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Educating the UK About Heat Pumps


The BBC and other news outlets are constantly reporting about the fact that too few people know about heat pumps.

How do we help internet users learn more about technology and avoid misinformation?

Education through content is key. This is where marketing can be a real force for good..

This article uses data from Google searches. I have also spoken to ACL Group, a Northamptonshire-based heating business.

I will explain how JL Creative and Jello PR work across the HVAC industry helping our clients educate their audiences on the truth behind the tech. 
 

Heat Pump

The boiler upgrade scheme 

It is worth understanding a bit more about the landscape of low-carbon heating in the UK.

The government launched the boiler upgrade scheme in 2021. Heat pumps were earmarked as the technology of choice, following the example set by European countries like Sweden and Finland.

The choice of technology quickly divided opinion.

Negative PR campaigns created misleading headlines, widely shared by news organisations.
 

Jessica Lowe, director of Jello PR, is a specialist in PR for the HVAC industry

“There has been a sustained effort by gas company lobbyists to share negative information about heat pumps and promote hydrogen for home heating, something that at the moment is not feasible for UK housing stock. All domestic hydrogen trials have been scrapped and no more are planned, yet hydrogen is dangled as a carrot to turn the consumers’ attentions away from heat pumps and create unease amongst the installer base, some of whom remember the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) heyday when biomass peaked, crashed and burned. On paper, hydrogen seems like a much easier solution, so are heat pumps really going to take-off?

“Heat pumps have also been politicised, presented as a ‘lefty’ heating choice by the right wing media, which frame them as part of the erosion of ‘Great’ Britain - our homes are draughty and inefficient, but that’s how we like them! Years of mistrust in the government and flip flopping of environmental policy has created the perfect storm.”


 

Many of the myths have been dispelled but the technology is still having to shake off some of the bad reputation.

The public perception is that they are prohibitively expensive even with a grant, that they won’t work in cold temperatures, or that their homes are not suitable.

There are stories about them being too noisy, a term that the UK seems more obsessed with than other countries:

A breakdown of the global volume in "noisy heatpummps"

There are also a number of other negative searches that have gained traction over the last couple of years:

Keyword overview: air course heat pump problems in cold weather
Keyword overview: heat pump problems

This obsession with negative press is perhaps one of the reasons why the UK is lagging behind its target of installing 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028. Only 55,000 heat pumps were sold in 2022.
 

How to promote heat pump training

Working alongside experts from the world of training and manufacturing, we have seen interest surge in the last 3 years.

As of January 2023, it was revealed the UK needs around 150,000 skilled workers to meet the 600,000-a-year target.

HHIC revealed the urgent need for installers to upskill in their Skills, Training and the future of heat reports.

Between 2022 and 2023 the number of heat pump installers jumped up by 166% from 3000 to 8000. This is still not enough.
 

What do installers think?

Supporters of low-carbon heating all agree that education rather than a focus on short-term financial gains or cost is key.

I have heard reports of big energy companies rushing to install heat pumps with inadequate training.

This is a ticking time bomb for the industry and could create a media storm more ferocious than anything we’ve seen so far.


I asked Stacey and Craig Longshaw from ACL Group, for their thoughts on how heat pumps are perceived.

When searching for news or information about heat pumps on the internet do you think the tone is broadly positive or negative and why do you think that is?  

“Broadly speaking, I would have to say the tone airs more on the side of negative, particularly on social media. When you search online for heat pumps, it doesn’t take long to find articles on the disadvantages of installing a pump. Comments on social media tend to relate predominantly to the cost and how people feel a heat pump will not save you money.

“For me, people need to understand more about how the technology works and more importantly how using an installer who works with the customer, to design a system that will work for them is key.  

“The cost of install will always be an important factor, but it is not the only factor in choosing to move to a heat pump.

“The carbon footprint element is also key to people’s decision making process and right now, the cost and potential financial savings seems to be the focal point of all heat pump promotion online.”

Do you use the internet, Facebook groups or other community sites to talk about the problems facing heat pump installation and how important do you think these communities are particularly to heat pump installers?

“I am part of a lot of online communities. I use them more for observation and understanding as it is always good to see a range of views from other installers. I don’t often comment or engage on these forums as they can be negative.  

“I would love to be a part of more online communities who seek to support and engage with each other from a positive perspective.”  

How have you found the rest of the installer community has taken to heat pumps and emerging technologies?

“Much of the gas community is still resisting the pivot to heat pumps and emerging technologies. There are many reasons for this, education, the cost of becoming an MCS accredited installer and resistance to the need for change. More support is needed for gas based businesses to make the move into installing heat pumps. “

What do you think are the biggest barriers for the general public when it comes to getting heat pumps installed?

“Cost is of course a factor, as the general public will never understand the time and resources taken up by designing and calculating a suitable system.  

“So when comparing the cost of a straight boiler swap versus the cost and upheaval of changing their heat system to a heat pump, most will take the path of least resistance.  

“Not only this, a new boiler more often than not is a distress purchase.  No one looks forward to buying a new boiler, usually a boiler is purchased when an old boiler is failing. The turnaround time from design to installation of a heat pump is much lengthier than that of a gas boiler.  

“This means the decision needs to be made well in advance of you “needing” to change your heating system as it has failed.  This leads back to the point of education and the public understanding more about the process and why they should be considering the change for the future.” 
 

The installer buy-in

Installers are a key audience for our clients.  We have met some who buy into the technology and some who don’t.

A recent OGL document did a good job of explaining some of the barriers and motivations facing installers. 

The 5 archetype segments

The biggest recent shift has been with the demand-influenced trades people. As demand increases and more funding made available to train heating engineers, more make the jump.

The blockers remain:

  • Cost of training

  • Cost of MCS 

  • Time & Resources to install

This supports ACL Group’s anecdotal evidence that the gas industry is resisting the shift, especially those that pay for their own training.

Funding has encouraged more of this group to pivot to heat pumps with low-cost training now 
more readily available.

Apps like heatly aim to help cut the time and effort required to make complicated calculations with state of the art room scanning technology.

MCS will remain a sticking point for some.

How should brands talk about the tech

Our strategy for clients has always been to prioritise helpful content.

We target the questions installers are asking first and use industry experts like Griff Thomas (GTEC & heatly), Mark Krull (LCL Awards & Logic4training), Paul Spence (heatly), to offer thought leadership.

The online communities of Meta (Facebook), Linkedin, X and beyond are clearly very important to installers, whether negative or not. We encourage the industry to come together on these platforms.

Case studies and testimonials from quality installers should also be encouraged. Social proof is important to consumers. Thinking beyond reviews and being able to show high quality photos, even videos alongside written content will help to convince homeowners, architects and other decision makers.

Marketing beyond cost - Focus on education. With the cost of living crisis, falling homeownership and the recession, it is no doubt a difficult time for all of us.

This isn’t going to change quickly but we have to look at the negative perception and address it head on with original articles that are of a higher quality than the loud, negative voices. We need to shift the focus on the future benefits.

With a boiler replacement being a purchase no one really wants to make, we need to ensure more people know that a heat pump is a viable option for them.    

In the rush for Net-Zero perhaps nobody expected the choice of technology to become a culture war topic.

Now, all of us connected to the HVAC industry must play our part in educating the country and preventing the negativity from growing.  
 

Headshot of Jonny, the company director.

Written by Jonny Lawrence. Jonny has over a decade of experience marketing HVAC companies online. 

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