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Living with your heat pump

You've taken the plunge and installed your new, low-emissions heat pump into your home. Or perhaps you’re still researching the pros and cons of heat pumps.

Living with this new, carbon-footprint-friendly hot water and heating system may take some time to learn. But once you are familiar with its steady and effective way of keeping your home warm, living with your heat pump will seem as natural as sunrise and sunset.

Scotland’s residents are set to become familiar with heat pumps this decade. Heat pumps are a vital part of the Scottish Government’s Heat in Buildings strategy, which targets switching one million homes to zero emissions heating by 2030.

If you’ve not installed a heat pump yet, don’t forget there is financial support for heat pump installation available with the Home Energy Scotland Loan.

air source heat pump

The quick guide to how heat pumps work

Heat pumps offer a low carbon and more energy-efficient heating option than traditional gas and oil boilers and electric heating systems.

A heat pump warms a building by capturing heat from outside a home. The most common are air and ground source heat pumps.

The heat pump transfers heat from outside to your home. It is powered by an electric compressor, so it does use some energy, but the amount transferred is greater than the energy the compressor uses.

Therefore, heat pumps are able to deliver a greater quantity of heat into a building than the electricity used to power its systems, making heat pumps very energy efficient.

Read our introduction to heat pumps to find out more.

The benefits of installing a heat pump include cosy and constant temperatures and waving goodbye to hot and cold spots in your home thanks to your low-carbon emission, energy-efficient heating system.

How do you use a heat pump?

A control panel is the nerve centre of your heat pump system; your installer should have set your system to meet your heating and hot water needs. From here, you can programme settings for when you are away on holiday, ensure frost protection, fix any system errors, and programme the heat pump to turn back on for your return home.

Your installer will set what’s called a ‘weather compensation curve’ on the control panel. This curve varies the temperature of the flow temperature circulating through the radiators based on outside temperatures.

For example, if it’s freezing outside, your heat pump may circulate flows at 50°C to maintain an inside temperature of 20°C. If the day warms to 5°C, you may see the curve regulate flow temperature to 40°C to keep that stable 20°C temperature in your home.

Heat pumps also offer heating flexibility. Thermostats allow you to adjust the temperature in different rooms, and radiator valves mean you can turn off the heating to specific areas. Some heat pump models may enable thermostats to be controlled by apps on smartphones, tablets, and laptops that connect to the control panel.

The control panel allows you to adjust some or all of the following, depending on the model:

  • room temperatures
  • hot water temperatures
  • summer, light, holiday, and other settings
  • switch between heating and cooling your home
  • on and off settings
  • diagnose and understand potential faults
  • setting up specific heating programmes.

Panels may also show the inside and outside temperatures.

What's the ideal temperature to set my home?

The ideal heat pump temperature is the lowest you feel comfortable at home. Most people feel comfortable at home at around 18-21°C.

Experiment by lowering thermostats one degree at a time until you find your perfect temperature. Avoid significant temperature changes — remember your heat pump takes time to bring rooms up to temperature.

Having thermostats in various rooms also gives you more control over your heating. The more thermostats you have, the more sway there is over your system.

You can lower the temperature in rooms like bedrooms and heat others to your wishes. Do you like a warm kitchen when you wake up? Programme the kitchen’s thermostat and you can come down to make a morning brew in a cosy atmosphere.

Should I leave my heat pump running 24/7 and overnight?

In general, it’s best to leave your heat pump on all the time — but that doesn’t mean it will be actively working and using electricity.

Heat pumps work best by keeping rooms at a consistent temperature where you feel comfortable. They only start working and drawing power once they need to heat a space.

Letting a house get cold or freezing will make the heat pump work hard and take time to bring it to your desired temperature. It may seem counter-intuitive, but heat pumps work most efficiently when left working to maintain stable temperatures.

Many people use their heat pumps to reduce their home’s temperature at night or when away during the day at work — this is called ‘set-back.’ Most people sleep better in cooler rooms and often set their temperature at around 5°C less than their daytime setting.

Don’t forget you can also control individual room temperatures with thermostats, zonal radiator controls, and closing radiator valves. Those with underfloor heating can use zone controls or thermostats to the same effect.

However, you shouldn't need to turn off your heat pump overnight. They run most efficiently when left working for extended periods. Be aware that allowing your home's temperature to drop drastically overnight means the heat pump — like all heating systems — will work harder the following morning to bring the house back to the desired temperature.

Factors affecting how you use your heat pump

You may not always be at home to monitor your heat pump, or you might want to stay cool on a hot summer's day. What if guests are staying over? Will there be enough hot water for everyone to shower?

It’s natural to wonder if your heat pump will be up to the job, come rain or shine. We answer some typical questions about using heat pumps below.

The weather compensation curve mentioned earlier will change the flow temps to take into account warmer outside temperatures. Alternatively, heat pumps come with ‘summer’ modes on the control panel.

People without the summer mode could also lower their thermostats, which stops the heating from turning on but means hot water will still be available.

If you’re away for a day or two, it’s best to leave your heat pump settings as they are.

A more extended trip of a week or two would mean slipping the system into the 'frost protection' or 'holiday' setting on the control panel. These will prevent pipes from freezing while you're away and keep room temperatures — and energy use — lower.

Your installer will set your hot water temperature based on your system and the volume of hot water your family needs. They will also establish a sterilisation cycle to ensure all stored water heats over 60°C periodically to kill harmful bacteria like legionella.

