Heat pumps and underfloor heating: Explained!

As we get closer to the 2050 deadline for reaching net zero targets – and a potential ban of gas-fed boilers – more and more buildings are being fitted or retrofitted with alternative lower-carbon heating methods.

One combination in particular – underfloor heating paired with heat pumps – is emerging as a top choice for homeowners, architects, contractors, M&E consultants, builders and developers alike. And, in recent years, the demand for both has soared!

As specialists with over 30 years’ experience in the design, supply and installation of underfloor heating systems, here at Gaia we’ve taken a look at how heat pumps work, why they have become so popular and the benefits of using them with underfloor heating.

How does a heat pump work?

Simply put, a heat pump moves thermal energy from an external source into a building. This warmth is then transferred to the systems within a building to provide heating and hot water.

There are two main types of heat pump on the market – air-source and ground-source.

An air-source heat pump draws energy from the air outside to warm up a liquid refrigerant inside its pipes. Ground-source heat pumps are connected to pipes which are installed under the ground outside. These pipes are filled with a thermal transfer fluid which absorbs heat from the surrounding ground.

Although heat pumps do require a small amount of energy to run, they are considered to be a very energy efficient heating source. In fact, they deliver around three to four times more heat energy than the electrical energy they use!

Plus, unlike more traditional heating methods, heat pumps do not require the burning of fuel to create heat – and therefore do not produce the resulting carbon emissions.

Why have heat pumps and underfloor heating become so popular?

The demand for both underfloor heating systems and heat pumps has risen significantly in the last few years. This is for a number of reasons.

Perhaps most significant is the changes to Part L Building Regulations. In June 2022, the UK government outlined that all new-builds must produce 31% fewer CO2 emissions than was previously acceptable, while commercial buildings must produce 27% fewer.

Plus, the new regulations emphasised the importance of low carbon heating for both new-builds and existing properties. It was stated that all new heating systems should have a maximum flow temperature of 55°C where possible.

These changes were only an interim step on the way to the Future Homes Standard and Future Building Standard which are due to be implemented in 2025.

These plans go even further, outlining that carbon emissions should be reduced even more, to 75-80% fewer than was accepted under previous standards.

Due to their extensive carbon emissions and high operational temperature, these changes have essentially made a traditional gas-fed boiler and radiator system an unfeasible heating solution for new-build properties.

Also, it must be noted that the UK government has actually stated its intentions to eventually ban traditional gas boiler systems due to their extensive carbon emissions.

In fact, in January 2023, MP Chris Skidmore urged the government to start phasing out gas boilers within the next 10 years in order to meet net zero targets.

So, more and more builders and developers are turning their attention to low-carbon and energy efficient underfloor heating and heat pumps. And, this is only going to grow – particularly as we start retrofitting existing properties in preparation for the UK’s net zero target of 2050.

So, what are the benefits of using heat pumps with underfloor heating?

Wet (hydronic) underfloor heating and heat pumps are the ideal heating partnership for many buildings.

Perhaps the most beneficial is their potential to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. Heat pumps in particularly are known for their low carbon emissions as they don’t require the burning of fuels to run.

EDF Energy even states that a heat pump could cut your carbon emissions by more than 23 tonnes of CO2 over 10 years!

Underfloor heating is also known for being less carbon intensive than a radiator system due to its lower temperature, quick heat-up time and even heat distribution. So, using a heat pump instead of a boiler to power underfloor heating is the ideal solution for low-carbon heating.

Also, as heat pumps operate at a lower temperature, pairing them with radiators which operate at around 70°C is inefficient.

Underfloor heating systems are designed to run at a lower temperature of around 35°C while still producing the same – if not better – level of heat as a radiator. This energy efficiency makes underfloor heating the perfect partner for heat pumps.

Both air-source and ground-source heat pumps can be used with underfloor heating, giving builders and developers more choice for their projects.

Air-source heat pumps are suitable for both new-builds and retrofitting as they are easy to install and take up little space on the outside of a building.

Ground-source heat pumps work better with new-build projects as installation – particularly the placing of pipes within the ground – can cause significant disruption.

No matter the project, there is likely to be an underfloor heating and heat pump pairing to suit!

How can Gaia help?

Here at Gaia, we’re specialists in the design, supply and installation of underfloor heating systems in the UK and Ireland.

We offer both wet and dry underfloor heating systems, giving our clients choice when selecting the best heating solution for their project.

Our expert team are on hand to help homeowners, architects, contractors, M&E consultants, builders and developers alike with their underfloor heating needs.

Whether it’s underfloor heating design, supply, installation or Part L compliance, we have the skills and knowledge you are looking for.

Get in touch today to find out more.

Heat pumps and underfloor heating: Explained!

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