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My heat pump and me

A woman crouched next to a heat pump
20 October 2023

Rachel, coordinator for Bristol Energy Network, shares her experience of having a heat pump installed in her home.

I’m Rachel (pictured above), the Coordinator for Bristol Energy Network, and the proud user of a 7kW heat pump!

My family of five live in north Bristol in our Victorian end of terrace house. We’ve been on a “retrofit journey” for two years and had been thinking about it for a while before that.

The whole-house retrofit process we undertook wasn’t quick. It was quite expensive, and it took a while to understand this new approach to heating. But now I am warm, my home is damp free, I have very low energy bills, and have reduced my carbon footprint.

Why start on the retrofit journey?

Our decision to install a heat pump was part of a series of choices on upgrades to our home. We’d been keen to convert our attic into a bedroom for a while (our kids keep getting bigger!). Because we were planning to have this work done anyway, we took the opportunity to investigate measures to reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.

Scaffolding around a home that his having external solid wall insulation installed.
Scheduling multiple home improvements at the same time can reduce the inconvenience and costs associated with installing energy efficiency measures – here, external solid wall insulation.

We try to be environmentally conscious wherever we can. As we expanded the size of our house, we felt it was our responsibility to explore other ways of reducing our energy consumption and ensuring the long-term sustainability of our home. Both for ourselves and for any future occupants, minimising the need for future renovations. This is sometimes called ‘futureproofing’ a home.

Where to start with home retrofit

After considering what we wanted from the work for our family home, we knew we had to find professionals with more expertise to chat it through with.

These were our main retrofit goals:

I had come across The Green Register through my work and it seemed like the best place to start for tracking down a reliable building contractor with an understanding of retrofit. I had a good conversation with an external insulation company who also did building and they were able to point us towards an architect who had experience in the area too. In my area, the West of England, this process is now being streamlined by Retrofit West which offers all this information in one place.

I approached the heat pump separately. I had been listening to the Heat Geek podcast where I had learnt a lot about the differences between my current gas central heating system and low carbon heating options. Through their website, you can find local contractors who have done their training and I was very keen to find one near Bristol. At the time there were only a couple but there are five times as many now.

I felt very confident that the heating company we chose knew what they were doing, and we sat down for a chat and a reality check. They used heat loss calculations and a lot of experience to propose a system that would work for our home and our family needs.

They were also very honest from the beginning that it would not be a cheap option for us. Because for our particular home, we would need our pipes and radiators replaced due to them being too small for a low temperature, low carbon system. It was at this point that we had to revisit and weigh up our motivations for the work.

Our commitment to reducing our footprint won out and we progressed with the heat pump plans. The heat pump company designed the best system for us taking into consideration the insulation work that we planned in our whole house retrofit approach. This meant that we didn’t end up with a larger heat pump than we needed, which would have cost even more …

For a heat pump to work in your home, you’ll need a new hot water cylinder, and you may need to install larger pipes and radiators.

The hard part of my heat pump journey

To install the new pipes and system, we had to be out of the house for a week. We timed this with the most intrusive building work we were having done and went on holiday. When we got back it felt like we were still camping but that was the building work rather than heating which was all in and functioning within the week.

Happily ever after?

It took some tweaks and some learning about how high efficiency, low temperature systems work. Over the summer it was very wet and I had a family’s-worth of wet shoes to dry! The heating is based on the temperature outside, so I had to call my heating engineer to figure out how to override it for drying purposes when it’s still warm outside. Efficiency is great, but sometimes we need to be inefficient to address some practical issues.

We are really pleased with our warm, mould-free home especially as we enter the winter months which used to mean bracing for the cold each morning and for the monthly bills! Due to integrating our new solar panels with the heating we have tiny bills and indeed get some money back during the summer.

Our energy bill is around a third of what it was before which means our carbon footprint has also reduced — we are using less energy overall and the energy we are using is from electricity which our provider buys from renewable sources. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever recoup the entire cost of the whole-house work through energy savings alone.  But this wasn’t our goal, our goal was to address our large carbon footprint and have comfort at home – which our heat pump and insulation combo has provided.

Rachel’s ‘futureproofed’ home.

Jargon buster

Retrofitting: Energy retrofitting involves making small steps to and in our homes to help keep bills down and homes cosier, while helping the planet.

carbon footprint: how much carbon goes into the air because of something done by people or that is not done by nature

Futureproof: making changes to a building to make it last longer in better condition and respond to changes in the environment (heat and cold) 

Insulation: materials used to keep a building warmer

low carbon heating: a heating system that does not use fossil fuel (such as gas or oil)

Solar panels: an object that takes energy from sunlight and turns it into electricity.

Bristol Heat Pump Ready

Bristol Heat Pump Ready is part of a national programme administered by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero through the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. It is an exciting collaboration between partners across the city. Together, we’re working to match the perfect heat pumps with the right homes. You can find out more here.

If you’re not in the target area for Bristol Heat Pump Ready but interested in a heat pump, you might be eligible for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) to help fund it.

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