You may have heard about Air Source Heat Pumps in the media, as they are rapidly gaining popularity as a cost effective form of Electric Heating, and one, which if it is used correctly, can actually be one of the most efficient.
Air Source Heat Pumps work very similar to air conditioning, but in reverse. Air is pumped from the outside, and the heat content extracted from it by using a compressor and heat exchanger cores, the heat which this process produces is then either blown into the room to heat it, or sent to a heat store where it can produce hot water, for washing or to feed room based radiators (central heating).
Perversely, Air Source Heat Pumps produce the most amount of heat at higher outside temperatures, so when its 20c outside it will be producing more usable heat, for less cost than at 4c, however even at 4c a good Air Source Heat Pump will be producing enough heat to raise the inside room temperature to around 19c. Of course most households still need to use domestic hot water even during the hot summer months, so all of that cheap heat energy produced when its 24c outside, will not go to waste, and large savings can still be made, purely on household hot water during the warmer months.
Air Source Heat Pumps are also the only form of Electric Heating where you actually get something for nothing, and the efficiency raises to well over the 100% figure which other Electric Heating obtain. Yes! Air Source Heat Pumps are actually more than 100% efficient, if used correctly, in fact a good quality Air Source Heat Pump can produce upto five times the amount of heat energy, that it inputs from the Mains Electricity. In comparison to Oil and LPG based heating, using an Air Source Heat Pump can actually work out at being 60% cheaper than these fuels.
For example, an Air Source Heat Pump may consume 2.2kw from the mains electricity supply, but actually output upto 10kw in actual usable heat, which can then be blown into a room, or used to produce enough hot water for 4 or 5 average sized domestic radiators, and a few bath fulls of Domestic Hot Water!.
Air Source Heat Pumps are available in two different formats. One is a portable self contained unit or wall mounted device, which can be used to heat a single room or office space, and directly pulls air in from the outside, which is then turned to heat and blown into the room by a powerful fan. These often look at the air conditioner units fitted outside offices and pubs.
The other type of Air Source Heat Pump, is aimed at heating entire flats or houses and is popular as a replacement for domestic hot water and wet space heating (central heating), and is effectively a boiler which produces and stores hot water using Electricity and an Air Source Heat Pump which is then pumped around radiators, in a similar way to standard Gas or oil fired Central heating.
Air Source Heat Pumps are not a magic bullet though, and in order to obtain the types of figures which the manufacturers specify there are some requirements and pros and cons to its operation.
Air Source Heat Pumps whilst being efficient, are rarely able to produce constant hot water of a temperature comparable with Gas Central Heating, and whilst the water produced by the Air Source Heat Pump will be perfectly hot enough to bath and wash in, and warm the central heating radiators, the radiators will not always be as hot as they would be in a gas or oil fired system, therefore the room and building needs to be extremely well insulated in order to maximise the output from the central heating system.
Whilst the Air Source Heat Pump system will be effective as a sole or main form of heat in small houses, apartments, and Flats, when fitted in large houses or those which are poorly insulated, the Air Source Heat Pumps may not be enough to be the sole provider of heat for the entire house during the colder winter months, and in these types of installation, the system should be regarded as being suitable for use as an efficient background heating system, however a second heating system may also be required to assist during very cold periods.
If you own a small house or flat without Gas Central Heating then an Air Source Heat Pump is likely to save you considerable amounts of money on your energy bills.
Whilst Air Source Heat Pumps are not yet efficient enough to compete with the price of Gas, it is an extremely viable option for those living in rural properties which still rely on expensive forms of heating such as Oil, LPG and Economy 7 storage heating, and where mains gas is not a possibility. It is also suitable for those with Electric wet heating systems or Electric Underfloor heating, which both use large amounts of Electricity and are extremely expensive to run. In most cases, an Air Source Heat Pump, will cost 5 times less to run, than a comparable Electric Boiler or Electric Convector Heaters.
Where existing Oil or LPG central heating systems are in place, it is extremely easy for an installer to fit an Air Source Heat Pump based system, either alongside or in place of the existing boiler, whilst still using the same pipework and radiators. Where Air Source Heat Pump systems are fitted alongside existing boilers, it gives the householder the opportunity of switching between the cheap to run Air Source system during cold periods, but also allows the Oil or LPG system to be called upon to boost the heat output during extremely cold spells (ie below -5c).
If you require only one or two rooms to be heated, then either the portable or wall mounted Air Source Heat Pumps would be your most cost effective option. These come with climate control type systems which allow the room temperature to be closely controlled, the other advantage is that they can be switched to produce air conditioning during those warmer months.
The cost of running Air Source Heat Pumps depends largely on the type of system used, the difference between outside and inside temperature and of course the Electricity Loading. However it will always be upto five times more efficient than a conventional electric heater with the same loading, and always cheaper than either LPG or Oil fired central heating.
To find out the actual running cost of your Heat Pump, please visit the Heat Pump Running Cost page