Earth Notes: 11 Years of Home ASHP, Kingston-upon-Thames London: Case Study

Updated 2024-07-09 09:55 GMT.
By Damon Hart-Davis ORCID logo.
Learn from a home air-source heat-pump experience in greater London, UK, a decade in. #ASHP #heatpump
ASHP CoP and temperature settings 1 PM
We have to install millions of heat pumps in the UK to meet climate targets, likely mostly ASHPs. What are they like to live with in reality? This quick case study from a home in suburban London near the Thames getting a CoP/'efficiency' of 300% gives an idea.

A big Thank You to PM, who has provided all the data and notes and images from his lair in north Kingston!

It is perhaps worth noting that as an engineering prof he was well able to understand how it should work, and even improve it by adding insulation and tweaking parameters.

It is also worth knowing that a similar heat pump installed in a similar home nearby achieves about half the performance (CoP of maybe 1.5 rather than 3.0). This is in part because that homeowner insisted on having the fan installed quite a long way from the house, so a very long pipe run with high heat-loss, not adequately insulated nor protected from water ingress. The owner was also probably not attentive to other details that help improve efficiency.

Executive Summary

PM seems happy with his heat-pump experience, and says that there is no routine preventive maintenance to do.

Some points of note (more detail below):


The heat pump is a Daikin Altherma EKHB016AB3V3, installed April 2009.

Annual total energy use is about 5500kWh for 120m^2 of internal floor area. The house configuration is inherently poor with lots of wall and roof area for its volume.

The heat pump has run for 11 years to 2021 with only one trivial fault (leaky air bleed valve). The first major failure appeared this December, which was a sticking valve solenoid in the compressor. Diagnosis of this took a long time. The 3kW back-up heater kept the house warm enough.

In reality, there is no routine preventive maintenance to do — the device just works until something fails.

The radiator output has been increased by 68% from the original installation for the gas combi boiler.

20210406 exterior air to refrigerant heat exchanger PM
71s "20211012 external ASHP fan wall mounted recorded from 30cm underneath" Uploaded . Downloads:
Outside air-to-refrigerant heat-exchanger for Daikin EKHB016AB3V3 ASHP. Normalised sound recording level (very quiet in real life, FLAC is as recorded with hand-held H1n field recorder ~30cm below fan; birdsong and some quiet speech at the end). Image courtesy of PM.

Extra Insulation

PM fitted extra insulation in various places, improving performance significantly.

The Coefficient of Performance (CoP) over the year is about 3.

20210406 interior refrigerant to water unit and extra insulation PM
10s "20211012 unit in garage very quiet" Uploaded . Downloads:
Internal refrigerant to water unit. Note insulation on pipework. Extra insulation is also installed on the innards of both the outside and inside units. Normalised sound recording level (very quiet in real life, FLAC is as recorded with hand-held H1n field recorder). Image courtesy of PM.
20210406 hot water tank with extra insulation PM
Hot water tank with extra insulation. Main/water unit top left. Image courtesy of PM.

Improved Radiators

When reducing flow temperatures from a typical gas boiler, putting better radiators in is common.

'Better' may mean physically taller and wider, or extra layers and fins. This allows more heat into the room, ie a greater heating power, for a given flow temperature above room temperature.

Historically people have run radiators as high as 85°C, which can injure anyone touching them.

Heat pumps work more efficiently the lower the flow temperature, so 45°C or even below body temperature (~35°C) is good.

20210406 cast Aluminium radiator tall 1 PM 20210406 cast Aluminium radiator tall 2 PM
20210406 cast Aluminium radiator PM
Cast aluminium high-output radiators, tall and squat. Images courtesy of PM.

CoP and Temperature Setting Graphs

ASHP CoP and temperature settings 1 PM
Weather compensation hand-drawn graph. Image courtesy of PM.
ASHP CoP and temperature settings 2 PM
CoP vs lift hand-drawn graph. Image courtesy of PM.

Further Detail

PM kindly provided me with more background on the house, as below (lightly edited):

The house was designed in the late '80s, completed in 1990. It was a private development for an end user. The architect was based in Dorking.

Just before completion, the original intended owner backed out of the deal, leaving the builder to complete the work.

The house is traditional construction with brick and concrete tile pitch roofs. The inner skin of the external walls is 125mm low density Thermalite blockwork.

We have modified the house by:

  • adding cavity insulation
  • installing triple-glazed argon-filled low-emissivity windows
  • adding heat-recovery ventilation
  • adding loft insulation
  • using LED lighting
  • draught proofing, particularly to light fittings
  • adding a well-designed conservatory which acts as a solar collector
  • added 3.85kWp of solar pv on south-east facing roof.

The increase in radiator capacity came from a simple linear mathematical model based on the original radiators for the gas boiler, and to keep the internal temp at 20°C. I have lost the calculations, but the principle was that the ASHP should run 80% of the time. The 20% is to allow capacity for transients.

PM also tells me that although he cannot now find the old fuel bills:

  • Energy consumption for space heating and hot water in 12 months up to ASHP = 10,000kWh; total energy consumption (gas and elect.) = 13000kWh
  • Energy consumption for space heating and HW over 12 months after ASHP = 4000kWh; total energy consumption = 7000kWh

So CoP is about 2.5 immediately after installation. After that the ASHP was modified by addition of extra insulation to compressor, heat exchangers, etc, HW setting temp was lowered a bit and ambient temp set points were refined by experience, with more radiator capacity being installed. Also, the house was modified giving current total energy consumption of 5500kWh per year. In my previous list of modifications, I forgot to mention the fitting of thermostatic cum timer valves to the rad in the conservatory which shuts that down to 15°C after supper. As I said, the house is an interesting shape but is a disaster for energy usage. It has a large external surface area wrt internal volume.

What is the Rated kW Output?

Question from PK 2022-03-19, lightly edited:

In the above Kingston house article I couldn't find any info on the rated kW output of the Daikin Altherma best pump. Though I guess if it's consuming 5,000 kWh and COP is 3.0 I imagine its rated output is 15kW. Is it possible to confirm this?

Answer from PM:

I don't think the rated power is calculated that way. My system (no longer made) has 16kW in the model number, but I think this is just the maximum power it can draw – 2 x 3kW resistance heaters and pumps and compressor, etc. The system CoP is not remotely a constant number. It is a function of the difference between the outside temperature and the water temperature and so varies from moment to moment and day to day. It is a measure of how much work is done in pumping heat against a temperature difference.

The radiator system (or better still, underfloor system), needs to be sized for a max. water temperature of, say, 40°C. So about twice the size of a boiler heated system.

Can ASHPs be DIY Installed?

Question from PK 2022-03-19, lightly edited:

I would love to know if ASHPs can be DIY installed? Especially as upgrade to existing CH systems? An article on this would be great!

Answer from PM:

The radiator system (plumbing) could be a DIY job but the heat pump itself will be wired into the mains, which needs a qualified electrician, and the refrigerant needs special equipment. The units are also very heavy. So not a DIY job.

~1467 words.