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A Comparative Analysis: Air-to-Water vs Ground Source Heat Pumps in the UK.

In recent years, the pursuit of sustainable and energy-efficient heating solutions has gained considerable momentum, with air-to-water and ground-source heat pumps emerging as front-runners in the race towards greener living. Both technologies promise to reduce carbon footprints and provide efficient heating for homes.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of air-to-water vs ground source heat pumps, comparing their features, benefits, and considerations, to help you make an informed decision tailored to the unique climate and landscape of the United Kingdom.

Operating Principles.

Air-to-Water Heat Pumps:

Air-to-water heat pumps extract heat from the ambient air and transfer it to a water-based heating system. They work efficiently in moderate climates and are relatively easy to install. However, their performance may decline in extremely cold conditions although as seen across many Scandinavian countries, this doesn’t seem to cause many issues.


Ground-Source Heat Pumps:

Ground-source heat pumps, on the other hand, harness the stable temperature of the ground to extract heat. They consist of a ground loop buried in the earth, enabling consistent performance throughout the year. Although the installation is more complex and considerably more expensive, ground-source heat pumps offer a reliable solution for colder climates.


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Efficiency and Performance.

Air-to-Water Heat Pumps:

The efficiency of air-to-water heat pumps is influenced by external air temperatures. They may experience a reduction in performance during winter, making them better suited for milder climates. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure optimal efficiency.

By using an air to water heat pump in the UK, you are reducing your annual carbon emissions by up to 2800 kg of CO2. That’s equivalent to using over 1000 litres of petrol! This is because it produces more heat than the amount of electricity it uses.

In fact, an air to water heat pump has an efficiency of 200%-400%, also known as having a coefficient of performance (COP) of 2 to 4. This means it can produce up to 4 times the amount of electricity it uses!


Ground-Source Heat Pumps:

Ground-source heat pumps maintain a more consistent level of efficiency throughout the year, making them a reliable choice for regions with colder winters. However, the initial installation costs are higher, and the system requires professional expertise to set up the ground loop.

Ground source heat pumps have, on average, an efficiency of 300% to 400%. That means for every kilowatt (kW) of electricity consumed by the heat pump, around 3-4 kilowatts of heat are generated in return. A GSHP has, on average, a coefficient of performance (COP) of 3.5 to 4.5.

Air-to-Water vs Ground Source Heat Pumps

Installation and Space Requirements.

Air-to-Water Heat Pumps:

Air-to-water systems are generally less invasive to install, requiring less space and minimal disruption to existing landscapes. This makes them a practical choice for urban areas or properties with limited outdoor space.

The key to a properly functioning heat pump lies in the correct sizing of the heat pump and proper installation that matches your property’s heating demands!

To ensure optimal performance of the air to water heat pump, it is important to avoid placing the outdoor unit in enclosed or confined spaces. The unit requires proper airflow around it, and once the air has passed through the heat pump, it should not re-enter the system.

On the other hand, the indoor part of the air to water heat pump can be conveniently situated in a utility room within the house, given that there is a floor drain available in the room. This setup allows for effective installation and maintenance while ensuring the system operates efficiently.


Ground-Source Heat Pumps:

Installing ground-source heat pumps involves excavation for the ground loop, which can be disruptive and requires more space. However, the system can be integrated into landscaping, and the ground loop may also be installed vertically in areas with limited horizontal space.

House size and building requirements will determine whether a vertical or horizontal loop system is needed. 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 heat exchanger is then installed in order to capture the heat from the ground.

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.

Horizontal GSHPs require a large amount of space. Depending on the size of the heat pump, you may need 2 or more ground loops. For the average home’s system, you can expect to need between 600m2 to 1200m2 of clear land. It’s good to note that for most horizontal collector arrays, you’d also need trenches at least 100m long.

Environmental Impact.

Air-to-Water Heat Pumps:

When comparing Air-to-water vs ground source heat pumps, its impossible to ignore the environmental impacts!

Air-to-water heat pumps generally have a lower environmental impact compared to traditional heating systems, as they rely on renewable energy from the air. However, their efficiency may vary based on local climate conditions.

They are known as an ecological choice, as they produce energy by processing air. Air to water heat pumps is powered by electricity, which can be generated by renewable energy sources such as solar, hydro, and wind power. This means they don’t burn natural gas nor emit harmful pollutants.

Generate more energy than the electricity they consume to operate. Air to water heat pumps is known for having a high energy efficiency that can go up to 400%. For reference, traditional gas boilers only go up to 94%.

Ground-Source Heat Pumps:

Ground-source heat pumps have a smaller carbon footprint and lower operating costs over the long term. They are considered a more environmentally friendly option, especially in regions with colder climates compared to air-to-water heat pumps but the installation price put a lot of people off!

Air-to-Water vs Ground Source Heat Pumps


Choosing between air-to-water vs ground source heat pumps in the UK depends on various factors, including climate, installation constraints, and budget considerations. While air-to-water systems offer simplicity and affordability, ground-source heat pumps provide reliability and consistent performance in colder temperatures.

Ultimately, the decision should align with your specific needs and environmental goals, as both technologies contribute significantly to reducing the carbon footprint of residential heating in the United Kingdom.

If you want to take advantage of this higher efficiency, just contact the friendly team at Heat From Air and we will handle everything for you. Follow our journey on LinkedIn and Instagram too for handy tips and tricks.

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