Gas boilers are technically cheaper to install and run than heat pumps. However, there’s a little more to the science behind them and it can be quite complicated. Part of this complexity comes from the fact that gas boilers are bad for the environment. So, given some time, heat pumps will likely become much more cost-effective.
The UK government is aiming at zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. Because of this, we’re all looking for better ways to heat our homes. Heat pumps are a great way to keep our rooms warm during winter, and some reports suggest they can save on energy bills.
In this guide, we’ll be covering your options when it comes to domestic heating and how you can make the best decision for your specific circumstances.
How gas boilers work…
A gas boiler uses natural gas to create heat. The gas ignites and the flame heats the water running through the gas boiler. The problem is that, at best, this heat production system is only partially renewable.
Gas boilers have been around for over a century, so it’s understandable that they dominate the market.
What are the main types of gas boilers..?
There are three different kinds of gas boilers:
- A regular boiler: Although these are called regular gas boilers, they are quite difficult to replace or install. They have both a cold and hot water tank, as well as an expansion cistern. Regular boiler systems are being replaced by newer models that take up less space.
- A system boiler : These boilers use their own water tank. You should install a gas system boiler if you need a lot of hot water.
- A combi boiler : This is the most common gas boiler installation in the UK, and they’re directly connected to the water mains. Gas combi boilers eliminate the need for a water tank, making them more space-considerate.
Are there other boiler options?
Yes, there are other boilers to consider if you can’t or don’t want to use gas. Electric boilers work just like gas boilers, with the only difference being this heating system runs completely on electricity instead of gas.Using electric combi boilers for domestic heating isn’t a bad idea. They can be very energy-efficient and quieter than some other options – not to mention their potential to produce zero carbon emissions.
But they’re not the only home heating alternative. As well as hydrogen boilers, oil boilers are an option too – which work by igniting oil instead of gas in the combustion chamber.
The disadvantage of using this kind of heating system is that you’ll have to install an oil tank, and it’s not the most environmentally-friendly option.
How heat pumps work
Unlike a gas boiler, a heat pump uses electricity and can be tougher to install, as it operates through a tubing system. The advantage here is that we can produce electricity for these systems without burning fossil fuels. Solar and wind power systems are becoming increasingly common due to worldwide legislative changes regarding power production.
What are the main types of heat pumps?
Just as there are various kinds of gas boilers, there are also different kinds of heat pumps:
- Air-to-air heat pumps: These are by far the easiest to maintain and install. Air source heat pumps transfer air from your home and the outside. With this system, your home is heated through fans.
- Air-to-water heat pumps: These air-source heat pumps take heat from the outside and use it for your radiators, hot water or underfloor heating.
- Geothermal heat pumps: Although expensive to install, ground source heat pumps are more efficient at creating heat for your home. They also have the advantage of using consistent ground temperatures, reducing operating costs.
Whether you opt for air-source heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps, you’ll be supporting the goal of moving completely away from fossil fuels.
Heat pumps vs gas boilers
Now you understand some basics about how a heat pump and a gas boiler work, it’s time to do a deep dive into the specific characteristics of heat pumps and boilers.
Gas boilers don’t last that long. At most, you can expect a well-maintained gas boiler to function for between 10 and 15 years. However, a well-cared-for heat pump can last 30 years – double its usual lifespan. Along with cost, this is an extremely important variable to consider when making a large investment. When it comes to lifespan, the heat pump is a better option.
Installation & running costs
A gas boiler is cheaper to install , but this is only because they’ve been around a lot longer, and so parts have become quite cheap and installation efficient. However, we must add that these heating systems are smaller and require less installation effort. Technically, you could have a boiler installed in 24 hours or less.
However, air-source heat pumps can take 2-3 days to install and ground-source heat pumps may take up to 4-6 weeks! This, paired with the fact that an air source heat pump and similar heating systems are new technology, means that upfront costs will be much higher.
That said, the UK government has incentivised purchasing more environmentally-friendly heating systems. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers grants to thousands of homeowners to switch to low-carbon emitting heat pumps.
When looking at running costs, it becomes more complicated and requires a lot of calculations in which the variables change month-by-month. Gas may be cheaper right now, but electricity prices always fluctuate, so we can anticipate that an air source heat pump may be cheaper to run for the typical home in the future.
We should also factor in how a better-insulated house will require less energy to heat and how this lets the heat pump run at a lower temperature, thus reducing costs.
Maintaining heat pumps vs gas boilers
Gas boilers require an annual inspection done by a registered professional. This is to ensure your boiler is efficient and any issues are noticed before they become significant problems.
Heat pumps also require annual maintenance checks, including replacing or cleaning the fans, filters and coils and testing for proper airflow.
Heat pumps have the potential to produce no carbon emissions at all. Natural gas used in boilers produces CO2 when burnt.
