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How does a heat pump work?

aroTHERM plus heat pump outside a house

Heat pumps use environmental energy to generate heating and hot water for your home. They work by extracting thermal energy (heat) from the air, ground or a local water source. The heat pump then converts this energy into heating and hot water for your home.

Heat pumps operate by collecting heat through an external collector system - pipes containing liquid filled with anti-freeze to transfer heat from the ambient temperature. Because of the composition of the liquid, it will always be a lower temperature than outdoors, meaning the heat is transferred into the liquid.

It is then passed through to the second cycle, where heat is absorbed into refrigerant and turned into vapour. Once it reaches the compressor, that is turned into steam, raising the temperature to a level usable in your home. We have created a video to showcase this process in action below.

Similarly to a household refrigerator, a heat pump works using a system of compression and evaporation. It collects renewable energy from either the air, ground, or water, and transferring the heat to your home and water. This transference works in four stages wherein a refrigerant is circulated throughout the system, carrying the renewable heat energy.

  1. How does a heat pump create energy
  1. 1


    The environmental heat is carried from the outside to the heat exchanger, causing the refrigerant to evaporate into a gas.

  2. 2


    The refrigerant is then compressed, increasing the temperature to one that is high enough for use.

  3. 3


    The heat is then transferred to the heating system through the refrigerant gas, condensing it back to a liquid. The generated heat will move from the heating system through the homes chosen emitter system (such as underfloor heating or compatible radiators).

  4. 4

    Expansion Valve

    The now-liquid refrigerant will then decrease the pressure (and therefore the temperature) by passing through the expansion valve. This then restarts the cycle.

Vaillant Soundbox Listen to the silence

Vaillant heat pumps are some of the quietest on the market, with Quiet Mark accreditation. The low noise levels mean that the outdoor unit for a Vaillant heat pump can be easily installed even in built-up areas like townhouse complexes and terraced housing estates, where strict noise control regulations may be in force.

Types of heat pump

Vaillant offers three different types of heat pumps. Which one will best suit your home will likely depend on your home location and surrounding environment. Heat pumps can use air, ground, or water sources to generate hot water and heating for your home.

aroTHERM plus heat pump outside a building

Air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps work by extracting the external heat pump to generate heating and hot water for your home. They are one of the most popular heat pumps in the UK as they are suitable for a wide range of homes including terraced houses, apartments and flats off the ground floor.

Some electricity energy is required to allow this, though it is only around 25% of the total energy used during the process. Air source heat pumps will operate in low temperatures too.

flexoTHERM heat pump inside a home

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps use a system embedded into the ground to extract heat. For this reason, your home does need the necessary land to allow installation of either a ground array or borehole system.

Installed systems are not noticeable once completed. Some electricity energy is required to allow this, though it is only around 25% of the total energy used during the process.

man on his phone stood next to a flexoTHERM heat pump with window in the background

Water source heat pumps

Water source heat pumps use a system embedded in a water source to extract heat. To work efficiently, your home must be closely situated to a body of water such as a lake, river or borehole system.

They are known for being one of the most reliable. renewable energy sources of hot water and heating in homes, thanks to the water being a consistent temperature outside.

Additionally, they are the most low-profile and are best used in instances where natural beauty spots must be preserved. Some electricity energy is required to allow this, though it is only around 25% of the total energy used during the process.

Discover your new heating system

Heat pump servicing

Like a traditional gas boiler, it’s important that once you’ve installed a heat pump you have it serviced by a MSC heating engineer. Heat pumps are a low maintenance heating option, a regular service ensures that it is working efficiently and safely to provide you with heating and hot water.

We recommended having a yearly service during the summer months to ensure that when the temperature drops in winter, it will operate at maximum efficiency.

Read more about ‘what to expect from a heat pump service’ here.

SUPPORT The Boiler Upgrade Scheme

If you're looking to upgrade your traditional gas boiler to a heat pump, the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) financial incentive to help homeowners with the cost of installing low carbon technologies in their home.

Homeowners can get up to £7,500 off the cost of installing a heat pump as part of the government's Net Zero targets. To learn more about the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and how to apply for funding, click here.