However, your hot water doesn't need to be stored at 60°C all the times as long as a regular sterilisation cycle is set. Your installer will work with you to set the lowest water temp for your needs; remember, the lower this is set, the more efficient your heat pump will be. Anything over 50°C sees most people adding cold water when bathing, something worth keeping in mind when setting the hot water temperature.

You will likely also have an electric immersion heater inside your hot water cylinder. This can provide a back-up water heater. Solar water heating is another option.

A heat pump can provide plenty of hot water for bathing, washing up, and daily chores.

Your installer will have selected the correct-sized hot water cylinder for your needs based on your home’s size, the number of occupants, and general hot water use. That way, you’ll always have enough water if you’re someone that loves having guests to stay or enjoy a long soak in the bath.

Heat pumps work well in winter and can perform in temperatures as low as -15°C or more. Locating your heat pump in a sunny and unsheltered spot helps with its running efficiency.

Many homes in Sweden, Canada, Norway, and Germany have heat pumps, and these countries regularly experience temperatures lower than those in Scotland. However, if temperatures plummet below that range for a prolonged period, a rare occurrence in Scotland, then a backup is required. People that may need a backup should discuss backup boilers and heating options with installers during the planning process.

The costs of running a heat pump at home

For many people, installing a heat pump comes with expectations of eco-friendly low-carbon heating — and lower utility bills. Heat pumps need to be used correctly to achieve anticipated savings.

There are energy bill reductions to be gained, including looking at your electricity tariff. Let’s explore heat pump costs further.

How much electricity do heat pumps use?

A heat pump’s electricity use depends on many factors. Variables include:

  • number of house occupants
  • type of heat pump (air, ground source, or water)
  • size and insulation of the building
  • desired room and water temperatures.

Heat pumps could save you money on your energy bills, depending on house size and the type of heat pump, as well as thousands of kilogrammes of carbon emissions.

In the long term, these savings may help to repay installation costs. Remember, financial support is available to cover heat pump installation costs via the Home Energy Scotland Loan.

Ask your energy supplier if there are special tariffs for homes with heat pumps.

Do heat pumps use electricity when idle?

A heat pump only uses electricity when it is functioning, the electricity drawing energy from outside to convert into heating energy for the home. Its control panel and other features consume minimal electricity while the heat pump lies idle.

A heat pump doesn’t use any electricity when it is fully switched off.

What’s the best electricity tariff for heat pumps?

As a general rule of thumb, heat pumps work well with single-rate tariffs. Economy 7 rates offer cheaper night time rates but are more expensive during the day and don't always fit well with heat pump usage.

We recommend contacting your energy supplier and discussing the most suitable tariff for your heat pump.

How to look after and maintain your heat pump

Heat pumps don’t require much upkeep during the year. Homeowners can take several simple steps to keep the system ticking along nicely.

As with most heating systems, professional servicing and maintenance are essential to maintain a heat pump’s optimal performance and extend its lifetime.

Do heat pumps require much maintenance?

We recommend you follow your installer's advice on service times to ensure your lovely new heat pump requires very little maintenance. Never ignore warnings on the control panel and monitor any recurring fault messages. If you can’t resolve the issue, contact your installer.

Areas that homeowners can monitor include the heating pump, external pipes, electronics, and fittings. Ensure the heat pump is clear of debris like leaves, plastic wrappers, or plants that can accumulate. Don’t lean bikes, wheelie bins, or other objects against your heat pump — it hinders the air circulation the pump requires to work efficiently. Also, ask your installer to show you how to check and regulate the pressure gauge.

How often should I service my heat pump?

You must complete all maintenance checks as required by your warranty. Conditions could include a complete and professional service every year.

A professional audit and service of your heat pump may include:

  • topping up and checking expansion vessel pressure and system refrigerants
  • cleaning filters
  • inspecting valves for movement and opening the safety valve
  • releasing excess air from the system
  • ensuring temperature settings are accurate and thermostats are working correctly.

How do I find a certified heat pump installer or servicer?

Anyone taking a Home Energy Scotland Loan must use an installer registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). You can also find installers on Energy Saving Trust's Renewables Installer Finder.

MCS-certified heat pump installers adhere to industry-recognised standards, and some offer heat pump maintenance services.

What should I do if my heat pump switches off?

Heat pumps can turn off for several reasons, including power cuts, malfunction, or a prepayment electricity meter running out of credit.

For malfunctions, contact your installer for assistance.

Power cuts are often for relatively short periods. Maintain your home’s warmth by keeping doors and windows closed. Once power is restored, check your instructions because you may need to reset the heat pump’s settings — some models will store them. Remember that it will take the heat pump some time to reheat the house if it’s been inactive for a prolonged period.

Those in remote areas or where power cuts are common or lengthy may consider having a backup generator or heating alternative for blackouts. Discuss this with your installer during the planning process.

How much noise does a heat pump make?

A heat pump’s noise level has been likened to standing within a couple of metres of a fridge. They make more noise as they work harder in colder conditions, but you should be able to hold a conversation in front of a heat pump at all times. Some models have a ‘Quiet Mark’ to show they’ve been independently tested for low noise levels.

The internal systems of a heat pump make negligible noise.

air source heat pump

Living with and loving your new heat pump

Heat pumps are a green, low-carbon heating technology. They require little maintenance, and adjusting thermostats is as complicated as it will get for most users.

Once mastered, the gentle heating rhythms of a heat pump will bring a calming, zen-like comfort to your home, as natural as the changing seasons.

If you’ve been inspired to find out more, check out the financial support from Home Energy Scotland Loan or contact Home Energy Scotland for more.

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