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Last updated: 11 July 2024

Ground Source Heat Pumps in the UK: A Complete Guide (2024)

Ground source heat pumps UK

As their name indicates, ground source heat pumps transfer heat from the ground. Ground source heat pumps are a low-carbon heating alternative compared to gas boilers, helping you to reduce your carbon footprint and your energy bills. 

Ground source heat pumps are expected to only become more favourable for homeowners in the foreseeable future with the recent introduction of the Heat and Buildings Strategy and the UK Government’s slashing of VAT on energy efficiency measures to 0%.

In this article, we have prepared a complete guide on everything there is to know about ground source heat pumps, their purchasing and running costs, installation tips, and much more.

When it comes to a ground source or air source heat pump installation, finding installers you can trust who will offer fair and accurate quotes, can take considerable time and effort.

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All you have to do is fill in some details using our quick and easy form and within 48 hours, you’ll hear from up to 4 local heat pump installers. Click the button below to get started.

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What is a ground source heat pump?

A ground source heat pump functions by absorbing heat from the ground and transferring it to your home for space and water heating. It operates similarly to other heat pumps and  geothermal heat pump systems. The stable underground temperatures (around 8-11°C in the UK) allow for consistent heat extraction.

How does a ground source heat pump work?

We’ve listed the main components of a ground source heat pump:

  • Heat pump unit
  • Underground heat exchanger
  • Pipes (e.g. ground loops)
  • The distribution system (e.g. radiators, underfloor heating, hot water)
Ground source heat pump diagram

The first step is the excavation of the loop fields. To install a vertical ground source heat pump, the loop is placed in the drilled well that is dug deep from 50m to 150m in the ground. 

The piping system can be configured differently depending on the amount of land available and the geological conditions. For horizontal installation, a large area of land is dug up so that the loops can be placed on the land without having to dig deep into the earth.

The heat exchanger is then installed in order to capture the heat from the ground. Then a mixture of water and antifreeze is pumped into the ground via the heat pump, and the antifreeze mixture is continuously warmed up by the constant temperature of the ground.

The liquid is fed into a heat exchanger and energy absorbed from the ground is transferred to a refrigerant, which boils at a low temperature until it turns into a gas.

The gas is fed into a compressor and the compression process makes the temperature of the gas rise.

This is then fed to a condenser, where it is distributed to the wet central heating system of the house, such as radiators, showers, faucets, and underfloor heating.

Price of ground source heat pumps

Some of the best ground source heat pumps can cost between £13,000 and £19,000 to install. The price of a ground source heat pump depends on several factors that change depending on your home:

  • Type and size of ground source heat pump
  • Combined with radiators or an underfloor heating system 
  • Installation complexity
  • Labour cost

There is also a significant difference in groundwork costs between horizontal and vertical systems. Although the horizontal installation is cheaper it requires, on average, anywhere between 600m2 to 1200m2 of clear land.

Groundwork and installation costs
Size of heat pumpHeat Pump and Installation CostHorizontal Groundwork CostVertical Groundwork Cost
8kW£13,200 £3,000£10,000

The costs depend on each individual case and numbers do not represent actual offers. They are merely for general reference. 

How much money can you save with a ground source heat pump?

The upfront costs of ground source heat pumps are higher than other systems, but the difference is usually compensated by energy savings and higher efficiency.

The following table is based on figures from the Energy Saving Trust, outlining the carbon dioxide and energy bill savings when using a ground source heat pump under the current energy price cap. 

Carbon dioxide + energy bill savings
Existing systemFuel bill savings (£/year)Carbon dioxide savings (kg CO2/year)
Older gas boiler (non-condensing)£4404,500kg
Newer gas boiler (condensing)£503,000kg
Electric storage heater£1,100 – £1,7004,500kg – 5,000kg
Older oil boilers (non-condensing)£8807,000kg
LPG boiler£600 – £1,2005,500kg – 5,000kg
Applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

Does the government provide grants for ground source heat pumps?

There are several heat pump grants available that can help cover upfront costs. 

