Installing heat pumps in blocks of flats in Sussex - an affordable, low-carbon heating solution

Across Sussex there is a growing need for residents in blocks of flats to replace their ageing, inefficient heating systems. Older heating systems are coming to the end of their natural life and people are looking for a replacement that can deliver long-term affordability and environmental sustainability.

BHESCo are currently helping multiple groups of residents in flats which have a communal boiler that is coming to the end of its life and are looking for an affordable and sustainable alternative.  We offer the depth of experience, and the technical and economic know-how to ensure a robust and effective system is installed to the benefit of all residents. 

In the article below we discuss a few of the nuances that are important to consider before proceeding with such a project; and we discuss the benefits of engaging with BHESCo to help you navigate a project of this nature.

Like to know more?

If you are already interested in partnering with BHESCo to design, install and potentially finance a new low-carbon heating system for your property then please complete the short contact form below and a member of our team will get back to you soon.

Why heat pumps are an ideal solution for blocks of flats

Heat pumps are a popular option for people living in blocks of flats, especially those which rely on electric heating.

They come in a wide variety of models and sizes, making it possible to install a system optimized to meet a property’s specific characteristics as well as the unique heating requirements of individual residents.

In blocks of flats where outdoor space is limited, modern air source heat pumps are available which can operate entirely internally, removing any need for an external fan unit.

Furthermore, where they were once criticized for being ‘too noisy’, the latest heat pump designs can operate at noise levels considerably below what is required for ‘Permitted Development’ in residential settings.

Another benefit of replacing the heating system for a number of residents simultaneously can deliver economies of scale when purchasing from a heat pump supplier, in addition to sharing labour and other related installation costs.

A logical replacement for ageing communal heating systems is a ground source heat pump, which can be installed in the land adjacent to a block of flats.

A ground source heat pump extracts latent heat from underground and transfers it for use inside of a property. They are much larger and more powerful than an air source heat pump and offer a reliable source of heat all year round.

The costs of installing communal ground source heating can be shared amongst residents, who will all benefit from a modern, low-carbon, affordable heating.

installing heat pumps in blocks of flats in sussex - ground source heat pump
A ground source heat pump installed by BHESCo at the Montessori Place School

Things to consider when thinking about installing heat pumps in your block of flats

Whilst heat pumps offer an excellent replacement for existing heating systems they must not be thought of as a simple ‘like-for-like’ exchange.

For example, whilst most heat pumps are capable of delivering a high temperature heat when required, they are designed to operate most efficiently at a lower but consistent temperature. This is in contrast to traditional gas boilers, which deliver a rapid blast of high heat when they are fired up. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to ensure that your building is made as thermally efficient as possible in order to contain the heat that is delivered from your heat pump.

Because of the way in which a heat pump is designed to provide heat, you may wish to review the heat emitting system in your home as well as communal areas. For example, to achieve the optimal performance you may wish to replace existing storage heaters with more efficient radiant panel heaters or an underfloor heating system.

If you are considering replacing a communal boiler with a heat pump, it is important to ensure that you have the support of all residents. Not only will this bring maximum cost efficiency but will also avoid any complications around the installation process later down the line. We understand that this level of support is difficult to achieve without indications of costs, and the impacts upon bills. This is why BHESCo will conduct an economic analysis as part of any feasibility study, to provide residents with clarity on the financial impact of any changes. 

Benefits of installing a heat pump

Heat pumps are a highly efficient form of electric heating and can meet the requirements of almost any property type.

They are a proven heating solution that has been around for decades, providing a reliable source of heat for millions of homes in some of the coldest counties in Europe like Sweden and Norway.

Here in the UK heat pumps have been identified by the Government as the principal technology underpinning their decarbonisation of heating strategy for a number of reasons:

When appropriately designed, heat pumps can offer a highly effective heating alternative for all kinds of buildings and towns throughout Sussex.

Provided that the time is taken to research and correctly size a unit before installation, heat pumps will deliver significant carbon savings, cosy temperatures, affordable fuel bills, and long-term satisfaction.

However, heat pumps are not a like-for-like replacement for existing heating systems and require a holistic understanding of the energy profile or a property in order to achieve the best outcomes.

Why it is vital to maximise energy efficiency before installing a heat pump

To get the greatest cost-efficiency from your heating system, it is vitally important that you take steps to reduce the energy demand of your building.

Improving the thermal efficiency of your property will reduce heat loss, making it easier and cheaper to keep your home warm.

Obviously, if less electricity is required by your heat pump to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, this will deliver cost savings as well as carbon emissions savings.

Other benefits of improving the energy efficiency of your building could include:

It is important to remember that regardless of the type of heating systems you use, it is absolutely essential for all homes and businesses in the UK to dramatically improve energy efficiency if we are to meet our net zero carbon emissions targets.

