Investigating the market for cost estimator tools

For many people, an important issue when considering a heat pump for their home is its overall cost. However, our analysis of householders’ experience of getting a heat pump identified how difficult it is for people to find a relevant prediction on how much they’ll have to pay in their specific circumstances. To help, we’re working on a tool to enable householders estimate the cost of a heat pump in their home.

To make sure that any tool we create is effective, we need to know what is currently available, to see what cost estimators actually look like and how they analyse data, as well as identifying their shortcomings. This project update sets out some of the findings of this analysis.

Tools with auto-generated cost estimations

There are currently several online cost estimators available. They are offered by independent energy advice services, heating installation companies, energy suppliers that have a heat pump offer, manufacturers and decentralised installer neworks. But only a few of them automatically generate a cost – that is a price that is instantly displayed online or emailed to householders.

Some of the instant-estimate tools are relatively simple, often only using two or three attributes to estimate the cost shown to the user. These attributes might be number of bedrooms, property age and/or estimated annual energy consumption (for example, SouthWest heat pumps or the heat pump quoter). A handful of auto-generated cost estimators are more detailed, such as those from Reina Group, E.ON Energy (Daikin), and Kensa (GSHPs). These tools provide cost estimations based on a slightly wider range of attributes, such as property type or insulation type. Cost estimation is also provided within tools that focus on broader outputs such as whole home retrofit guidance. The Energy Saving Trust’s Scotland Home Renewables Selector is an example of this.

The sector is developing fast. An update to the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s simple energy advice service for householders and landlords in England and Wales in the coming months will include an online tool to specifically estimate the cost of installing a heat pump. It’s also worth noting that a few registration-of-interest tools and enquiry forms for onsite assessments for heat pump quotes, such as that from British Gas, collect sufficient data that they could potentially provide an initial cost estimate as well.

It’s worth noting that some cost estimation tools appear to serve a dual purpose: collecting leads and filtering out unsuitable households as well as providing an initial cost estimate. This has the double benefit of being useful to business as well as householders. The filters usually concern customer installation likeliness, grant applicability, work required and either profit margin or project complexity. However, in cases where this is badly designed it generates poor user experience for householders. They may end up entering a lot of details but are not delivered an output that is useful to them.

Tools and services with more limited scope

Householders are also able to access cost estimations that are based on both automated and non-automated processing. These are less detailed than a quote for works, but are based on personalised information.

A few companies offer more formalised (but still remote) assessments and consumer-facing design services for an initial estimate of overall costs (Ecobubl Enquiry, C.B Heat Pumps). Some independent advice organisations offer something similar, calling them remote desktop surveys, but the cost estimate can only be accessed by consumers who are prepared to pay for it (Heating Hub’s Hero Support: Green Heating Plan, RetrofitWorks using Parity Projects). Less formally, heating engineers and installers, or small companies, are sometimes able to provide estimates following a short phone or video conversation.

The majority of suppliers, however, only provide either a cost for the minimum equipment needed (heat pump unit, sometimes storage tanks) using pricing based on their own stock (Midsummer Wholesale: Heat Punk, Freedom HP, potentially Wolseley and Dimplex) or equipment specification without directly estimating overall cost (most manufacturers – Daikin, Viessmann, Mitsubishi: EcoDan).

Is there an opportunity for early cost estimates to help less engaged householders?

As our review shows, there are a variety of ways that householders can find out how much a heat pump might cost. Our review also indicates a gap which the tool we’re developing should fill. In particular, our tool would differ from those currently available because it will:

  • be easily accessible, based on a small amount of information easily obtained by householders and without obliging them to provide personal details or pay a fee
  • cover the full cost of heating system renewal including labour costs (though, to the extent we can verify, home retrofit costs such as insulation measures would be excluded)
  • provide consumer confidence by showing figures based on experience from real, currently operating heat pump installations in homes similar to their own
  • be independent and not be biased towards single manufacturers, merchants or installers.

By acknowledging the successes and shortcomings of tools currently available, our tool can be created to offer information that householders need by generating good-enough cost estimations without obliging users to enter substantial amounts of data or to risk feeling bound to a particular installer or manufacturer.

Author

Kevin Wiley

Kevin Wiley

Kevin Wiley

Analyst, sustainable future mission

Kevin is an analyst for the sustainable future mission team

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