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Kirsty Hammond discovers that the age of the heat pump is upon us

The Future Homes Standard has been put in place to ensure that all new homes built from 2025 will produce 75-80 per cent less carbon emissions than homes built under current regulations.

The government has now passed the Standard into law via changes to Parts F and L of the Building Regulations.

The regulations target several areas for energy efficiency improvements, including glazing, ventilation and renewable energy, with the aim being to improve the energy efficiency of new homes.

No new home built under this standard will be reliant on fossil fuels, and this will help to pave the way for us to reach Net Zero.

People don’t realise that they are already using a heat pump – in the form of their fridge

Kirsty Hammond Kirsty Hammond Publisher and editor of Specifier Review

A fabric-first approach

Currently our buildings are responsible for almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than three quarters of this is a result of how the technology we use to deliver heating.

In order to achieve the legally binding net zero targets, the Government is taking a ‘fabric-first’ approach to ensure that all new homes will be built with a high standard of energy efficiency. Insulation and heating will be key.

The Future Homes Standard will demand a superior level of heating performance that will eliminate the possibility of using a traditional natural gas boiler, fossil fuel heating will be no more.

It is expected that heat pumps will become the primary choice of heating for all new homes.

The age of the heat pump

Heat pump technology really is an ideal solution, especially in homes with high thermal insulation, that’s why they are used extensively in places like Scandinavia, where properties are much more efficient that average UK houses.

The thing that amazes most people is that they don’t realise that they are already using a heat pump – in the form of the fridge in their kitchen, which has just sat there working reliably for years.

Heat pumps for heating, rather than chilling, use the same basic technology called the ‘vapour compression cycle’, but in reverse. Instead of taking heat out of your food to keep it fresh, the heat pump takes heat out of the outdoor air.

Air source heat pumps harvest ‘free’ energy from the outside air to heat a cylinder of water and provide heating and hot water.

They can do this even when outside temperatures drop well below zero. This is because the refrigerants used inside the outdoor unit have much lower boiling points, so these sophisticated machines can still extract heat from the outdoor air in sub-zero temperatures.

Choosing a heat pump instead of a gas or oil boiler will immediately eliminate the need for fossil fuels in new homes and be a smarter choice for our environment.

The retrofit challenge

But what about the millions of existing homeowners and the retrofit market?

The Government recently increased the grant scheme (known as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme) for air source heat pumps by 50% to £7,500 in an attempt to encourage a greater uptake. This aims to make the cost of installing a system more comparable with that of a gas boiler.

However, there is a lack of clear information about the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and this, alongside the watering down of the planned ban on new gas boilers for the retrofit sector, has left a huge void.

Heat pumps are three or four times more efficient than traditional gas boilers, but how many of us know this?

Heat pumps are seen as critical to meeting our climate targets but the Government’s desired target of installing 600,00 heat pumps each year is falling short.

Cost or complexity?

So, is it cost or complexity that prevents us from supporting these targets?

There are millions of buildings which will need to switch from gas boilers which currently heat 9 out of 10 properties in England.

Some suggest that the Government may need to up their financial contribution further to cover the full cost of heat pump installations if we are as a country going to get on board.

The energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, said: “No one should have to choose between cutting costs and cutting emissions. Our pragmatic approach means we can continue to deliver on our ambitious net zero targets without unfairly hitting the pockets of hardworking families.”

Critics of the government are suggesting that this just ‘kicks the can down the road’ and will leave others needing to make even tougher decisions as we get nearer and nearer to the net zero deadline.

Job creation

Out of all the technologies that we have at our fingertips, adopting a heat pump system in your home is a surefire way to begin to decarbonise.

Not only will we benefit the climate but the increase in the use of the technology will provide skilled work and a flourishing job market.

Training has increased significantly and companies such as Mitsubishi Electric are already seeing traditional heating engineers attending courses as they enhance their skills and protect their future careers.

By installing the now 900,00 heat pumps that we need to meet pressing climate targets, it is thought that we would also create 138,600 jobs. According to a recent survey commissioned by Greenpeace our economy would receive a £10 billion boost by 2030.

We should also consider that the NHS spends £1.4 billion on medical and health conditions that arise from poorly heated homes.

It therefore doesn't seem an unreasonable ask to suggest that the Government could do more, we could do more and perhaps finding ways to make installing a heat pump even easier could be a viable start …. Watch this space!

Kirsty Hammond is publisher and editor of Specifier Review