September 7, 2023

Should you become a heat pump engineer?

Graphic of a hot water cylinder connected to hot and cold piping

The short answer to this question is yes, you should become a heat pump installer. However the likelihood is, you need convincing as to why this is a career worth getting into.

Well, you’re reading the right article.

In the UK there are ambitious plans to try and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As part of this goal, the UK government has set a target of 600,000 installations per year by 2028.

That’s a lot of potential work.

But does this match demand?

Well, a study by rated people found that in 2023, almost half of UK homeowners are looking to make their homes more energy efficient and heat pumps are on the list.

So homeowners want heat pumps, and you could be installing them. What’s not to like?!

To get the genuine inside scoop, we spoke to experienced heat pump installer Michael Paini from Option Energy Solutions Ltd.

How much do heat pump installers earn?

Typically heat pump installers earn around £66,000 a year (as a sole trader).

If you factor in the cost of the heat pump, the installation process and other expenses this looks more like £46,000 in profit.

If you own your own business, profits can be in excess of £48,000.

Are heat pump installs more profitable than boiler installs?

Heat pump installations have the potential to be more profitable than boiler installations due to the higher plant prices delivering more markup.

Plus the fact heat pump installations take anywhere from 2-4 times as long as a boiler install due to design, and cylinder and radiator upgrades, this allows you to charge more.

Typically a boiler install would be charged at £2000 - £4500, where as heat pumps can be installed at between £8000 and £20000. The costs are higher but so are the profits.

This type of work very much suits small teams, and utilising a team well on a single project can deliver good returns and high levels of customer satisfaction.

However, there is an element of paying your dues. Your first projects will take up a disproportionate amount of time at the quotation and design stage, and it will take some figuring out to become more efficient at this and build it into your installation costs.

Addressing concerns

Despite the benefits, you may still have some concerns.

To clear things up, here are some of the most common worries people have and why they shouldn’t put you off.

Heat pumps are not a good option for my clients

Although it’s valid that heat pumps aren’t right for all homes, they are increasingly becoming a more popular option.

As the technology improves more and more of your clients will start to seriously consider this technology for their homes. If you’re not ready to meet that demand you could even lose customers.

As an example, Option Energy, based in the South East of England, receive a steady stream of enquiries.

There’s plenty of demand for existing forms of heating

There are forms of existing heating that will always have a place, but with the government’s push for net zero, increasingly, demand is going to shift.

By 2025 gas boilers will not be fitted in new homes and you will find that there is growing pressure to replace these heating systems with greener solutions.

Heat pumps will see continued exponential growth, while the boiler industry will start to decline. Furthermore, if the Clean Heat Market Mechanism comes into operation in 2024 then this process will be accelerated.

We don't have the time/resources to invest in upskilling our engineers

In a busy business time is money, so it’s understandable you might be cautious about losing staff while they train.

However courses typically only take a few days and there are grants available to help with funding.

But the real secret is, you don’t actually need to be certified to install these units!

The widespread existence of umbrella schemes means you don't need to be an MCS installer.

Training is available free from manufacturers, and umbrella scheme commissions, so the reality is, you only need a technical certificate in plumbing such as an NVQ2/3, Water Regs and Unvented qualifications to get started.

It takes time to assess and spec the job

It’s true that assessing the job can be time-consuming and there is no easy way around this. However, bear in mind that the more you do the more efficient you’ll get.

One idea might be to consider charging for your quotes. Unlike boiler installs demand for good heat pump installers is greater than businesses available to perform this service.

This gives you the power. You can dictate the terms of service and build in extra protection such as charging for the quote.

We don't believe heat pumps will increase in popularity

Heat pumps are already massively growing in popularity and there’s little reason to believe this trend won’t continue.

Between 2021 and 2022 alone, demand increased by a massive 40% and is predicted to continue to grow.

This is further supported by government-backed initiatives to increase the number of heat pumps in the UK, all of which will lead to increased popularity for this technology.

It is too difficult to become accredited to install heat pumps

While there are a number of requirements you need to meet to take a heat pump installation course, the course itself is a fairly straightforward process, and if you just take the air source heat pump course, this is much easier to qualify for.

Or, you might decide not to get accredited at all. With available umbrella schemes, you can work as a contractor without your MCS.

