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Air source heat pumps: all you need to know

Air source heat pumps extract thermal energy from the outside air and convert this into heating and hot water for your home.

Air-source heat pump

What you learn here:

  • What is an air-source heat pump?
  • How does an air-source heat pump work?
  • What are the key advantages?
  • Is the technology right for me?
  • What are the costs and which subsidies exist?

Air-source heat pumps offer an efficient way to provide sustainable heating to your home. Air source heat pumps can operate in all temperatures, including temperatures down to -25°. They are suitable for a range of homes, from a small apartment* to a large detached home. Air source heat pumps use 75% of renewable energy, with only 25% being required from electricity. This means that 75% of the energy is from a natural resource.

TYPES OF AIR SOURCE HEAT PUMPS Air source heat pumps exist in two variants.

Air heat pumps and air to water heat pumps.

The air to water air pump feeds the heating energy to the water in the heating circuit, while air heat pumps generate warm air currents that heat up the rooms through a ventilation system.

  • Air source heat pumps

    For this variant, the initial costs are significantly cheaper, partially due to quicker, unobtrusive installation without any changes to your home. It delivers up to four times more energy than it consumes and can run parallelly to existing heating solutions. Which is necessary since it doesn't provide domestic hot water, so an additional hot water system is needed.
  • Air to water heat pumps

    In contrast, air to water heat pumps are capable of preparing domestic hot water. Hence this variant can replace central heating systems entirely but would also function in a hybrid system with a boiler. Operating an air to water heat pump often requires larger radiators or underfloor heating which could mean increased installation effort and cost.

The operating principle of an air source heat pump How do air source heat pumps work?

Generally, air source heat pumps convert thermal energy from the outside air into heating and hot water. In both variants, the outside air is drawn into the heat pump through a ventilator and passed on to a refrigerant via a heat exchanger.

Operating principle of an air-source heat pump

The refrigerant absorbs the energy from the outside air, heats up and evaporates. The resulting steam is then compressed to produce further heat. Ultimately, the steam heats up the water that runs through the underfloor heating or radiators or the air that is directly distributed to the rooms via ventilation.

Functionality of an air-source heat pump

THE CHECKLIST Does an air source heat pump suit your home?

Air source heat pumps are the ideal solution for domestic heating in many cases. Yet, to fit perfectly and operate efficiently, your home should meet certain requirements:

  • Well insulated home

  • Sufficient outdoor and indoor space

  • Low flow temperature below 55° C

  • Installation location, which doesn't amplify sound

Advantages of an air-source heat pump At a glance: the pros and cons.

Modern air source heat pumps provide plenty of advantages. Yet, these benefits vary depending on the heating solutions the air-source heat pumps are compared with.

  • Pro: Advantages over conventional oil and gas heating

    Efficient heating with low emissions, maximum independence from energy prices (especially combined with photovoltaic), low maintenance and operating costs.
  • Pro: Advantages over brine-source and water-source heat pumps

    Significantly lower development costs, less strict building regulations and no excavation work required.
  • Con: Things to consider

    As the installation of a heat pump is more complex than that of a standard boiler. Air source heat pumps are the quickest and less intrusive system. Installation can usually be completed in 2-3 days.

Investment vs. financial support Costs and subsidies of an air-source heat pump.

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) government grants helps homeowners in England and Wales with the cost of installing a low carbon heating technology in your home.

You can recieve up to £7,500 off the cost and installation of a air source heat pump. The BUS operates in the form of a grant voucher which is provided to the installer after installation and commissioning, with the expected amount deducted from the homeowners upfront cost.

To learn if you're eligible and how to apply for BUS, click here.

The total costs consist of one-off expenses and ongoing expenses. However, air source heat pumps come with significantly lower development costs compared to other heat pump variants and only use electricity for operation. Annual servicing doesn't require much time – keeping overall costs relatively low from acquisition to daily use.

This combination of lower initial costs and increased saving potentials make air source heat pumps the most favourable choice among heat pumps regarding costs composition.

Planning Points to consider

Planning your air source heat pump starts with checking whether installing it in your home bears any benefits. To decide on this, three key elements should be considered: the size of the unit, the right place and the efficiency level. Ultimately, your installing partner will help you make the right choice for your given situation.

  • Do you prefer to have only one unit (Monobloc)?

    An air source heat pump always requires at least an outdoor unit to operate. Monobloc systems combine all the components in a single outdoor unit. Connected pipes transfer water to the central heating system and hot water cylinder placed inside your home’s basement or utility room. This compact setup requires less financial invest, effort in installation and indoor space for installation compared to split systems – but with the entire heat transfer taking place outside, monoblocs are also a little less efficient.

  • Do you prefer to have two units (split systems)?

    In contrast to a monobloc, the components in a split system are separated into an indoor and an outdoor unit. They create most of the heat transfer within the walls of your home and thus operate with less heat loss and more efficiency. If you’re not limited in terms of space inside your home, increased installation costs of a split system are sure to pay off by means of more long-term efficiency.

  • Where is the perfect spot for your heat pump?

    An air source heat pump may generate a certain operating noise. Therefore, the outdoor unit should be placed at least 3 metres away from your neighbours. Also, you should make sure not to place it right below your bedroom window and with enough surrounding space to enable sufficient air flow. The indoor unit is usually placed in the utility room and requires approximately 1 square-metre of space. You could even install the heat pump in apartments. In this case, approximately 2 square-metres of space for the outdoor unit are required. If you have chosen a monobloc system additional considerations regarding distance regulations apply.

  • How efficient is a heat pump in your area?

    The metric to determine the efficiency is the Seasonal Coefficient of Performance (SCOP), which is derived from the product's Coefficient of Performance (COP) and the respective climate conditions of your area. The COP describes the general ratio of consumed electricity to supplied heat. For example, a COP of 4 means that the heat pump supplies four times as much heating power as it requires in electricity. The SCOP then describes this value more precise for your respective area. Concludingly, the higher a heat pump’s SCOP, the more beneficial its installation will be and the higher the yearly COP which you can expect.

FAQs Common questions, clear answers.

  • Is an air-source heat pump worth the costs and effort?

    Yes. If your home is suitable for installation of a heat pump, the many advantages of the technology are definitely worth the initial effort:

    Switching from conventional heating with fossils or electricity to a heat pump can cut carbon emissions significantly – while boosting efficiency. With ambient air being the heat source of your system, you can reduce your monthly energy spendings substantially.

    Ultimately, next to sustainable and efficient heating, air-source heat pumps from Vaillant also offer cooling during hot summer months.

  • How long is the life span of an air-source heat pump?

    Thanks to several more recent technological developments the life span of heat pumps has improved massively: the latest generations if modern appliances last between 20 and 25 years.

  • Can an air-source heat pump keep my house sufficiently warm?

    Yes. If your home isn’t regularly exposed to arctic winter conditions, a heat pump will keep your home comfortably warm. Even though air-source heat pumps need to work harder the colder it gets, they still produce sufficient heat until the outside temperature falls below approximately -20° C. The integrated electrical backup heater ensures sufficient heating energy at all times.