  • The Boiler Upgrade Scheme, a £450 million initiative under the Heat and Buildings Strategy, offers £7,500 off supply and installation in England and Wales. This took the place of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) in 2022. 
  • Energy Company Obligation 4 (ECO4) may cover up to 100% of the costs for eligible homeowners switching to renewable heating.
  • In Scotland, the Home Energy Scotland Loan provides up to £17,500 interest-free for sustainable measures installation. Additionally, installing energy-saving materials qualifies for a reduction in VAT, with further potential reductions for those over 60 or receiving income or disability benefits.

These systems not only lower energy bills but also contribute to the UK's Net Zero Target by 2050

Heat pump grants

Costs vary depending on factors like home size and location, underscoring the importance of a qualified local ground source heating installer. Contacting multiple installers ensures familiarity with local regulations and suppliers, potentially leading to more competitive pricing. 

Comparing quotes from different installers guarantees the best deal, ensuring you're not overcharged. GreenMatch offers access to a network of qualified installers, providing competitive quotes within 48 hours, making the process effortless. Click the button below to start comparing and choose the best price.

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Types of ground source heat pumps

One way to identify some of the best ground source heat pumpsis by the type of loop system they use. There are two different types of loop systems:

  • The open loop system extracts clean groundwater to directly pass through a heat pump where heat is extracted. 
  • The closed loop system draws the heat from the ground itself and uses a continuous loop of piping connected to the indoor heat pump.

While an open loop system is cheaper to install, it requires access to groundwater. Whereas, closed loop systems tend to be more reliable, require less maintenance, and are extremely efficient due to extracting heat from the earth. 

Closed loop vertical ground source heat pump

These are used when space is limited, often in suburban areas. Geothermal boreholes are dug at least 6m deep, with piping extending 50-150m into the ground, depending on soil composition and heating needs.

Closed loop horizontal ground source heat pump

Ideal for rural areas with ample land, horizontal systems are laid in trenches 1-2m deep. The average 150 m2 home needs an area of between 300 and 700 m2. It is more common in rural areas where there is more land available. The required area varies based on home size, depth of burial, soil properties, climate, and heat pump efficiency.

Other types of closed loop systems

Closed loop system for pond/lake

  • Although less common than horizontal or vertical systems, a closed pond loop is also an option. It is uncommon because it requires proximity to a body of water, so an open loop system is usually preferable as it takes from groundwater instead. However, a closed loop system may be advantageous when poor water quality prevents the use of an open loop.

    Direct expansion (DX)

    • This system relies on a cyclical process when the refrigerant changes its position back and forth between a gas and a liquid. When the refrigerator absorbs the heat, the compressors start pulling the vapour from suction lines and the process is launched.

      Indirect expansion

      • This system is commonly used in freezer applications with carbon dioxide when changing secondary working media. In other words, during antifreeze solution/water circulation, the energy is relocated from or to the refrigerant circuit through ground heat exchange pipework.

        Advantages and disadvantages of ground source heat pumps

        Ground source heat pumps are a promising technology that can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, lower our carbon footprint and offer us many other heat pump advantages. But before you install one in your home or business, it’s important to understand both the advantages and disadvantages of ground source heat pumps

        In this section, we’ll list the pros and cons of ground source heat pumps so you can make an informed decision.

        Advantages of ground source heat pumps
        • One of the most energy-efficient systems for heating and cooling
        • Save up to £50 – £1,700 a year on your heating bill when replacing an old electric system.
        • Low environmental impact
        • Low heat pump noise levels (around 40 – 42dB)
        • Longer lifespan of components compared to air source heat pumps.
        • Eligible for grants.
        • Long product lifespan. Inside components last approximately 25 years, while the ground loop system exceeds 50 years (sometimes reaching up to 80 years).
        • Equal distribution of heat throughout your home.
        • Constant performance throughout the year.
        Disadvantages of ground source heat pumps
        • High up-front costs.
        • Efficiency depends on soil/bedrock
        • Large space requirement for horizontal systems.
        • Installation makes them ideal for new-builds, not retrofits.
        • Refrigerant liquid used to transfer heat could be more environmentally friendly.

        Ground source heat pump efficiency

        Ground source heat pump systems save energy by using the constant ground temperature, sourced from solar energy absorbed by groundwater, to enhance seasonal heating efficiency. 

