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Due to the growing demand for sustainable energy sources, the number of heat pump installations has increased significantly in the UK. Moreover, the new building regulations claim that the installation of heat pumps in new buildings can help to reduce emissions while providing an efficient output of over 300%. Even better, heat pumps have lower running pumps than traditional boilers, helping homeowners see significant energy savings in their energy bills.
To enjoy these benefits, UFH installers are exploring whether heat pumps can work with underfloor heating. But will a heat pump work with an underfloor heating system? Let’s start from there!
Heat Pumps and Underfloor heating
Underfloor heating, also known as radiant in-floor heating, is gaining popularity in various areas that experience cold seasons since it’s a silent, comfortable and efficient way to heat your home. There are 2 main types of modern underfloor heating; hydronic heating and electric resistance heating. However, in this article, we’ll focus on hydronic in-floor heating.
Typically, hydronic underfloor heating is achieved by laying a network of pipes onto the subfloor surface and circulating heated fluids through the pipes. The fluid then radiates heat into the concrete surface, thus warming your floor as well as your home uniformly and comfortably. Unlike other heating methods, underfloor heating encourages heat to rise up through a room via convection, instead of forcing it down.
There are several ways to heat the fluid used in a hydronic in-floor heating system. For instance, you can either use fossil fuels, an electric boiler, or a heat pump.
One benefit of using heat pumps to heat the fluid of your hydronic in-floor heating systems is that they’re a more sustainable heat source than traditional gas-fed boilers. Specifically, heat pumps produce hot water at around 40 deg C, which is suitable for heated floors. In comparison, oil and gas boilers heat water to around 65 to 80 deg C, which can scald your feet. As a result, gas & oil boilers require mixing cold and hot water to reduce the temperatures to a comfortable level, making them highly inefficient.
In addition, heat pumps use less energy to maintain the heat when they reach the desired temperature. Heat pumps can control the temperatures as accurately as 0.5 deg C. Even better, some units automatically adjust to a higher frequency to raise the temperature rapidly when there is a huge difference between the actual and the desired temperature.
Types of heat pumps for underfloor heating
It’s also worth mentioning that there are main types of heat pumps you can use with your hydronic underfloor heating systems. That is; an air source (air-to-water) heat pump and a ground source heat pump. Each type of heat pump has its benefits and drawbacks. For instance, you can configure some heat pumps to provide part of the energy needed to heat water for domestic use.
As the name suggests, air-source heat pumps take the heat from outside or ambient air. The device then transfers that heat into the water through a heat exchanger in the cylinder. More notably, that heat can be used to hear underfloor heating systems, radiators, or warm hot water and air convectors in your home.
On the other hand, ground source/ geothermal heat pumps harvest/ extracts heat from the ground through a geothermal ground loop. The ground loop is usually a plastic piping buried in the ground with a food-grade antifreeze solution circulating it. That way, the fluid in the pipe absorbs heat from the ground in the winter, while the heat pump extracts the heat and transfers it into your home.
How do heat pumps work?
As already mentioned, an air source heat pump extracts heat from ambient or outside air the same way a refrigerator extracts heat from its inside air. More importantly, the device can extract heat from the air even when the temperature is as low as -15 deg C. Better still, the heat extracted from the water, air, or ground is naturally renewed. This helps to reduce harmful CO2 emissions and saving on energy costs.
The heat absorbed from outside/ ambient air is then absorbed into a fluid inside the heat pumps at low temperatures. This fluid then passes through a compressor to increase its temperature and is transferred to the hot water and underfloor heating systems in your house.
Benefits of using a heat pump with underfloor heating
Although heat pumps are among the most complex tri-purpose cooling & heating devices on the market, they work effectively with underfloor heating. Therefore, you can use a heat pump to meet the cooling, heating, and hot water needs on your property. The World Health Organization even recommends it for being more efficient and healthy than conventional heat sources. More importantly, they accomplish all this by drawing heat from outside air. This makes it an efficient and convenient way to power your underfloor heating system.
For starters, the air source heat pump’s efficiency increases as the required flow temperature decreases. So, the cooler you can run your system, the less it will cost to operate. Interestingly, underfloor heating systems can run at very low temperatures if they’re properly installed and designed. This makes air-source heat pumps and underfloor heating the perfect combination for areas that experience severe weather conditions.
Another benefit of integrating a heat pump into your in-floor heating systems is that it gives you zoned control. This simply means that you can heat the rooms on an on-demand basis, thus cutting down your energy consumption. Moreover, heat pumps provide the versatility of switching between cooling and heating modes for year-round comfort.
Modern heat pump technology has a smart-defrost feature that extends heating times and reduces defrosting time to allow faster recovery. This further improves the unit’s heating efficiency. More notably, heat pumps usually have an inbuilt anti-freeze protection and other protection features like compressor overload protection, water flow switch protection & low/high-pressure protection since they’re designed to work well into the cold season.
- Reduce carbon emissions
Heat pumps are a more sustainable heat source as they can help to reduce the carbon footprint of your home. They’re even considered the future of domestic heating as different countries look for ways to reduce global carbon emissions. Besides, heat pumps work much more efficiently with underfloor heating systems than standard radiators since they operate at lower temperatures. Interestingly, most underfloor heating systems run at these lower temperatures, while still producing the same warmth level as radiators. This advanced technology will help your hydronic UFH system use much less energy. And provide lower running costs compared to a central heating system.
Lastly, heat pumps emit much more energy than they use. For that, installing a heat pump and an energy-efficient underfloor system will save you significant money on your energy bills. In most cases, the installation cost will be offset in the long run by the savings they will produce.
Air Source Vs Ground Source heat pump; which is better for your underfloor heating system?
If you’re planning to install hydronic underfloor heating, both ground source and air source units are great options to use. Heat pumps are optimized to run at lower water temperatures. This makes them an ideal for use with radiant in-floor heating systems. Moreover, both types of heat pumps will provide extremely quiet and comfortable hydronic in-floor heating in your home.
But, which type of heat pump is perfect for your home?
An air-source heat pump is an excellent option for home renovation projects. This is because it takes up little space and offers a relatively easy straightforward process. They’re the same size as a typical air-conditioner or boiler and are fitted to the outside wall of your home.
On the other hand, ground-source heat pumps are commonly used for new-build projects. Plus, you have to install subsurface pipes into the ground outside your home, either in a vertical or horizontal array. As a result, the installation of ground source heat pumps will be both time-consuming and labor-intensive. Other than that, they work best with wet underfloor heating systems to keep the warmth inside your home.
How much does it cost to install a heat pump and an underfloor heating system?
The cost of installing a hydronic underfloor heating system will be influenced by the scope and size of your project. In general, installing a water-based/ hydronic radiant heated floor costs around $6 – $20 per sq ft.
On the other hand, heat pumps are usually expensive to purchase. The actual cost of acquiring a heat pump varies depending on various factors like its size, model, and installation cost. On average, installing a typical heat pump can cost you around $10,000. For instance, a ground source heat pump (GSHP) costs somewhere between $12,000 and $18,000, while an air source heat pump costs about $4000 – $8000.
On the bright side, the enhanced energy-saving performance of heat pumps will help you outweigh the initial costs in the long run.
Conclusion; Do heat pumps work with underfloor heating?
As you have seen, pairing underfloor heating with a heat pump is a very effective solution for heating your home. This is highly recommended for large-scale renovations and new builds, especially if you want a more efficient and sustainable way to heat your home. Besides, combining the powerful capabilities of both systems will offer you more long-term benefits, such as reduced energy bills and increased lifespan of the heating system.