Q&A - are small heat pumps cost effective?

Q. We’ve seen a ground source heat pump system which fits in a cupboard and appears to be much more cost efficient to install and run than a traditional boiler system. Is this the case?

A. Previously, ground source heat pump systems weren’t small; however, the “Shoebox Heat Pump” that was developed in the UK changes this. It fits into a cupboard rather than requiring its own plant room. The unit is designed to provide both space heating and domestic hot water in new build and retrofit properties which require a load of up to 3kW.

Is this something you should consider? Although the pump may be small, you will still need a large outside space, such as a car park, to contain the boreholes for the system. This means that although the cost of the heat pump isn’t much more than a highly efficient condensing boiler, when the total installation costs are calculated it’s a different matter. Estimates for a single system range from £9,000 to £17,000. So although swapping to such a unit will keep energy bills down, it will take a long time to recoup the initial investment.

Tip. These systems work well if the boreholes service a number of systems, for example a block of flats or multiple occupancy offices. So if you’re developing properties, units such as this should be considered.

Despite the fact that pumps are smaller, they still need boreholes. This means that when the total costs are calculated, they’re not competitive. However, the sums do add up if you’re fitting a number of pumps to the boreholes, for example in a development of flats or offices.

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