Whilst it is true that reducing energy demand through efficiency measures will enable any heating system to achieve optimum performance, installing energy saving measures should be considered as an essential upgrade whether you are replacing your heating system or not.

Why you must understand the existing energy performance and heat load requirements for your property before buying a heat pump.

In order to achieve maximum efficiency from a heat pump you must ensure that you are installing a system that is appropriately sized for the heat demand of your building.

Installing a heat pump which is too small will strain the device as it will struggle to provide the levels of energy required. Installing a unit which is oversized will incur unnecessary upfront and ongoing costs in addition to erratic and ineffective heat delivery.

When identifying an appropriately sized heat pump you must factor in the reduction in heat demand that you hope to achieve from any planned energy efficiency upgrades.

Experience tells us that replacing your existing gas fired boiler or electric storage heater with a heat pump is not such a straight forwards process, and for this reason it is recommended that you discuss your options with a qualified energy consultant.

Why you should engage the services of a qualified energy professional to design your low-carbon heating upgrade

To understand the existing energy performance of your home you should consider engaging the services of a BHESCo energy assessor. A holistic energy survey of the property will help to uncover where heat and energy are being wasted and identify opportunities for improvements.  

Our experienced team can recommend the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures to increase heat retention in your home, which in turn will reduce the size and cost of the heat pump required.

By combining information obtained from an on-site survey with data from your energy bills, our energy specialists can calculate the heat load of your property and specify an appropriately sized heat pump to meet your expectations.

For larger properties, such as for an entire block of flats, the BHESCo team can conduct a feasibility study, taking into consideration the requirements of residents collectively and individually. We will present a range of options, including the scope for energy efficiency improvements, and provide details of expected financial and carbon savings for a variety of low-carbon heating scenarios.

We can make conclusions about which combination of technologies will best meet the heat and power requirements of your property, as well as providing anticipated cost and future savings projections to help you make an informed decision.

Furthermore, our expertise and familiarity with national energy policy can identify any financial support mechanisms available which could make your energy project more economically advantageous, e.g the Renewable Heat Incentive or (from April 2022) the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

Choosing to install a heat pump may well require some additional upfront costs associated with planning and system design, but over the long term, this will be far outweighed by the reward of owning a highly efficient heating system able to deliver sustainable heat at the lowest cost.

What can happen if a low-carbon heating system is not sized correctly?

There are many co-dependent factors to take into consideration when designing a new heating system, making it a complex undertaking for non-professionals.

Inadequate unit sizing and system design will inevitably lead to poor performance and a failure to meet expectations. Such examples might include:

You can mitigate against these long-term frustrations by consulting in the early stages of your project with an experienced and qualified professional.

installing heat pumps in blocks of flats in sussex - air source heat pump 2
An air source heat pump installed by BHESCo at Kingston Village Pavillion

Combining a heat pump with renewable energy generation and energy storage technology

Property owners can leverage maximum value from a heat pump by connecting the unit to their own on-site renewable energy generation, typically solar power. Powering a heat pump with electricity generated by your own solar panels means that you do not need to purchase electricity from an energy supplier, and effectively can heat your home for free using energy from the sun.

Of course, there will be many occasions when you need to power your heat pump when solar power is not available. This can be overcome via the introduction of battery storage, enabling you to store electricity generated by the solar panels during the daytime for use at night when you need to power your heat pump.

Even if you do not decide to install solar panels, you can still achieve great cost savings from battery storage by taking advantage of time of use tariffs.

The cost of electricity fluctuates throughout the day and is cheapest in the early morning when most people are asleep. Owning a battery enables you to charge up during times when electricity is at its cheapest, and to discharge the electricity to power your heat pump at times when electricity is at its most expensive, typically between 6pm and 8pm when families are cooking dinner and turning the heating on.

How to finance your heat pump project

The upfront costs of installing a new heating system can be expensive.

At BHESCo, we are committed to accelerating the transition to a low-carbon future and we do not want any property owner wishing to make their home more sustainable to be restricted by financial obstacles.

For this reason we make our Pay As You Save finance initiative available to all property owners in Sussex who want to take action against climate change.

The upfront cost of your project can be met by our shareholders, who want to invest their money to drive the transition to a zero-carbon society. This upfront cost is then repaid over a number of years using a portion of the savings we expect you to achieve from your energy bill as a result of the measures installed. Once this cost is repaid, you will then own the equipment and benefit from 100% of any savings made on your future energy costs.

The upfront cost of your project can also be offset by taking advantage of available Government grants such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

If you are interested in taking action to reduce the energy costs and environmental impact of your building then please submit your details below and a member of BHESCo’s Project Management Team will contact you shortly.

    1 – https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/heat-pump-retrofit-in-london-v2.pdf