Heats Pumps are an increasingly popular choice for Irish homeowners to provide their heating and hot water needs at a low cost and with next to no environmental footprint.
Ireland’s Climate Action Plan calls for 400,000 homes to be retrofitted with heat pumps by 2030, with all properties to have a goal of a B2 BER. Another 280,000 heat pumps are to be installed in new dwellings by the same time.
A heat pump is a device for regulating the temperature in your home by drawing heat in from an external source such as the air or ground outside and bringing it into a home or other property.
A heat pump can be used to heat a property by sending hot water through radiators or underfloor heating, or by directly heating the air. A system that heats water instead of air can also be used to provide hot water.
Heat Pumps are highly efficient ways of producing heat. For every unit of electricity used, they draw in three units of free energy from outside, delivering a total of four units of heat to your home.
How Does a Heat Pump Work
The vast majority of heat pump systems work by extracting heat from an external source; air, the ground, or water, and using it to heat water which is then circulated through radiators, underfloor heating, or sent to a hot water tank.
The heat from an external source raises the temperature of a refrigerant liquid, causing it to turn into a gas. This then passes through a compressor in the central unit, which increases the pressure on the refrigerant. This raises its temperature further into something usable in your home.
The refrigerant then passes through a heat exchanger to create hot water or air for use inside the home. Lower in temperature again, it then cycles back into the system to be reused.
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The different types of heat pump systems available in Ireland can be divided up based on the source of the heat they are extracting, and how it will be put to use in your property.
The three main types of heat pumps are Air Source, Ground Source, and Water Source pumps, which draw heat from these respective areas.
Air Source heat pumps are further divided into Air to Air and Air to Water heat pumps, which differ based on whether they are used to heat the air within rooms, or water in radiators and underfloor heating.
Air source heat pump
Ground source heat pump
Water source heat pump
Air Source Heat Pumps
These are the most common types of heat pumps in Ireland for homes and light commercial use for their ease of installation and lower cost than ground or water source systems. They take the thermal energy from the air outside the home
Air Source Heat Pumps work by using an outside unit fitted with a fan to draw in air to heat the refrigerant, which then creates heat for your home.
Air to Water
With Air to Water heat pumps the external air is used to create heat which is distributed via radiators or underfloor heating, or stored in a hot water tank for use inside the home in some cases.
Exhaust Air to Water
Exhaust Air to Water systems also extract additional energy from old, stale air drawn in from the inside of the property using extraction ventilation units.
Air to Air
Air to Air Heat Pumps work similarly to Air to Water systems in creating heat, but the heat is distributed to the air inside the property through internal units. Air to Air systems do not create hot water.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Ground Source Heat Pumps work by laying piping underground to extract heat from the earth, and then pumping that heat indoors through the central unit. These can be more efficient than Air Source units, as the temperature of the earth doesn’t fluctuate as much as that of the air.
The two main types of ground source systems involve either laying out a horizontal loop of piping over a wide area, or drilling a deep borehole and installing the piping vertically.
Water Source Heat Pumps
These work in a similar manner to Ground Source Systems, with piping laid out in a body of water nearby to your home, and with ducting connecting it to the central unit in the property to that heat gathered from the water can be transferred to provide hot water inside.
Heat Pump Installation
Installing a heat pump will vary in complexity and expense depending on the system being used. All heat pumps have an internal unit, which should ideally be placed in the utility room or close to where the hot water is being used.
Air Source heat pumps have the simplest installation, as all the require is an external unit which takes up little space and can be located close to the property.
Ground and water source heat pumps will have more complicated and expensive installation, as they require extensive piping which must be connected to the internal unit.
In most cases, the existing radiators in a property will not need to be replaced, though it can vary and this is something which you should check with the contractor. Heat pumps are most efficient, however, when working with underfloor heating.
The hot water tank in your property is may also need to be replaced if the heating coils are not suitable for working with a heat pump.
