The Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI

Air source heat pump servicing

A heat pump uses refrigerant to transfer heat from the ground or air to your home. It is recommended that you service a heat pump to ensure that it is running efficiently and to improve its lifespan but it is not normally necessary to do this every year. It may also be a requirement of the warranty that you undertake air source heat pump servicing on an annual basis but outside of the initial warranty period, you don’t normally need to service them every year like a conventional boiler. There are annual checks that you can perform and the installer can tell you what these are.

Sometimes, you may need to have the heat pump serviced in order to fulfil the requirements of the Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI. The government offers financial incentives to householders to have a renewable energy heating system in their homes such as a ground or air source heat pump.

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What is included in heat pump servicing?

An annual service will include several different stages, here are some of the things the engineer will do:

  • The engineer will clear the area around the pump ensuring it is free of debris. Leaves and moss can block the filters so this is an essential step to ensure your heat pump works at optimum efficiency
  • He will undertake a check and assessment of individual parts such as the electrical connections, fan motors and capacitors
  • He will check for signs of refrigerant leakage
  • Check the compressor starts properly
  • Asses the run times of the pump
  • Clean the fan blades as well as dirty or blocked filters, some filters may need to be replaced

What is the average life expectancy of a heat pump?

Modern heat pumps have decent longevity and with care such as regular servicing, can last as long as 20 even 25 years. This plus the financial incentives under the RHI scheme can make them more attractive over the longer-term than a conventional gas or oil boiler.

Why do air source heat pumps last for such a long time?

Despite the fact they are reasonably complicated pieces of equipment, air source heat pumps do not have the corrosive wear and tear of conventional boiler powered by gas, coal or oil. Therefore not only do they last longer but they require less servicing than a conventional boiler; servicing intervals can be between three and five years.

Avoiding air source heat pump problems

  • Ensure you service the pump regularly as this increases its durability and make it much more reliable as a heating source
  • Check the warranty – most heat pumps come with a manufacturer’s warranty of between two and three years and workmanship warranties associated with the installation of the pump can last for up to ten years. Most manufacturers will actively promote extended warranty schemes when the original expires

Why are air source heat pumps so popular?

Air source heat pumps have been heavily incentivised by the UK government to encourage householders to install a renewable heating system and move away from conventional fossil fuels. Air source heat pumps are popular because:

  • You can lose the need to have fuel – oil and LPG – delivered
  • You can often lower your heating bills particularly if you are relying on electricity as the major power source
  • You can heat your home as well as your water
  • You may be able to draw an income through the government’s renewable heat incentive scheme
  • An air source heat pump is easier to install than a ground source heat pump
  • There are minimal maintenance and servicing required particularly compared to a conventional boile
  • You can use the system in the summer to cool the house

Are there any disadvantages associated with air source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps are not suitable for every property, they generate a lower heat supply so are poor performers in houses without adequate insulation and they generally work better combined with large radiators and underfloor heating. So a draughty old house would probably not derive any benefit from heating in this way, in fact, the house would probably be less well heated as a result of a switch.

Air source heat pumps take longer to produce heat compared to a conventional fuel-driven boiler and the heating needs to be run for much longer periods during the colder months. The air source heat pump derives its energy from the surrounding air so when the air temperature outside drops, so does the efficiency of the pump to heat the house.

The bigger the difference in temperature between the air outside and the target temperature indoors, the lower the efficiency so it is really important to understand the heat load of the property and the performance characteristics of heat pumps before opting to install one. You would need an incredibly well-insulated house to derive any energy savings benefits. They can be noisy during the winter months and have a high installation cost at around £8,000 although ground source heat pumps are much more expensive than that.

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Air source heat pumps do require electricity to power them so cannot be considered 100% free of other power sources.

Air source heat pump servicing FAQs

Is my home suitable for a heat pump?

Ignoring the start-up cost which can be high, not every home is suitable for a heat pump so it might be pointless to install one if it can’t keep you warm and doesn’t generate any energy savings. You will need outside space and quite a lot if you want to install a ground source heat pump, the rule of thumb is twice the surface area of the dwelling. And this must be space which you don’t mind digging up as the installers will need to lay a loop containing the heat fluid. Air source pumps in comparison, are much easier and quicker to install and work well in urban areas where space outside the property is necessarily rather limited.

New builds and contemporary properties which are fitted to high energy efficient standards make the best prospect for heat pumps because they are already very well insulated. In this situation, replacing an electric, liquid gas or solid fuel system with a heat pump should generate some good financial benefits.

Does installing an air source heat pump increase the value of my property?

If you can demonstrate definite savings on your energy costs then a heat pump installation is likely to be a selling point rather than the other way around. Many house purchasers are interested in how much it will cost to heat the house and the hot water and will this will also tie in with the property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

Do you need planning permission to install a heat pump?

Both air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps are considered Permitted Development or PD so do not normally need planning permission subject to following certain criteria:-

  • The proposed development site must not be in the grounds of a listed building or a conservation area
  • You cannot place the pump unit on a pitched roof
  • The pump unit must be smaller than 0.6 square metres
  • The unit must be placed more than one metre from the edge of the property
  • Generally, air source heat pumps are sited so they minimise the impact on the dwelling or building.

Is an air source heat pump compatible with Hive?

Yes, in theory, some air source heat pumps do have the facility to connect with Hive or Nest via a third-party thermostat which signals to the heat pump that there is a demand for internal space heating.

Are air source heat pumps completely green?

Air source heat pumps do require electricity to power them so could not be considered 100% free of other power sources.

What are the annual checks I should perform to check my air source heat pump?

Your installer can tell you the normal maintenance checks you should make but this usually involves keeping the pump and surrounding area clear of leaves and other detritus. There are other simple checks which any householder can perform regularly and simple problems and issues which you can troubleshoot and the engineer can show you how to do these when the pump is installed.

Rich Crossley
Having spent 30 years working all over the world for top-tier investment banks, I’ve owned and developed houses all over the world – Europe, the US and Asia. I’m now based back in the UK and involved in the property industry – oh, and I’m a keen DIY enthusiast!
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