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Which is the best ground source heat pump?

Renewable energy systems have become more and more popular in domestic homes in recent years, including heat pumps. Learn which is the best ground source heat pump with Checkatrade if you plan on installing them with your business.

Why are ground source heat pumps becoming more popular?

As we’re sure you’ve noticed, the demand for installing renewable energy systems in domestic homes has increased in recent years. This is no surprise when you consider that domestic heating is a key factor in meeting UK ‘net zero’ emissions.

Renewable heating systems have a very important role to play in decarbonising homes. And ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), in particular, are emerging as one promising solution.

This makes it vital for heating professionals to be up to date with installing this technology to meet customer needs.

But if you’re new to this system, how do you know the best ground source heat pump for installation? And more importantly, how does a ground source heat pump work, and how deep does a ground source heat pump need to be buried?

To find out, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about heat pumps in this article.

Ground source heat pump

How does a ground source heat pump work?

Ground source heat pumps, also known as ground-to-water heat pumps, function on a very simple concept. They take heat from the ground outside your home and transfer it into your house.

This lets them heat your radiators, underfloor heating, and your hot water systems.

To transfer this heat, thermal transfer fluid is pumped through a heat exchanger and into pipes buried in your garden.

Heat is absorbed from the ground as it passes through the pipes and before being returned to the pump. This in turn allows the heat to be transferred to your home’s water system, letting you seamlessly heat your home.

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How efficient are ground source heat pumps?

In terms of energy efficiency, ground source heat pumps are some of the most efficient heating systems available. This is due to the fact that they produce more heat than the amount of electricity they need to operate.

However, system efficiency does not necessarily relate to cheap installation and running costs. As you’ll see below, heat pumps can be on the expensive side if you’re not helpful.

On top of this, the best ground source heat pumps can vary depending on your customer’s needs. As they might not be able to accommodate the most efficient ground source heat pump available.

Which are the best ground source heat pumps?

The best type of GSHP will very much depend on the installation required and desired by the customer.

This makes it important to know the specifics of each system so you can make an informed installation decision. As different heat pumps use different exchanger configurations to warm homes.

geothermal heating system design

Open-loop heat pumps

An open-loop system extracts heat from groundwater, which is then piped through your heat pump. Said water is collected from a nearby water source and is returned to it after passing through your pump.

However, this water can be collected from more than just rivers, lakes, and ponds. In some cases, open-loop pumps can pull water from underground through a well before sending it back to an aquifer.

In terms of the advantages of open-loop systems, these heat pumps have access to water at a consistent temperature. This can make initial heating quicker.

However, the opposite can be true in colder weather. And due to the water source used, heat cannot be stored in the ground between seasons.

Closed-loop heat pumps

As the name implies, a closed-loop heat pump draws heat from the ground itself through a continual loop of piping.

This piping is itself connected to an indoor heat pump, letting it add to the heat in the ground. In turn, this lets the system act as a thermal store, retaining heat even when the pump is off.

When opting for a closed-loop system, you have two variations to choose from:

  • Horizontal closed-loop systems – these are laid in trenches and circulate thermal fluid through narrow piping to exchange heat with the adjacent ground.
  • Vertical closed-loop systems – these use piping inserted into vertical boreholes to exchange heat with the ground. These boreholes are more expensive but are a useful alternative when there isn’t much outside space available.

Unlike open-loop systems, closed-loop pumps have the advantage of providing consistent activation temperatures.

This is thanks in large part to their ability to retain heat through the ground when inactive. They can also be used anywhere there is outdoor space, as they’re not reliant on nearby water sources.

However, closed-loop systems are certainly the more expensive option. This is mainly due to the digging and installation process required to set them up.

Direct exchange heat pumps

Last, but not least, direct exchange heat pumps specifically circulate heat transfer fluids through conductive copper tubing. This fluid is then moved through the heat pump itself to heat your home’s water systems.

Direct exchange heat pumps share the same advantages and disadvantages as closed-loop systems. The only difference between the systems is the type of fluid they use to transfer heat.

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How to install a ground source heat pump

How you install a ground source heat pump will largely depend on the type of system your customer wants. The heat pump itself can simply be inserted inside the property and connected to the necessary piping.

However, installing the pipework itself requires more effort and planning.

For horizontal loops, the pipes need to be laid straight or coiled trenches of the appropriate depth before being connected. How this is done will depend on what’s practical in the available space.

Vertical or borehole piping, on the other hand, needs to be dug straight down to a lower depth. They then need to be hooked up and connected to the heat pump without looking out of place.

Ground source heat pump

How deep does a ground source heat pump need to be?

While the heat pump itself does not need to be buried below ground, the piping does. And not only this but it must be buried at a set depth in order to work effectively. The required depth for each type of heating system is as follows:

  • Horizontal systems – this type of piping needs to be buried in trenches between one and two meters deep, so it can effectively exchange heat with the ground.
  • Vertical systems – piping going straight down needs to be inserted into boreholes at least 75 meters deep for effective heat exchange

How expensive are ground source heat pumps?

As we touched on earlier in this article, ground source heat pumps, while efficient, aren’t necessarily cheap. The best ground source heat pumps are certainly going to set your savings back.

Generally speaking, a standard ground source heat pump system could cost anywhere between £2,000-£15,000, depending on different factors.

For example, the quality of the heat pump equipment can greatly increase the cost of materials. As can the type of ground loop and heating system.

Bigger properties will also naturally need larger heat pumps, possibly more than one unit. As well as a more complex hydraulic design.

So, with that in mind, here’s a rough breakdown of potential costs for different typical property types:

  • A two-bedroom house – £16,000 for a single heat pump and piping installation
  • A four-bedroom home – £21,000 for two heat pumps and piping installation
  • A six-bedroom home – £32,000 for three heat pumps and piping installation

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Learn more about heating systems with Checkatrade

With that out of the way, you should now have a good base of knowledge for installing heat pumps. Of course, there’s always more to learn, which is why you should consider joining Checkatrade.

With Checkatrade, your heat installation business can benefit from free marketing resources and easy customer access. As well as forums that are home to thousands of experienced tradespeople who can offer you advice.

Speak with the Checkatrade team to learn more about our 12-point vetting process, and don’t forget to browse our blog.

We have plenty of heat installation articles you can read. These include pieces on how to start an air source heat pump business and heat pump engineer earnings.

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Ground source heat pump FAQs

What size ground source heat pump do I need?

Regardless of the type of heat pump you choose, the system needs to be big enough to heat the property.

And as a general rule, the bigger the property, the bigger the heat pump required. On top of this, you’ll need to consider the type of loop system you want installing. Horizontal loops take up far more space than vertical systems.

For example, a 100-square-metre house might need a 4-5kW ground source heat pump. While a 200-square-metre property will probably need double that at around 8-10kW.

You’ll also need to take into account heat loss and the age of the property to specify your exact requirements.

To ensure precise heat loss calculations, a few things will need to be kept in mind:

  • Insulation and building fabrics
  • The size and number of your radiators and your underfloor heating
  • Your home’s number of rooms
  • The types of rooms and their uses
  • Your desired indoor temperature
  • Potential seasonal temperature fluctuations

Is planning permission required for installing a ground source heat pump?

As ground source heat pumps are installed underground and make minimal noise, planning permission is usually not needed. However, if you’re installing an extensive piping system or using an open-loop, it’s always wise to check with your local council.

Can ground source heat pumps be installed in older homes?

Yes, ground source heat pumps can absolutely be installed in older homes. However, homeowners should make sure they have good insulation. Otherwise, the amount of heat loss experienced could reduce its efficiency.

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