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Heat pump efficiency: An expert overview

Heat pumps are becoming more and more popular. However, how efficient are they and what can you do to improve their energy-saving performance? Keep scrolling for our expert advice.

Heat pumps are the future. What’s not to love? They save you money, protect the planet, and can improve your health with their ‘clean energy’ badges of honour.

Energy-efficient heat pump options include air, ground or water source models, all of which offer incredible efficiency ratings. However, questions many homeowners ask themselves is whether heat pumps are worth their high upfront costs and, how much you can actually save on energy bills.

In this article, we’ll discuss the factors that affect heat pump efficiency, including how you can use and run your heat pump to get the most out of it.

Keep reading for our expert breakdown on everything to do with heat pump efficiency.

What’s the most energy-efficient heat pump?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the most energy-efficient heat pump for your home will depend on a variety of factors. For example, the size of your home, your heating and cooling needs, your budget, and your local weather fluctuations.

However, when choosing an energy-efficient heat pump, it’s worth considering the following:

  • The SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating: This measures the efficiency of the heat pump’s cooling function. The higher the SEER rating is, the more efficient it is at cooling your home
  • The HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) rating: This measures the efficiency of the unit’s heating function. The higher the HSPF rating, the more efficient the heat pump is at heating your home
  • The size of the heat pump: Choosing a unit that’s too small for your home won’t operate sufficiently because it can’t heat your whole house. On the contrary, choosing a unit that’s too large might result in higher energy bills and reduced comfort due to overheating

Alongside the above considerations, it’s worth thinking about other features such as variable-speed compressors. These mechanisms allow you to adjust the output of your heat pump to match your home’s heating and cooling needs more precisely. Two-stage or multi-stage compressors also offer you more precise temperature controls.

To work out the right heat pump for your home, contact a qualified HVAC professional to help you choose the best unit for your needs. An experienced professional will help you evaluate your options, consider your budget, and allow you to make an informed decision that keeps your home comfortable and helps you save money on energy bills.

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What makes heat pumps so efficient?

Heat pumps are more efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, making them an increasingly popular option for heating and cooling people’s homes.

To understand heat pump efficiency, let’s start with the basics. A heat pump is a device that transfers heat from one location to another, typically from the outside air, from the ground or via a water source into your home.

During the winter months, a heat pump will extract heat from the outside air (even when it’s chilly!) and bring it inside to warm your home.

Heat pumps are highly efficient compared to traditional heating systems such as a gas boiler. Gas boilers typically have a coefficient of performance of 0.9 whereas heat pumps can achieve 3 to 4. So heat pumps can produce 4 times the amount of heat as the electricity required to run.

Air source heat pump efficiency

Air-source heat pumps are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional heating systems. This is because their energy efficiency and low environmental impact make them an attractive option for many homeowners.

Air source heat pump systems work by extracting heat from the air outside your home and transferring it indoors to provide warmth.

Read more about air source heat pumps in our cost guide.

The most efficient way to run an air source heat pump

If you’re considering installing an air source heat pump, you might be wondering about its efficiency and power consumption. Thankfully, there are ways to help maximise the efficiency of your unit. This includes:

Choosing the right sized unit for your home: An undersized heat pump will have to work harder to maintain the desired temperature, which can result in higher power consumption and reduced efficiency.

Choosing a reputable manufacturer and installer for your heat pump: Make sure your high-quality unit is installed by a registered professional. This will make sure it operates more efficiently and has a longer lifespan.

Regular maintenance and cleaning of your heat pump: Cleaning the outdoor unit regularly will make sure it extracts heat from the air effectively. Similarly, changing the air filters regularly will keep your heat pump running efficiently.

Air source heat pump power consumption

The power consumption of an air source heat pump will depend on a range of factors, including the size of your home, the efficiency of your unit, and the desired temperature you want to keep your home.

However, in general, air-source heat pumps are considered highly energy-efficient. For example, some models boast a coefficient of performance (COP) of up to 4.5 (which is very good!)

This means that for every unit of electricity used to power the heat pump, it can produce up to 4.5 units of heat. Compared to traditional heating systems that typically have a COP of 1, air-source heat pumps offer significant energy savings.

Air-to-air heat pump efficiency

Air-to-air heat pumps are a type of air-source heat pump that uses fans to circulate warm air around your home. These systems are typically less efficient than ground source heat pumps, but they’re also less expensive to install.

The efficiency of an air-to-air heat pump will depend on the size and quality of the unit, as well as the temperature outside. In general, air-to-air heat pumps run most efficiently when the outside temperature is above freezing.

Ground source heat pump efficiency

Ground source heat pumps are another type of heat pump that extracts heat from the ground rather than the air. These systems can be often more efficient than air source heat pumps; for example, some models have a COP of up to 5.

