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There has probably never been a time when homeowners have had such a selection of technologies to choose from, most notable of these is the electric heat pump. But making the switch from a traditional gas boiler can seem a bit daunting. Thankfully, there are some approaches that are making that decision a lot easier – and allowing homeowners to take an easier step towards the future of home heating and hot water.
When we hear about electric heat pumps in the press, it’s usually implied that it’s an ‘either-or’ choice between heat pump or boiler. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. With a hybrid approach, householders can tap into the best of both technologies, while also making the most of low-carbon electricity.
In fact, a hybrid heat pump can work alongside any other heat source. This is often the traditional gas boiler, but it could just as easily be an oil- or LPG-boiler for homes that are off the gas grid. The hybrid heating system will be fitted and commissioned by an expert installer to ensure that the two operate in harmony. And there are several reasons why the hybrid approach might appeal to today’s homeowners.
Modern heat pumps can provide both heating and hot water, but there are implications to consider for homeowners taking this step. With a heat pump providing hot water, then a hot water cylinder designed to work with a heat pump must be installed. If your home already has a hot water cylinder, then it’s a straightforward replacement.
However, many homes have gas combi-boilers that produce hot water on-demand, which means that there is no cylinder. In that case, using a heat pump to provide hot water would require the homeowner to find a space for a hot water cylinder, which can be challenging, particularly in smaller properties.
A hybrid approach can solve this issue: a heat pump can provide space heating around the home; and the gas boiler can continue to supply hot water. The homeowner will benefit from very energy efficient heating while retaining the convenience of hot water from the boiler.
Another reason to consider the hybrid approach is that a boiler can provide a backup to the heat pump for extra heating. Heat pumps are energy efficient because they operate at lower temperatures than a gas boiler – 35oC to 55oC compared to a gas boiler at 70oC to 80oC. This is why it’s always recommended that homes using heat pumps are well-insulated, to make the most of that low-temperature heat. However, older homes may not be able to add insulation (due to solid walls, for instance) leaving residents at risk of feeling chilly in cooler months.
However, including a gas (or oil/LPG) boiler as part of the home’s heating system, can provide a boost to the heating, ensuring that the home is warm and comfortable year-round. The boiler can also provide hot water, which means that the heat pump can be sized smaller, reducing the up-front cost of equipment.
In addition, homes that use a heat-pump-only approach for heating and hot water will almost always have to include the cost of new radiators into the upgrade. The hybrid approach means that it’s more feasible to retain existing radiators (depending on the age of the system) which not only saves on the up-front costs, but also the disruption of replacing radiators.
A further benefit of keeping the boiler as part of the space-heating circuit is that the system can be set up to switch between gas and electric heating to make the most of cheaper energy prices. The switch between energy sources happens automatically, allowing the householder to lower energy bills with minimal effort.
Rising energy prices, and a growing focus on reducing our personal carbon footprints, mean that many householders are thinking more about renewable options for their homes. A hybrid boiler/heat pump system offers a great way to take a step into renewable heating without losing the reliability offered by the tried-and-tested gas boiler.