Gas Boiler or Heat Pump?

November 2, 2021
A picture of a gas boiler and heat pump.

Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps, everyone is talking about them, everyone is thinking about them, let’s try and have an honest conversation about them.

Government Heat & Build Strategy PUT SIMPLY  

Ok, so last week the Government announced their new Heat & Buildings Strategy which forms part of their Net-Zero Strategy for decarbonisation of the country.  

If you’re anything like me, these big words and long-winded plans won’t mean too much.  I get bored quickly, and struggle to read past the headlines on occasion when skimming through the articles on my iPhones news feed.  

Let me try and break it all down for you in a simple way.  

Basically, what this means is that the Government wants us to stop using fuel sources which are bad for the environment and will not be around forever anyway. Namely, as far as this blog is concerned, natural gas, and they (the Government) are going to pay some money towards getting us to change our Gas Boilers for Heat Pumps.  

The Government have stated that they will invest £450 million into helping people replace their Gas Boilers with Heat Pumps.  That is a shed load of cash, a SHED load but sadly will not get us very far.  

The £450 million will be available in £5,000 grants.  If you take £450 million and divide it by £5,000 it gives you 90,000 .  The Government is going to partially fund the installation of 90,000 heat pumps.  There are over 22.5 million gas boilers installed in the UK!!!  This is indeed starting small.  

You still with me?  

Ok, good.  

Heat Pumps, is now the right time?  

As a Heating and Boiler installation firm, with no bias towards gas, we want to tell you briefly what this all means and whether or not it should matter to you at this point.  

Let’s start by saying that at City Warmth we are pro renewal forms of energy.  We believe that the burning of natural gas is bad for the environment and that it will, one day, run out.  We believe that, as a small island, the UK should invest in other forms of energy generation that don’t rely so heavily on other countries and we believe that starting small is better than not starting at all.  

One day, whether it be 2035 or not, you will no longer be able to have a new Gas Boiler installed in your property.  But for now you can choose to have a new Gas Boiler if you want, whether that be as a Replacement Boiler or as a Brand New Boiler Installation.  

Most boilers come with a manufacturer’s warranty of, on average, 10-years.  This gives you some indication of the faith they put in their product and with the average life span of a modern gas boiler being around 10-15 years, it would seem there is time for at-least one more boiler!  

So with the choice seemingly being between a £5,000 Heat Pump grant or one last Gas Boiler lets take a look at the new contender, Heat Pumps.  

Seeing as £5,000 is still ‘free money’ now may seem like a good time for a Heat Pump.  But before you try and rush to the front of the queue to get one of those grants before they run out, let me tell you that there are many reasons why now may be the wrong time to get a Heat Pump.  Let’s take a look at some of them below:

