How do heat pumps work?

They take the ambient heat from the ground, typically, and concentrate this for use in your home.

This heat can be used to heat your home directly or heat water to feed into your central heating or hot water system. This reduces the amount of fuel you need to burn for heating, saving you money. The government are supplementing the cost of installation for ground source heat pumps with the RHPP scheme, offering one-off grants of £1,250.

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Technical information made simple

You will need enough outside space to bury a loop of pipe called a ‘ground loop’ which collects the heat from the earth, although they can be buried in vertical boreholes if space is really tight.

  1. A mixture of water and antifreeze circulates around the ground loop – which is buried in the garden. This absorbs the heat from the ground.
  2. Then the heated ground loop fluid is pumped through a heat exchanger passing the heat to the refrigerant.
  3. The refrigerant is compressed and the heat concentrated into a higher temperature in a compressor. This makes it hot enough to heat water for either heating or hot water.
  4. The ground loop fluid, now cooled, passes back into the ground where it captures more heat and repeats the whole process.

The size of your home, and your requirement for heat will determine the length of the ground loop – longer loops can draw more heat from the ground, but need more space to be buried in.

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There are other types of heat pump and they work on a very similar principle, but tend to draw heat from different sources:

  • Air Source Heat Pumps: They draw heat from the outside air and are popular as they are cheaper and easier to install, particularly if you live in a city with limited outside space.
  • Water source heat pumps: This is very similar to a ground source system except that the ground loop is immersed in water, such as a lake or river.
  • MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery): This is effectively exhaust-air-source; these recover the heat from air leaving your home via vents. This is most effective in more air-tight homes.

Installation

In order to qualify for the RHPP scheme the system must be fitted by a MCS accredited installer. Find out more about the Installation of ground source heat pumps.

FAQs

How long should the ground loop be?
That depends on the energy requirements of your house, the space that you have available and the type of ground you have. The larger the home that is to be heated, more energy that is required thus more loop needed in the ground. When planning and designing your system your installer will design your system so that it meets your needs.Typical systems are 6 to 12kW, and you'll usually need 10m of coiled pipe per kW for installation in horizontal trenches - you'll need less piping if you're installing it in a vertical borehole. If ground space is restricted, a vertical borehole (or several) is a good choice - these are now comparable in cost to installing the loops in horizontal trenches.
Are ground source heat pumps noisy?
No, they make about the same level of noise as a fridge.
Can I heat a swimming pool using a ground source heat pump?
Yes, a system can be designed purely for your pool, be it indoor or outdoor, and if required it can form a heating and hot water system for the whole of your property.
Will a ground source heat pump save me money on my energy bills?
Yes, a well designed ground source heat pump system will save money and CO2 compared to other traditional heating systems, especially now that the government is in part funding new installations with the Renewable Heat Premium Payment grant. Exactly how much money you save depends on how well your system is designed and the efficiency of your old system. Find out how much you could save by completing our Energy Assessment.
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