How heat pumps work in vacation rentals

This alternative to traditional heating and air conditioning saves money and carbon emissions

In this article, we intend to give you an introduction to heat pumps and show how they could become an integral part of your energy strategy. They can enhance the comfort of your property whilst educating your guests in relation to their own homes.


1. Climate change is accelerating the need for air conditioning

As a property manager or host you will know only too well the impact of air conditioning on your energy bills. In November 2023, the global temperature reached +2% as compared with pre-industrial levels. This temperature will continue to fluctuate but the trajectory is definitely on the up. Consequently, it seems increasingly unlikely that we will meet the 1.5 degree target set within the Paris Agreement of 2015. What this means is that if we exceed that limit, there will be irreversible damage to our planet.

As an example, around 90% of homes in the United States used air conditioning in 2020 with two thirds of those having whole-home installations rather than free standing units. In relation to short-term rentals specifically, as global warming continues to rise, the demand for cooling will only accelerate. This is already a filter that guests regularly use and is likely to become an even higher priority in certain parts of the world.

On the other side of the coin, there is the issue of heating coupled with the volatility of energy markets. With extreme weather events in winter as well as summer, rental operators can find themselves with higher than expected bills. In some parts of Europe in 2023, it was a particularly wet and cool spring with many rentals having to keep the heating on well into April/May.

Fortunately, there is a smart way to reduce your heating and cooling costs whilst reducing harmful carbon emissions at the same time. In this article, we will explain how heat pumps work and why they could be a good solution for your vacation rentals.


2. The rise in the take-up of heat pumps

There are various factors which have accelerated the installation of heat pumps over the last few years:

  • Lockdowns and continued working from home was a result of the pandemic. Not many employers have contributed to increased heating or aircon costs incurred by employees
  • The war between Russia and Ukraine which resulted in energy prices skyrocketing and the continuing volatility of the energy market
  • Increasing regulation, incentives and consumer desire to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels
  • The decreasing cost of green energy and reduced payback times

As a result of these global issues, the installation of heat pumps for both cooling and heating has grown enormously.

Heat pump sales in Europe increased by 38% in 2022 with Italy, France and Germany at the top of table. Meanwhile, the EU’s Emission Trading System (EUETS) is due to start putting a price on carbon from heating fuels from 2027. If you manage properties in Europe, this will make heat pumps even more attractive.

In addition, several countries have announced phaseout dates for fossil fuel heating, although it is still unclear how this will be implemented. The European Commission has also mentioned a possible phaseout date for the sale of fossil fuel heating systems by 2029.  If adopted, this could create a faster transition to heat pumps in EU member states.


3. How heat pumps work

You have probably already heard of heat pumps but maybe you are unsure of exactly how they work and the sort of savings you could make.

In essence, a heat pump transfers heat from one place to another and runs off electricity rather than fossil fuels. For heating, a heat pump pulls heat out of the air, ground or water and, using a small amount of energy, moves it inside a building. The big advantage is that the same unit can also be reversed to provide cooling. As a heat pump is just moving heat rather than generating it, the running costs are a lot lower than a gas boiler for example.

A heat pump comprises a compressor and a heat exchanger, which extracts heat from the source or from the building when in cooling mode.

Here is a summary of the advantages of heat pumps:

  • One heat pump can provide either heating or cooling
  • From a comfort and efficiency perspective, they provide a more constant, evenly distributed warmth or cooling
  • Heat pumps can also be used to produce hot water
  • For approximately every 1kW of energy used, they generate 4kW of energy output, making them 3-5 times more efficient than gas boilers
  • Heat pumps are easy to maintain and should last from 10 to 25 years
  • In many regions of the world there are incentives and tax credits for installing heat pumps

In addition, there are a few pointers for maximum efficiency. They function best with an underfloor system covered with tiles or wood. Consequently, they do not work with carpets but for a rental property a hard surface is always easier to keep clean anyway. Another consideration is that heat pumps can be connected to radiators but they will not be as efficient. However, it is possible to install separate wall units which look like an air conditioning unit.


DID YOU KNOW? – Having a heat pump can get you up to 4.40% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria?  Heat pumps are a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional heating and cooling systems, as they significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a house.


4. The different types of heat pumps

There are three main types of heat pump: air, ground and water source. They work in slightly different ways and there are also varying cost implications.

Air source heat pumps

An air source heat pump works a bit like a fridge. It takes heat from the air outside your home and pumps it inside through refrigerant-filled coils, similar to what is on the back of a refrigerator.

Ground or water source heat pumps (also known as geothermal)

Ground or water source heat pumps work in a slightly different way. They absorb heat from the ground or an underground source of water and transfer it inside a building to warm it. This necessitates significant groundworks to dig deep into the soil. They can also be reversed to do the opposite for cooling.

Undoubtedly, the best place to start is to get advice and quotations from a number of local installers. They will be able to assess your existing set-up and recommend the best solution. Furthermore, they should also be able to advise you about the latest incentives.



5. How heat pumps work in different climates

Firstly, you may read that heat pumps only work in warmer climates. It is true that it is more energy efficient to move heat between temperatures which are not super extreme. The warmer the country, the more heat that can be extracted from the air and moved with less energy to heat a home. Obviously, in cold climates  it takes much more energy to move heat. However, as innovation has increased, this has become less of a problem. In fact, in Europe, the highest number of installations of heat pumps in 2022 in terms of population were Finland, Norway, Sweden and Estonia.

Finally, it is still important to have good insulation and high performance windows to achieve the maximum cooling/heating.


DID YOU KNOW? Having double or triple glazed windows can get you up to 0.91% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Good glazing reduces heat gain and loss, thereby helping to minimise the use of artificial heating and cooling in a building. Up to 40% of a home’s heating energy can be lost, and up to 87% of its heat gained through windows.


6. Combine with other smart devices and green technology

Hopefully, this article will have given you an insight into how heat pumps work and the benefits of installing them.

When combined with other green technologies, you can deliver real savings – both on energy bills and carbon emissions. When it comes to the guest experience, having a heat pump will not impact negatively on their stay. In fact, it will probably improve conditions inside the property with more comfortable temperatures all year round. Furthermore, many guests will be considering how to heat and cool their own homes more cost-effectively. If you explain that you have installed heat pumps, this will show your commitment to the environment but also allow them to experience how well they work.

Other energy-saving initiatives you could consider which work well with heat pumps are photovoltaic panels to produce the electricity to run them. As well as motion sensors to regulate temperatures inside the property when guests are out.


Installing heat pumps in your properties will save you money with relatively fast payback times and create a constant comfortable temperature for guests. It is probably one of the simplest and most cost-effective green technologies to install, particularly if you need to replace a gas boiler.



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