  1. Household insulation.
  2. Do you know how well insulated your house is? If you have draughty windows, uninsulated roof space, uninsulated walls and or uninsulated floors a heat pump could be a bad idea and you won’t qualify for the grant anyway. Heat pumps operate at much lower temperatures than gas boilers so for your house to feel warm it’ll need to keep hold of the heat that the Heat Pump produces. If you’ve fallen at this first hurdle but are still up for reducing your heating bills and getting something for free, see if you can get some free loft or wall insulation off the Government.  Check out this article by our good old friends at Money Saving Expert:
  4. Heat Pump Installation costs.
  5. Having an Air Source Heat Pump installed could cost in the region of £15,000, or possibly even as much as £25,000 if you’re looking at a Ground Source Heat Pump.   Even after Boris knocks on your door to hand you the £5,000 cheque you’ll still have to cough up a lot of money.  Don’t even try to work out the payback period.  Yes gas prices have and will go up further but there will be no ‘payback’ against a £10,000-£20,000 Heat Pump bill.
  6. Radiators & Pipework.
  7. Will I need new radiators? Quite a common question and the answer is still ‘yes’ for now at-least.  It is possible that technological advancements will steamroll through this problem in time but Heat Pumps require around twice the surface area of a gas fired boiler to heat a space.  Put plainly, you radiator needs to be double its current size or bigger for your room to get to 20 degrees. DOUBLE!  The pipework going to the radiator will also need to be larger to transport the heat from the Heat Pump to the radiator.  Either that parquet flooring is coming up or we’re boxing the pipes in around the corners of the room madam.  Neither of these seems ideal.
  8. Heat Pump Installation Location
  9. How would you like to see a large air-con style box in the corner of your back garden? Or maybe you’d like to see 30 of them bolted onto the side of a block of flats when you drive by? Even if you wouldn’t like to see either of these it is possible they will become a daily reality that will seem normal in the not too distant future. You’ll need to find somewhere in your properties footprint to place the Heat Pump and the choice may not be fully yours.  It’ll need to work as far as pipework and the installation is concerned and it may need to conform to what the council’s planning department is happy to allow.  Listed Buildings or Conservation Areas will become quite a challenge for councils and property owners when Heat Pumps are installed.
  10. Heat Pump Installation Firms.
  11. Just like everything, there are not enough trained installers for heat pumps right now. When I say ‘trained’ I don’t mean a 2-day course put on by EDF to ‘up-skill’ their gas meter fitters. Please don’t misunderstand me, I think continued professional development is crucial for so many reasons but you can’t throw 1,000 people on a 2 day heat pump course and expect them to know what they’re doing.  The science behind heat pumps requires months’ worth of training, unless you’ve already got years’ worth of high-end heating system design and installation under your belt. So many large firms are going to try and get as many of the £5,000 grants as they can that the quality of the installs is going to suffer!    
  12. Electricity Costs.
  13. Gas is still cheaper than electricity.  Yes I know that gas prices are going up but so are electricity prices.  ALL utilities are going up.  Off-peak electricity, the old economy 7, doesn’t exist with smart meters and Heat Pumps run on electric! Having just spent around £10,000 to have your new Heat Pump installed please bear-in-mind that it’ll be more expensive to run than your gas boiler, for now at-least. Cheaper, and more importantly, renewable electricity needs to advance more quickly than Heat Pumps in the UK.  Can we have some of that lithium please Xi Jinping?
  14. Early Adoption.
  15. As contentious as this point will be, assuming you’ve been onboard up until this point, early adoption doesn’t always equal success or best value. You’re not getting a bargain price by being one of the first people to have a Heat Pump installed, if anything you’re paying more. Yes, you’re a trail blazer and I salute you as one of the people we need in this country, but the price of this technology will come down with time, a lot. I am also concerned, as I stated above, by the level of competency of the installer you will be given.  Sorry. A poorly installed heat pump will provide you will little heat, high energy bills and no end of stress.  
  16. Education.
  17. If you think your radiator was cold when your heating engineer installed your new gas boiler with a weather compensation controller you’re in for a shock when you get your new Heat Pump installed. It was probably rather quick to get your heating engineer back to remove the weather comp so you could have hot radiators again.  You won’t have hot radiators with a Heat Pump.  You’ll have a house that is 20 degrees but you won’t have a single hot radiator to dry your socks on. It’ll take time (a long painful slog) for us all to understand this new technology and unlearn old habits of warming ourselves by sitting on the radiator as soon as we walk through the door. But we will get there, in time.  

Make no mistake, Heat Pumps are part of our future and quite rightly so, but whether or not now is the right time to consider installing one, is a choice for you.  

In reality, trail blazing and investing in the future are the only two genuine reasons I can see for installing one at this point but we do need more people who will say yes and make the jump!  

So Should I Just Stick with a Gas Boiler?  

As above, that is a choice for you and you alone.

Replacement Gas Boilers will be sold until at-least 2035 and most of the New Gas Boilers are ‘Hydrogen Ready’ meaning they will work with Hydrogen if that gets mixed into our gas pipework as a ‘stop gap’ or longer term renewable option.  

Although there are many variables, the average cost of a Replacement Gas Boilers is around £2,500 which is a fraction of the £15,000 + of a Heat Pump.

A New Gas Boiler would typically go in place of your existing Gas Boiler and would work with your existing radiator system.    

A New Gas Boiler would heat your radiators and home in a way you currently understand.

Whilst you have the choice it might be worth just replacing your Gas Boiler in a like-for-like fashion and doing all you can to save some money for when a Heat Pump becomes your only option.  

The Future?

None of us can know for certain what the future will be. We may have plans or ideas but we need to be mature and humble enough to know that these can change on occasion, as the environment and other variables around us change.  

The future may be Hydrogen, it may be Heat Pumps, it may be a mix, it may be something else entirely.  We need people who are brave enough and who have access to the funds to invest in Heat Pumps.  We need people who will invest in the idea that tomorrow can be better.  But tomorrow will only be better if we make a change today.  We can’t go on burning Gas indefinitely and we can’t go on heating water and homes the way we have done for generations.   Some people need to install Heat Pumps and they need to do so now!  

Some people may feel they don’t have the guts or the ‘disposable funds’ to invest in a Heat Pump at this stage and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about their choice.  Those people may however need a New Gas Boiler and they may need one now!  A new condensing boiler installed correctly is genuinely more efficient and better than an old non-condensing boiler!

Let’s all make the small changes we can, even if that is just turning the thermostat down or having a less deep bath etc. to help make tomorrow better for us all.

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