Ground-source heat pumps are typically more expensive to install than air-source heat pumps, but they do provide significant energy savings in the long run. Additionally, because they rely on the relatively stable temperature of the ground, they’re more efficient than air-source heat pumps in colder climates.

Related content: Ground source heat pumps: Which type?

Low-energy heat pump

A low-energy heat pump is a type of heat pump that’s designed to operate at maximum efficiency while using the minimum amount of electricity. These systems typically have a high COP and can provide significant energy savings compared to traditional heating systems.

High-efficiency heat pumps

In general, high-efficiency heat pumps are designed to operate at maximum efficiency while using minimal electricity. This means they save you a lot of money on your heating bills, especially compared to traditional heating systems.

They’re also becoming an increasingly popular choice for homeowners who are looking to reduce their energy consumption and environmental impact.

Air source heat pump in back garden - eco friendly heating solution

What affects heat pump efficiency?

Despite the high energy performance of heat pumps, there are several factors that affect their efficiency. Let’s take a look at the most common issues:

Temperature differences

Your heat pump has to work harder to transfer heat when there’s a large difference between your indoor and outdoor temperatures. This means your heat pumps can become less efficient in very cold or very hot temperatures.

Overall size of the heat pump

You need to pick a heat pump that’s the right size for your home. For example, if a heat pump is too small, it will struggle to keep your home comfortable. On the contrary, if a heat pump is too large, it will waste energy and money.

Insulation and air sealing

A well-insulated and air-sealed home will help your heat pump work more efficiently. This is because a good thermal envelope reduces the amount of heat that escapes from your home. In other words, your heat pump won’t have to work as hard to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

 A lack of maintenance

It’s important to stay on top of regular maintenance to keep your heat pump running efficiently. This includes jobs like changing the air filters, cleaning the coils, and checking the refrigerant levels.

Why not hire a professional heat pump expert to help you?

Picture of an air source heat pump for Checkatrade hybrid heat pump cost guide blog

What is the most efficient way to use a heat pump?

Now that we’ve covered the factors that affect heat pump efficiency, let’s talk about how to use and run your heat pump effectively.

Set your thermostat wisely

One of the most important things you can do to use your heat pump effectively is to set your thermostat wisely.

During the winter months, we recommended you set your thermostat to between 18°C and 21°C. This will help your heat pump work efficiently without wasting energy. During the summer months, think about setting your thermostat to between 23°C and 26°C for the same reasons.

It’s important to avoid making large adjustments to the temperature on your thermostat. Instead, make small adjustments (no more than a degree or two at a time) and try to be patient!

Your heat pump needs some time to adjust to the new temperature. However, it’s worth your effort and fortitude, as making small incremental adjustments will help your heat pump work more efficiently.

Don’t turn off your heat pump

Some homeowners mistakingly turn off their heat pump when they leave the house. This is because they think it will save them energy like it does on their central heating. However, turning off your heat pump actually wastes energy (and money!)

Let us explain.

When you turn off your heat pump, it has to work much harder than central heating to bring your home back up to a comfortable temperature. It uses more energy than simply leaving your heat pump to run at a lower temperature while you’re out.

So, instead of turning off your heat pump, try turning down the thermostat a few degrees when you leave the house. This will allow your heat pump to work more efficiently while you’re away.

Keep your filters clean

Keeping your filters clean is an important part of maintaining the efficiency of your heat pump. Regular maintenance is a key part of ensuring the longevity of your heat pump and can help you save money on energy bills in the long run.

The air filters in your heat pump help to remove dust and other particles from the air as it passes through the system. Over time, these filters become clogged with dirt and debris, which reduces the efficiency of your heat pump – and in more extreme cases, damages the system.

To keep your filters spick and span, it’s important to replace or clean them on a regular basis. For obvious reasons, how often you need to replace the filters or clean them will depend on a number of factors, such as the size of your home, the number of people living with you, and whether or not you have pets.

Most heat pump manufacturers recommend replacing or cleaning your filters every one to three months. However, this depends on the type of filter you have and how often you use your heat pump. Some filters are easy to clean with a vacuum or by rinsing them with water, while others need replacing entirely.

NB: It’s also important to make sure your heat pump’s coils are free of dirt and debris. Over time, dirt and debris accumulate on the coils, which reduces the efficiency of your heat pump and even causes damage to the system. To clean your heat pump’s coils, use a soft brush or a special coil cleaning solution found online or in most hardware stores.

Heat pump energy efficiency blog - man servicing a boiler wearing a blue cap and matching t-shirt

Schedule regular maintenance

To keep your heat pump running efficiently, regular maintenance is important. This includes jobs like changing the air filters, cleaning the coils, and checking the refrigerant levels.

We recommended having your heat pump serviced by a professional at least once a year to ensure it’s working properly.

Consider a programmable/smart thermostat

A programmable/smart thermostat lets you use your heat pump more efficiently by allowing you to set different temperatures for different times of the day.

