas boiler (Octopus suggests a more conservative £126 a year saving).

Because heat pumps are at their most efficient operating at lower temperatures, compared with traditional oil or gas boilers, they work especially well with underfloor heating systems, which operate at a lower flow temperature than traditional radiators. It meant installing underfloor heating in Smith’s new home was a no-brainer. “There’s a really good distribution of heat across the house now, rather than heating up just one corner of the room, via a radiator, for example,” he says. “The house heats up very quickly everywhere – and aesthetically it’s much nicer too, without radiators in every room. Reggie is the biggest fan – he’s swapped his plush dog bed for the floor!”

But one major consideration when it comes to installing heat pumps is space. For homes with limited space, ASHPs – the most popular type of pump – are usually the go-to and require only a small amount of space, but GSHPs can also be used in flats, for example (although this depends on existing infrastructure and building regulations must be considered). “Our ASHP is located outside the house and we have a hot water cylinder in the utility cupboard,” says Smith. “Because we were refurbishing, it was easy to design the space around it but it’s not huge either way.”

The noise isn’t a factor either, he says (generally, heat pumps operate between 40 and 60 dB, which is about the same as the noise generated by a typical gas boiler, with ASHPs typically slightly noisier than GSHPs). “The heat pump does make a noise but it is minimal and only apparent if you’re standing within a couple of metres of the unit (when the noise is not that loud).”

  • The heat pump is located outside the house, with a hot water cylinder indoors

Since the servicing of heat pumps is not required in the same way testing is for boilers, the maintenance has been straightforward too. Generally, regular owner checks are recommended, with professional checks required less frequently, though servicing requirements can vary, depending on the manufacturer’s warranty.

What would he say to somebody currently weighing up a heat pump in their own home? “Since having ours installed, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and the general consensus is that for newbuilds they’re absolutely brilliant,” says Smith. “I’m actually thinking about moving again in the near future, and I’ve already decided I’ll definitely be getting one in my new house, based on this experience alone. For anyone with concerns about installing in a new or fully refurbished house, I would tell them the ASHP is a great alternative to a traditional boiler system – bills are lower, they require less maintenance and best of all, they are better for the environment.”

From heat pumps to insulation, solar panels and more, explore ways the government can support you at gov.uk/energy-efficient-home