A Guide to Air and Ground Source Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are gaining popularity in commercial and domestic settings because they are not only more efficient than traditional heating methods, but also more environmentally-friendly.

In its simplest form, a heat pump takes heat from the ground or the air and transfers it to a building. While power, in the form of electricity, is needed to facilitate the transfer, it is used much more efficiently than in conventional systems.

Air Source Heat Pumps

An air source heat pump consists of an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The latter absorbs heat from the air to raise the temperature of a refrigerant, which is then compressed to create more heat. This heat is released and sent to radiators and water heaters.

These systems are capable of extracting heat from the air even in low temperatures and although power is needed to fuel the pump, the heat itself is a fully renewable energy source.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

Ground source heat pumps work in a very similar way, but the heat comes from the ground. Liquid is passed through underground pipes and absorbs heat before it reaches an exchanger.

Pipework makes these systems more expensive and less practical to install than air source, but underground temperatures are relatively constant year-round. This means air source pumps work harder to provide heat in winter, while the cost of running ground source is consistent.

Running Costs

Many appreciate the reduced carbon emissions of heat pumps, but lower running costs are perhaps the most attractive aspect. An electric radiator may convert 1 kWh into one unit of useful heat. An effective heat pump converts the same amount of electricity into as many as four units of useful heat.

Heat pumps do have limitations at high temperatures, but can be combined with other measures such as improved insulation and better windows to make a significant difference. As Iain Kyle, 361 Degrees Senior Design Consultant, explains, ground source heat pump technology can be used for pre-heating in the lower range of temperatures.

“The flow of water might be 45 degrees C, and the low-carbon system can heat it to 55 degrees. A traditional boiler can then boost it to the 65 degrees you need,” he says. “The boiler’s effort is only needed for a 10-degree increase, rather than 20 degrees, drastically reducing your gas costs.”

It’s important to work with contractors who understand all the possibilities and can design the perfect mix for your individual project. New technology can lead to significant savings, but these advanced systems must be maintained by someone with appropriate training. Contact the 361 Degrees team if you’d like to discuss your options for more efficient heating.

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