Heat pumps can be a great way of heating a building if (and it's a big if) they are designed, specified, installed and commissioned right, and the building owner is given good, clear instructions about how to use the system and what the different controls do.
The reason I say it's a big if, is because this is still a relatively new technology in the UK, the settings are complex, and installers aren't necessarily putting them in every day, so there isn't the same expertise as there is for installing gas boilers for example.
At YouGen we hear more stories than we'd like of people who have installed a heat pump, and then find that their electricity bills are higher than they expected or the water doesn't heat to the expected temperature. I'm not telling you this to put you off the idea of heat pumps, but to encourage you to ask the right questions of an installer before going ahead, and to call on manufacturers to play a bigger role in ensuring their equipment is designed, specified and commissioned correctly, and that customers know how to use them.
This blog was sparked by a YouGen reader who contacted me recently as his Daikin air source heat pump wasn't working as expected. After much stress and anxiety, with the installer not able to sort the problem out, he finally arranged for a Daikin engineer to come out. He found that the system hadn't been commissioned correctly – some of the settings were wrong. The system had also been over specified – it was bigger than he needed.
Since the engineer changed the settings the water is heating to 48 degrees without backup heating, rather than the 35 degrees he was getting before.
Our reader's advice is: "Get the manufacturer to commission the system, even if it costs an extra £300. Installers often won't pay for it, but it's money well spent. The engineer told me that they often have to phone the office for a setting. It's complex, and installers do a 2 day course, then they may not install any for a while."
YouGen tips on getting a good installer
Ask them what experience they have installing these products, and ask to speak to several previous customers, ideally ones who have had the system for at least one winter. Also ask the installer what support they get from the manufacturer with specifying and commissioning the product.
Here are some more questions that you should ask a heat pump installer. Get worried if they don't ask you the following questions.
Manufacturers should do more
Heat pumps are a tried and tested technology. They work effectively in other countries – many of which experience colder winters than ours. However, they are new to the UK, and they are more complex to fit and to use than traditional boilers.
This early stage of the market's development is key to whether or not we build customer confidence, and early signs are that too many early adopters are experiencing problems.
Research by Delta Energy & Environment on building confidence and quality in heat pump markets indicates that confidence in the market is low in the UK with a varied quality of installation, and not all installers trained to the same level. Sweden and Switzerland both have mature markets with high confidence. They also have highly skilled installers and supported training and high product performance.
Delta concludes that quality and confidence underpin successful heat pump markets, and markets will crash (as happened in France) if they don't. They suggest that manufacturers must get involved further down the value chain for heat pumps than they traditionally do in heating.
This is a finding we totally endorse at YouGen. Manufacturers must ensure that training for installers is high quality, and must support them with help with specifying and commissioning installations. And why not put together an idiot's guide to using a heat pump for installers to leave with customers?