You will have probably heard recently on the news that the Government is offering a new £5,000 grant to encourage households in England and Wales to swap their old gas boilers for heat pumps[1].

But why are they offering this incentive, what exactly is a heat pump and should you install one?

Here’s a run down of what you need to know. 

The problem with gas boilers

Heating buildings accounts for 21% of the UK’s total carbon emissions[2]. Part of the problem is that boilers are powered by gas – a fossil fuel – and is the norm in most homes.

So, one of the ways for the UK to meet its ‘net zero’ targets – i.e. not adding to the already large amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – is to bring an end to our dependence on gas boilers. 

The government is aiming for all of the new heating systems installed in UK homes by 2035 to be using low-carbon technologies, such as electric heat pumps, rather than gas boilers.

It’s important to add that it hasn’t banned gas boilers outright and no-one will be forced to remove their existing fossil fuel boilers. The aim is to help homeowners to easily make these green choices when the time comes to replace their old boiler.

The new incentive

New grants of £5,000 will be available from April 2022 for households in England and Wales as part of a new £450 million three-year scheme. 

The government claims that these grants will mean people choosing to install a heat pump will pay a similar amount as if they were installing a traditional gas boiler.

The scheme is currently only expected to be available in England and Wales, not in Northern Ireland or Scotland, and the Government is yet to announce details of how to apply for the grant.

What are heat pumps and how do they work?

Heat pumps are an environmentally friendly alternative to gas boilers designed to heat homes and buildings.

A heat pump captures heat from outside and, using clever technology powered by electricity, moves it into your home. 

The heat can then be used in your home’s central heating system. As a heat pump captures heat that is already present in the environment, the system itself emits no carbon dioxide emissions.

The two main types of domestic heat pumps that are currently available are:

  • Air-to-water heat pumps – these absorb heat from the outside air - even when it’s freezing cold outside. These are the most common type of domestic heat pump in the UK[3].
  • Ground source heat pumps – these use water-filled pipes buried underground to extract natural heat from the ground. For this type of system, you need enough outside space for digging a trench or drilling boreholes[4].

Currently, an air source heat pump typically costs between £6,000 and £18,000, depending on the type of the pump and the size of your property[5].

So, should you take get a heat pump?

In a typical household, over half of the fuel bills are spent on heating and hot water[6]. An efficient heating system, like a heat pump, could certainly help to reduce your fuel bills and reduce your carbon emissions.

As Greg Jackson, CEO and founder of Octopus Energy, explained[7], responding to the news of the government grant: “Electric heat pumps are more efficient, safer and cleaner than gas boilers and can help make homes more comfortable with less energy.”

However, heat pumps might not be right for everyone and there have been some criticisms of the new incentive.

Consumer group Which? warned that even with a grant, heat pumps can be costly and inconvenient to install[8]. They also work best in homes with properly insulated windows, walls and roofs, so they may be inefficient in some UK homes. In addition, heat pumps won’t be suitable for everyone as they must be installed outside, and they require space indoors for a hot-water cylinder. 

Other critics say the numbers don’t add up. Although up to 25 million UK homes have gas boilers, the grants will fund just 90,000 pumps over three years. Jonny Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said[9] this “falls well short of the 450,000 heat pumps which the Climate Change Committee says need to be installed by 2025 in order to keep the UK on track to cut emissions from our homes in half by 2035.”

Groups such as Greenpeace[10] said the scheme wouldn’t be enough to adequately tackle emissions from homes or support low income households to switch. 

Whatever you decide, it’s good to know what the options are when you’re next thinking about replacing your boiler.

For more tips on how to stay happy and safe in your home, go to Solved.