        Cold weather minimally impacts heat pump efficiency, especially with vertical systems, as the soil temperature remains stable below 1 meter throughout the year.

        Soil type influences efficiency, varying across regions in the UK. Therefore, to get an accurate estimation of efficiency, it’s important to get your property assessed by a professional.

        Ground source heat pumps typically have efficiencies ranging from 300% to 400%, with a coefficient of performance (COP) averaging between 3.5 and 4.5. 

        Heat pump efficiency 
        Heat pump system Average efficiency 
        Ground source heat pump3.5 - 4.5
        Air to water heat pump2.5 - 3.5 
        Air to air heat pump2 - 3

        The COP indicates instantaneous performance, calculated by dividing useful heat output by electrical energy input. For instance, a COP of 4 means the pump produces 4 kilowatts of heat for every kilowatt of electricity consumed. 

        The seasonal coefficient of performance (SCOP) offers an average efficiency over the year, providing a more accurate measure of performance. Checking the SCOP is recommended for a thorough assessment of efficiency.

        Is my home right for ground source heating?

        House size and building requirements will determine whether a vertical or horizontal loop system is needed. Below we've compiled a list of criteria to consider which type of system might be best for your home. 

        Here are some key considerations that can help determine whether a ground source heat pump is right for your home. 

        1. How much outdoor space do you have? 

          Horizontal systems demand considerable space, typically between 600m² to 1200m², with trenches at least 100m long for the collector array. Circular loops ("slinkies") may be used to save space but could slightly reduce efficiency.

          Vertical systems require less surface area. An 8kW system generally needs three boreholes, each between 70m to 120m deep, depending on soil type and system size.

          1. Is your home well insulated?

            Well-insulated homes minimise heat loss, ensuring efficient use of generated heat and maintaining consistent indoor temperatures. 

            Proper insulation leads to lower energy bills and reduced carbon emissions. Addressing insulation issues before installing a heat pump maximizes its benefits and enhances home sustainability.

            1. How big is your house?

              The larger your home, the more powerful your ground source heat pump will need to be. Domestic ground source heat pumps typically go up to 16kW, which is more than powerful enough to supply heating and hot water to homes with 6+ bedrooms. 

              Ground source heat pumps are impractical for flats and apartments due to limited outdoor space, whereas larger houses, such as bungalows, terraced, and detached properties, can accommodate them if outdoor space allows. 

              1. Do you need planning permission?

                In most cases, ground source heat pump installations are considered permitted development and do not require special permissions. 

                However, special permissions are needed in Wales and Northern Ireland, and requirements vary in England and Scotland based on location and property size. 

                Planning permission is necessary for multiple installations, listed buildings, or properties in conservation areas. Local installers can provide guidance on area-specific regulations.

                Choosing a Heat Pump Installer - 5 Questions to Avoid Costly Mistakes | GreenMatch

                Should I get a heat pump for my home?

                Ground source heat pumps offer significant energy savings and environmental benefits. So a heat pump for a boiler switch can help the average UK household save up to £440 on heating bills annually when compared to conventional, gas-fired heating systems. Initial investments are high, but ground source heat pump prices vary depending on the project and the household specifications.

                While initial costs vary based on project and household specifications, they can be unfeasible for some. In such cases, hybrid heat pumps offer a solution by combining a ground source heat pump with another heating system, typically a gas or oil boiler. This allows for the installation of a smaller, more affordable ground source heat pump.

                For homes needing high temperatures, high temperature heat pumps are available, providing efficient ground source heating without excessive insulation requirements.

                Various brands offer ground source heat pumps in the UK market, including Vaillant, Viessmann, Nibe, Kensa, and Worcester-Bosch. It's essential to compare supplier quotes and reviews to ensure you choose the most competitive price and suitable system for your needs.

                To secure fair and accurate heat pump installation quotes, thorough planning and research  are essential. Avoid potential overpayment by steering clear of nationwide companies and instead, simplify the process with GreenMatch. Our service connects you directly with up to 4 licensed local installers, saving you time and effort.

                Fill out our quick form, and our team will match you with the best heat pump installers. Comparing multiple local quotes ensures the most cost-effective solution. With several quotes at your disposal, you can make an informed decision and secure the best deal. Click below to get started.

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