Before getting a heat pump installed on an existing house, it would be advisable to get a technical assessment of whether or not it is suitable. If your house is not well insulated, the heat pump will be very inefficient at heating the space. It may also not qualify for SEAI grant funding.
Heat Pump Cost in Ireland
How much a heat pump will set you back depends on the type of system being installed, and the size of your home. Air Source heat pumps are typically the cheapest variety due to their smaller size and simplicity compared with ground and water source units.
A more expensive and powerful system will also be needed depending on the size of the space which is to be heated.
All of the costs below can be cut significantly for homeowners by SEAI grants of up to €6,500, which can reduce the final bill by as much as half.
Air Source Heat Pumps will typically cost in the region of €3,000 – €12,000 for the hardware, with added installation costs bringing the total price to around €10,000 – €19,000. But that is before taking into account how much a grant can slash from that price.
Ground and Water Source Heat Pumps will be more expensive on the hardware and installation side, with the need for digging or drilling to lay more extensive pipework underground, or running it from the chosen water source.
Digging down is more expensive than laying a horizontal loop of pipe in the ground, but may also be the only viable choice if you don’t have a large garden. Depending on the size of the loop or the depth of the borehole, ground source heat pumps will typically have a cost of €15,000 – €28,000.
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Depending on the system you have installed, running a heat pump will cost in the region of €500 – €1,000 a year in Ireland. Ground Source heat pumps tend to be around 20% more efficient than air source units due to the more stable temperature of the ground, making them cheaper to run.
Heat Pump Grants
The government is very keen to push heat pumps as an environmentally friendly technology. As a result, there are multiple sources of grant funding for homeowners and businesses to have heat pumps installed.
The SEAI is the primary source of grants for private homeowners, offering between €3,500 and €6,500 depending on the type of heat pump being installed, and the size of the property.
There are other sources of grant funding for businesses to have heat pumps installed for commercial premises or industrial purposes.
Funding is available from the SEAI-operated Support Scheme for Renewable Heat, which can cover up to 40% of the cost of a project.
The Local Enterprise Office Energy Efficiency Grant offers up to €5,000 for heat pumps being installed for manufacturing heating processes. Heat pumps which are only used for heating a premises are not eligible for this grant.
Benefits of a Heat Pump in Your Home
Having a heat pump installed in your home can accrue multiple financial and environmental benefits in both the short and long term.
Heat Pumps are less expensive to run than any type of boiler, oil, gas, or electric. While they do use electricity as their primary power to run, heat pumps will on average deliver three units of heat from an external source for every unit of electricity, making them the most efficient form of heating on the market.
Unlike oil or gas boilers heat pumps have zero carbon emissions on site, with no fuels burned to provide energy for the home. They are also far more efficient in the consumption of electricity than an electric boiler, making them more environmentally friendly over the lifespan of their energy cycle.
While most of the savings from a heat pump will come from heating, their most common usage in the Irish climate, they can also be used for cooling your home in summer. Depending on what system design you have heat pumps can extract heat from inside your house, even individual rooms, and move it outside.
Heat Pumps are at their most efficient when left running for long periods, even overnight to maintain a constant temperature. This means that when operating smoothly they will keep your home at a sustained comfort level, rather than turning on and off as a boiler does.
This only applies to businesses, but using less fossil fuels could mean paying less Carbon Tax. This tax is increasing to €56 per tonne of CO2 emissions as of May 2024, so there is an incentive to shift to renewable heat now.
Heat Pumps can struggle in a colder climate such as Ireland as there is less external heat for them to work with. Many people might also have a supplementary heating system to go along with the heat pump to ensure a comfortable home.
Planning exemptions exist for ground and air source heat pumps as long as they meet certain requirements. Ground source heat pumps must not alter the ground level by more than 1m compared with adjoining ground.
Air Source heat pumps must be located at least 50cm from the edge of the wall or roof where they are located. The total area of the external unit must also not exceed 2.5sqm (Residential), 10sqm (Light industrial, business, agricultural), or 15sqm (Industrial).
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