For example, if you set the temperature to a lower degree when you’re not at home during the day and a higher degree for when you’re home in the evening, you can enjoy the heat at the right time without breaking the bank.

Use your heat pump’s auto fan setting

Some heat pumps have different settings for their fans. However, most include ‘auto’ and ‘on.’

When the fan is set to ‘auto,’ it will only run when the heat pump is actively heating or cooling your home. When the fan is set to ‘on,’ it will run continuously, even when the heat pump is not actively heating or cooling your home.

Using the ‘auto’ setting helps your heat pump work more efficiently by only running the fan when it’s needed. However, using the ‘on’ setting helps improve indoor air quality by continuously circulating air through your home’s air filter.

The choice is yours!

Use auxiliary heat sparingly

Most heat pumps have auxiliary or backup heat, which is used when the temperature outside is too cold for the heat pump to extract enough heat from the air. While auxiliary heat is helpful in very cold temperatures, it’s less efficient than using the heat pump alone.

If your heat pump is relying on auxiliary heat too often, it’s a sign your heat pump is either too small for your home or your home isn’t well insulated. If either of these is the case, it’s worth investing in a larger heat pump or improving your home’s insulation and thermal envelope.

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Energy-efficient heat pump options

There are several energy-efficient heat pump options available on the UK market. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options.

Inverter-driven heat pumps

These heat pumps use variable-speed compressors to adjust the output of the unit based on the heating or cooling needs of your home. This results in more precise temperature control and higher efficiency compared to traditional heat pumps.

Dual-fuel heat pumps

Combining the efficiency of an electric heat pump with a backup furnace that runs on natural gas or propane, dual-fuel heat pumps let you use the most efficient heating source based on the temperature and energy costs in your area.

Read our guide: How much does a hybrid heat pump cost? for more information.

Ductless mini-split heat pumps

Ductless mini-split heat pumps are ideal for homes without existing ductwork. This is because they use a small outdoor unit and one or more indoor air handlers to provide heating and cooling to individual rooms or zones.

Ductless mini-split heat pumps are highly efficient and a great option if you want to improve the comfort of specific areas in your home.

Water-to-water heat pumps

Water-to-water heat pumps are designed to provide both heating and cooling to homes with radiant heating systems or hydronic baseboard heaters. These heat pumps extract heat from a nearby water source and transfer it to your home via a closed-loop system.

Read more about water source heat pumps and their associated costs.

Air-to-water heat pumps

Air-to-water heat pumps are similar to water-to-water heat pumps. However, they extract heat from the outside air instead of a water source. They’re a good option for homes with radiant heating systems or for providing hot water to your home.

How much can a heat pump save you on energy bills?

Due to their low running costs and renewable energy sources, all heat pumps offer significant savings on your bills as long as they’re installed properly and your home is well insulated.

As an example, a ground source heat pump (GSHP) can reduce an average homeowner’s energy bills by 53% compared to a new gas boiler.

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At what temperature is a heat pump no longer efficient?

The temperature at which a heat pump is no longer efficient enough to heat your home is known as the ‘balance point’ temperature. This is the temperature where the heat loss from your home equals the heat output of your heat pump.

Below this temperature, your heat pump might need to rely on supplemental heating – e.g., electric resistance heating or a gas furnace – to keep your home warm.

The balance point temperature for a heat pump depends on several factors, including the efficiency of the heat pump, the insulation and air sealing of your home, and its size and layout.

Why not hire a professional to determine the optimal temperate for your heat pump?

How efficient are heat pumps in the winter?

The efficiency of a heat pump is measured by its coefficient of performance (COP), which is the ratio of the amount of heating or cooling provided by the heat pump to the amount of energy consumed to produce that heating or cooling.

The efficiency of a heat pump decreases as the outdoor temperature drops because the heat pump has to work harder to extract heat from the cold outdoor air.

This means that at a certain outdoor temperature, the heat pump’s COP may drop to a level where it’s no longer efficient enough to provide sufficient heating for your home.

Are heat pumps cheaper than gas?

In areas where the cost of electricity is high and the cost of natural gas is low, a gas furnace may be more cost-effective to operate than a heat pump.

However, in areas where the cost of electricity is low and the cost of natural gas is high, a heat pump may be more cost-effective to operate.

Furthermore, in areas where electricity is generated from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power, using a heat pump can be more environmentally friendly than burning natural gas.

However, it’s worth being aware that the current energy price guarantee is 34p/kWh for electricity and 10p/kWh for gas. So even though gas boilers only have a COP of 0.9 and heat pumps have COPs of 3-5, because electricity is typically 3.4 times more expensive than gas, the savings aren’t as great as some people expect.

What’s the most efficient heat pump for cold weather?

When it comes to cold weather performance, ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are generally considered the most efficient type of heat pump. This is because they can extract heat from the ground, which remains at a relatively constant temperature throughout the year, even in very cold weather.

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