Using a gas boiler as a heating system contributes to global warming problems. In the UK, 15% of carbon emissions derive directly from central heating. This isn’t to say that gas boilers are entirely bad, but it’s more a matter of how each individual’s efforts matter. At this present time, the majority of UK homes have a gas heating system installed.
Although a heat pump has a much higher initial cost, it’s clear that it is much friendlier to the environment. But we understand that not everyone needs such an elaborate system for their home heating at this time. Again, it’s up to the individual.
Which is more efficient?
A heat pump requires an insulated building to allow for slow and gradual temperature build-up. And for larger, well-insulated buildings, a ground source heat pump is the ideal source of heat energy.
In the case of gas boilers, they’re better suited for much less heat-efficient buildings. This is because they produce heat rapidly and can keep the temperature high while keeping up with the heat escaping. That said, it isn’t very efficient. This process costs a lot of money and is quite bad for the environment.
Heat pumps are still a more sensibly efficient choice. A heat pump has an efficiency of three to five times its usage, whereas a gas boiler only has an efficiency of about 90%, or a bit more, at best.
An air source heat pump comprises a large box placed outside the house, a fan, and a compressor. You’ll also need to find space for a control box and a heat pump cylinder.
A ground source heat pump is installed outside and has pipework buried in the ground or placed vertically in boreholes. This can require quite a bit of space outside.
Compared to a gas boiler, this kind of heating system can seem much too big – especially considering that boilers can be installed inside your home in a space the size of a cupboard.
Have you heard about hydrogen boilers?
We’ve gone into much depth about the environmental issues associated with gas boilers and the present unfortunate expenses of heat pumps. But at this present moment, there isn’t exactly another option aside from oil or electric boilers.
However, many who state that installing heat pumps into every home isn’t economically viable are touting an innovation. While there are plans to ban gas boilers in 2025, it isn’t for all properties but only for newly-built ones. And that’s why innovators have started looking at hydrogen.
Hydrogen boilers are much more environmentally-friendly than gas boilers, and boiler manufacturers have promised these systems will be just as affordable.
Currently, it’s not possible to use a boiler that uses 100% hydrogen. However, you can purchase boilers that can use a 20% hydrogen blend. So essentially, these will be able to operate on a mix of both natural gas and hydrogen. Currently, this seems to be a great low-carbon heating alternative.
How the transition will happen
It’s hard to say exactly how we’ll transition to these boilers. Currently, only prototypes exist, and industry estimates state their release anywhere from 2023 to 2025. However, we anticipate the introduction of 20% hydrogen gas into the gas supply in 2028 at the earliest.
FAQs about heat pumps & gas boilers
Is a heat pump more affordable than a gas boiler?
Heat pumps are much more expensive to install but can be cheaper to operate if the house is well-insulated. Typically, you’ll find that boilers are cheaper overall when you consider the price of purchase and ease of installation.
Is a heat pump as good as a boiler?
A heat pump is better than a boiler in most circumstances. This is because they’re much more efficient in their use of electricity than boilers are in their use of gas or oil. Additionally, heat pumps don’t produce as many CO2 emissions as gas boilers do.
Are there disadvantages to a heat pump?
Heat pumps take longer and cost more to install. There’s a high initial investment, which puts many people off from opting to purchase one. Additionally, it can be quite difficult to install and requires more space than a gas boiler.
Do heat pumps cost a lot of electricity?
Heat pumps don’t necessarily cost a lot of electricity and are, in fact, quite efficient in the way they use electricity to produce heat. The expense solely depends on situational variables such as where you’ll install it and what kind you need. A geothermal heat pump, for instance, will cost a lot more electricity.
Is a heat pump worth the money?
Whether a heat pump is worth the money or not is entirely a personal choice. Generally, heat pumps are worth purchasing. They cost less to maintain, although they are quite expensive to install as you’ll have to consider radiators and underfloor heating. You’ll also not have to worry about exposure to carbon monoxide, unlike with gas boilers.
Which is better – a heat pump or a gas boiler?
Both heat pumps and gas boilers have their advantages. However, we’d have to say that if you can afford it, a heat pump is much better overall as it’s more efficient and is better for the environment. Gas boilers are better in certain circumstances, such as when you don’t have space for a heat pump or where your home’s insulation is poor.
Can I replace my boiler with a heat pump?
Yes, you can replace your boiler with a heat pump as they’re well able to provide for all your heating needs. That said, the installation differs. Heat pumps take much longer to install and require more space, unlike boilers which take up little space.
Why is my heat pump bill so high?
Your heat pump bill may be high because of inadequate or poor maintenance. If your filters aren’t clean, this can cause a blockage of airflow. There might also be other mechanical problems that need to be investigated.