We think they are a risky option

A lot of the bad press associated with heat pumps comes from poorly installed units. A heat pump that isn’t correctly fitted or adapted to the home will not function properly.

If you go into this industry without knowledge of mass flow rates, pipe sizing, emitter sizing etc., you could come unstuck fast and be open to claims from customers for systems that don't work as intended.

Knowledge is far and away the most important thing and courses like Heat Geek (BPEC heat pump system design) and Heating Academy Northampton are essential for education.

If you ensure you know what you’re doing the risk is very low.

What qualifications are needed to install heat pumps?

How qualified you need to be is dependent on whether you want to lead and manage the install, or if you’re happy working as a contractor.

If you just want to work as a contractor or under a lead engineer, then all you need is a technical certificate in plumbing such as an NVQ2/3 with Water Regs and Unvented qualifications.

This is possible through umbrella schemes where you are contracted by an MCS-qualified heat pump installer who oversees the project.

However, Michael Pani from Option Energy does recommend investing in some training for the practical skills.

Courses like Heat Geek (BPEC heat pump system design) and Heating Academy Northampton are essential for education.

To become fully qualified you need the following:

  • N/SVQ Level 2/3 in:

Heating and Ventilating / Oil-Fired Technical Services / Gas Installation and Maintenance / Minimum 3 years experience installing wet central heating systems

  • A Core Gas Safety (CCN1) certificate
  • An OFTEC Oil certificate
  • A valid HETAS certificate
  • F-Gas Certification
  • Listed on the Gas Safe Register

Once you’re a qualified heating engineer, you need an RQF Level 3 qualification in heat pump installation. However, it’s important to note there is a difference between ground-source and air-source heat pumps.

To install ground source heat pumps you need an additional qualification on top of the air source installation qualification.

Furthermore, you also need to ensure you are MCS certified.

This is because most customers want to get money off the cost of their installation via the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. To be able to claim this, their installer is required to have their MCS (umbrella schemes notwithstanding).

How much does heat pump engineer training cost?

If you are already a qualified engineer, heat pump installation training costs between £700 to £900, which covers the cost of air source heat pump training and ground source heat pump training.

Separately, air source training costs around £500 - £600 and ground source costs £200 - £300, although ground source training can’t be completed until you’ve qualified in air source installation.

Always make sure you research your courses before signing up as many only include air-source heat pump training and not ground-source heat pump training.

Is there a grant for heat pump engineer training?

Yes, there is a government grant of up to £500 that you can apply for to help with the cost of training. For more information and to find out if you’re eligible see the page on heat training grants.

Many course providers also provide their own discounts and incentives.

How long is a heat pump course?

Heat pump courses that cover air and ground source pumps, typically last between 3 to 5 days. For single courses (covering only one type of pump), these might last as little as 2 days.

Make sure you do your research and check which modules are covered.

Some courses focus more on practical skills while others are more theory-based. It’s important to ensure there is a good mix of practical and classroom-based teaching so you feel confident installing on your own.

How long do heat pumps take to install?

Typically, installing an air source heat pump takes between 1 to 3 days, although timings can vary depending on the type of property.

A ground source heat pump usually takes about a week or more as excavating and preparing the necessary ground loops takes time.

Compared to boiler installations, Michael Pani observes heat pumps take 2-4 times as long.

Is it difficult to install a heat pump?

Although installing a heat pump is a more complex task than a boiler install, once you know the process, it becomes far easier.

Air source heat pumps are also far more straightforward to fit than ground source heat pumps, as they can be fitted to a home's existing pipework and don’t require excavation in the surrounding area.

Ground source heat pumps involve the laying down of a network of pipes under the ground. This can be done horizontally or vertically - if there’s not enough space - and may require planning permission.

Although this is quite an extensive process, with the right training you should feel confident completing the fit and with your experience as a boiler installer you shouldn’t find it too challenging.

The main difficulty is in assessing the home and working out if it’s suitable for the pump.

Get started

Once you’ve made the decision to train as a heat pump installer you need to start thinking about how you’re going to manage your new workload and process your new customers.

To make life easy, consider investing in CRM and job management software. A solution like Payaca allows you to import customers directly into your account where you can manage and progress them through the different stages of a job.

You can also automate many of the steps, allowing you to claim back any time you lost in training, and easily take on the extra workload created from fitting heat pumps.