‘When I see a regular boiler I think, “Just stop!”’: the heat pump-loving builder who designs dream homes | Energy efficient home

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When builder and designer Gianni Brusati, 46, got the opportunity to create his dream family home from scratch, there was one design element he wasn’t willing to compromise on.

“I knew from the outset that I wanted the house to run without gas,” says Gianni, who set about turning a 1950s semi-detached Ealing property into a modern, spacious family home in 2019.

“I wanted to make it as eco-friendly as possible for two reasons: environment and cost,” Gianni says. “Having children and watching them grow has made me realise how important it is that we do our best to improve the quality of the air they breathe. From a cost perspective, natural gas is a limited resource, so it can only go up in cost in the future – having a gas-free home protects us against this inevitable rise.”

So Gianni and his wife Nadine, a physician associate, took the decision to heat their home with an air source heat pump, which works by capturing heat from outside and moving it into the home. “I researched the technology and it was clearly more efficient and better for the environment. It was part of our wider plan to make the house as green as possible – we also incorporated a charging point for an electric vehicle and made sure the house is super-insulated to stop heat from escaping and wasting energy.”

As a builder and founder of his own building design company Canyon Design & Build, Gianni was in the fortunate position of knowing exactly what a home needs for a heat pump to work efficiently.

“It’s all about insulation,” says Gianni. “A heat pump generally runs at a lower temperature than a boiler system, so you need good insulation to make sure the heat gradually builds and stays in the house.” This can mean adding insulated plasterboard to the internal walls, something he describes as disruptive but not that difficult.

As Gianni and Nadine were essentially rebuilding their home, they opted for underfloor heating throughout, and the result is a cosy environment that remains a stable and steady 20C all year round, whether there’s a hard frost or it’s a hot, sunny day. With two young children and busy working lives, Gianni and Nadine welcome not having to fiddle with the thermostat or worry about the boiler breaking down on the coldest day of the year.

“Whether the house is warm is just not something we have to think about,” says Gianni. “And thanks to the heat pump, having it at 20C all year round is a luxury I don’t feel guilty about,” he says. Indeed, in a well-insulated home, heat pumps are three times more efficient than a gas boiler, and they can reduce carbon emissions by up to 70%.

Eco benefits aside, from a financial perspective, the heat pump also pulls some serious weight. “In two to three years, the heat pump pays for itself,” says Gianni. “Overall, we now spend about 60% of what a regular house would spend on heating – that’s a big saving.”

As a builder, Gianni says clients looking to refurbish their properties are getting more and more curious about installing heat pumps, and their motivation is usually a mix of wanting lower energy bills and a greener, less polluting home. When someone is keen to install one, Gianni’s first job is to survey the home and work out what steps would be needed to make the house heat-pump ready. It’s usually a case of checking options such as insulation, fitting double-glazed windows, making sure there’s space for the hot water cylinder and working out what will be best for heat to run through – be it installing bigger radiators or underfloor heating.

Some people decide against it, he says, because they think an older or period property won’t be a good fit, but studies have shown that’s no longer the case. A survey last year found that satisfaction levels for heat pump users in Victorian or older properties were actually 83%.

“Making the necessary changes isn’t as disruptive or expensive as it has been in the past,” says Gianni. “And for the money you’ll save in the long run, it’s worth the cost.”

And for those worried about the appearance or noise implications of having a permanently humming heat pump? “You don’t hear it in the house, and outside, it’s barely noticeable,” says Gianni, whose pump is installed at the front of his house, tucked behind a wall with the bins. “Even on a cold day, when the pump has to work harder, it still hums along quietly.”

While some clients remain wedded to the familiar boiler systems they’ve grown up with, Gianni says those who’ve taken the heat pump plunge have zero regrets. “It really is a no-brainer once you look into it,” he says. Where boilers often need expensive maintenance and repairs, heat pumps can keep going for 20 years (pdf) with very few problems. “They’re super-modern, with fewer moving parts, so there’s a lot less to go wrong with them.”

For all of those reasons, Gianni is confident that he’ll be fitting more heat pumps in the coming years, particularly as UK consumers wake up to the benefits. In France, for example, heat pumps outsold boilers for the first time, and across Scandinavia, they’re the heating method of choice.

“Now, when I go to a property and see the gas coming out of a regular boiler flue, I feel the same as when I see an idling car pumping out exhaust fumes. I think, ‘Please! Just stop!’”

If you think a heat pump could be right for you and your property, visit gov.uk/energy-efficient-home to learn more

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