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Hybrid Heat Pumps: How Can They Benefit Homeowners?

Hybrid heat pumps guide
(Image credit: Mitsubishi)

Hybrid heat pumps, often referred to as bivalent heat pumps, essentially comprise a heat pump and another heat source (such as a boiler) that are combined into one system. 

Hybrid solutions are part of the future of heating in our homes, especially in the push towards net zero, and as our heating systems change we will likely see a rapid increase in the uptake of these systems. 

This is everything you need to know about hybrid heat pumps, including a guide to how much they cost and how they could benefit your home.

What is a Hybrid Heat Pump?

A hybrid heat pump can be a single product that is made by a manufacturer which includes a heat pump and a boiler all in one box. 

Alternatively it can be designed by an installer so it utilises your existing boiler, with a heat pump then engineered into the system to operate at certain times, or according to certain conditions. 

The heat pump can be an air source heat pump, which draws its heat from the ambient air around it, or a ground source heat pump, which draws its heat from the ground via a large closed loop network of pipes, buried horizontally in the ground or placed in vertical boreholes.

How Does a Hybrid Heat Pump Work?

A hybrid heat pump will change between the two different heat sources according to predetermined settings. 

You could choose to have your boiler providing the hot water and the heat pump providing space heating, for example. Or the boiler could be set up to cover both the space heating and hot water demand, and the heat pump could be used when the efficiency is higher (and it is cheaper) — it can then be changed over to the boiler when the outside temperature drops. 

What Are The Benefits to Owning One?

A hybrid heat pump system can make your home more energy efficient because it selects a different fuel as and when the efficiency or heat demand changes.

A heat pump is generally more efficient during the summer, while a boiler is better at managing very low temperatures. This automatic switching of temperatures means you’ll likely be able to save on your running costs. 

How Much Does it Cost to Install?

The cost of fitting a hybrid system can be as much as fitting a heat pump and a boiler, if you are using two separate systems. What you save on shared pipework will be spent on controls and valves. 

Some of the pre-manufactured hybrid products range from around £5,000 upwards for the materials, then the installation costs will depend on whether the existing pipework is near the right location or whether significant changes will be required to the pipework and the radiator sizes. 

If the heat pump can efficiently deliver a large percentage of the heat load of your home, then the hybrid solution will be good value. 

(MORE: Should I Swap my Boiler for an Air Source Heat Pump?)

Mitsubishi's Ecodan hybrid heat pump

Mitsubishi’s ‘hybrid ready’ Ecodan heat pump, which can be wired to your existing boiler. (Image credit: Mitsubishi)

What Are The Running Costs?

Ultimately, there are many variables with hybrid heat pumps, due to the heat pump market consisting of air source and ground source heat pumps, and the various existing heating fuels such as natural gas, Lpg (tank gas) oil or biomass (including logs, wood pellets or wood chips). 

All of these fuels will result in different costs to different homes, and as such a hybrid heat pump system must be designed to take into account all of the variables and be able to automatically change as the details change. 

The key to a good hybrid heat pump setup is the ability to change the trigger information on a controller. Ideally you need to be able to put in the cost of fuel, CO2 emissions of the fuel and the efficiency of the equipment at different operating temperatures. The controller will then choose which system is the best according to whether you have prioritised running costs or emissions. 

Many of these parameters are set up when the system is commissioned but there are some, such as the cost of electricity and the cost of oil or gas, that the homeowner may need to change as the prices fluctuate.

Many heat pumps do not currently stack up financially when compared with the running costs of natural gas (and sometimes even heating oil) and as such it therefore won’t stack up when compared with only covering part of the heat load. 

Which Properties Are Hybrid Heat Pumps Most Suitable For?

Hybrid heat pumps are currently best suited to older properties that may require higher heating system temperatures for some colder days in winter, or perhaps larger properties where the heating demand can change fairly rapidly. 

The electricity supply to a larger property may be too small for a heat pump that is large enough to cover the whole annual heating load, so a secondary heat source would cover the shortfall. The boiler simply acts as a backup for the heat pump when demand is high. 

In homes where a heating system is already installed it may make a lot of sense to go for a hybrid solution. This way, a large part of the heating demand can be delivered by the heat pump. 

Can Hybrid Heat Pumps Work With a Hydrogen Boiler?

As the fuel in the gas network changes to include more hydrogen, we could potentially see the cost of that fuel disproportionately rising. As this happens, we may then also see the increased benefit of running hybrid systems that allow us to change between different fuel sources, such as hydrogen, as the costs and demands change.

(MORE: What is a Hydrogen Boiler?)

Which Hybrid Heat Pump Systems Are Available?

Hybrid Heat Pumps

(Image credit: Mitsubishi)

The FTC Controller on Mitsubishi’s Ecodan heat pump calls for heat from either heat source, depending on the conditions

Some heat pump manufacturers have digital controllers on the heat pump that are ‘hybrid ready’. This means that the existing (or backup) boiler can be wired to the heat pump controller, and the controller will then call for heat from either of the heat sources depending on how the system is commissioned. 

Mitsubishi’s Ecodan heat pumps have this functionality on the FTC 5 and FTC 6 controller, and Grant (Oil boiler manufacturer) also has models that build the heat pump and oil boiler into the same box. 

There are even some manufacturers that have built a small heat pump into what is essentially a combi boiler, like the Sime Revolution 30. 

David Hilton

David is an expert in sustainable building and energy efficiency and is also director of Heat and Energy Ltd.