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Users back heat pumps in older homes

UK: People who have had heat pumps installed in older houses are just as likely to be satisfied with their heating than those in newer properties, according to a new survey of homeowners.

The survey commissioned by innovation charity Nesta found that among people who have had a heat pump installed while living in their current home, 81% are as satisfied or more satisfied with heat pumps compared to their previous heating system. 

The figure is similar – 83% – when looking at heat pump owners in Victorian or older properties. The similarity across property type and age suggests that heat pumps are likely to be effective across the range of residential property types in Britain.

The survey was carried out in December 2022 amongst over 2,500 domestic heat pump owners and over 1,000 domestic gas boiler owners in England, Scotland and Wales. 

It was also revealed that while some people take the opportunity to insulate their homes at the same time they get a heat pump installed, this is not universal. Just over half (55%) of users who had a heat pump installed also undertook building fabric upgrades, such as loft insulation, wall insulation and double or triple glazing.

High satisfaction was reported with heat pumps – and said to be very similar to satisfaction levels reported by gas boiler users.

Heat pump owners were found to be particularly likely to prefer their heat pump if they previously used electric heating, oil or LPG boilers – with over 80% as satisfied or more satisfied with their heat pumps – but even among those moving from gas boilers, 75% are as or more satisfied with their heat pump. 

Energy consumption was seen as a benefit, with heat pump users reportedly more likely to be satisfied with running costs than those using gas boilers.

Controls were, however, a problem area. While heat pump users reported high satisfaction levels overall, they reported lower satisfaction with ease of use and control compared to gas boiler users, with 74% ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ satisfied, compared to 88% of gas boiler users.

The survey suggests that heat pump ‘inheritors’ – those who move into homes with heat pumps already installed – would benefit from more information on how to use their systems, as many had very little awareness of heat pumps before moving into their properties. 

Commenting on the survey results, Madeleine Gabriel, Nesta’s director of sustainable future, said: “It’s time to put to rest outdated ideas that older homes don’t support heat pumps. 

“This is the first time we’ve been able to get a fuller picture of the experiences of people keeping their homes warm with heat pumps, and the high levels of satisfaction are encouraging.”

Nesta is calling for the UK government to reduce heat pumps costs by committing additional funding for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to support its extension to 2028, exploring options for low-cost government-backed finance, and reducing the price of electricity relative to gas.

It also wants the government to work with industry to come up with ways to reduce the time and disruption associated with installation and make clear, impartial information about heat pumps more easily accessible, so it is easier for people to use their heat pump once they have one.

The survey can be read and downloaded here.

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