Heat Pumps: 8 Tips to Avoid Noise Issues with Neighbours

Heat Pumps: 8 Tips to Avoid Noise Issues with Neighbours

Air source heat pumps are growing in popularity. While these systems can help you save on your heating bill, they can also create noise issues with neighbours. This post shares some tips to make sure your air source heat pump doesn’t become a noise problem. Consider these steps before you install your system and you’ll enjoy a comfortable home and a peaceful neighbourhood.

What Is an Air Source Heat Pump?

Supplying warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer, an air source heat pump is an energy-efficient alternative to natural gas furnaces, air conditioning units, and other fossil-fuel and electric-powered home climate control options. If installed properly, a heat pump system can save you money and shrink your carbon footprint.

To hit climate goals, increase air quality, and reduce heating and cooling costs, all three levels of government in Canada have been offering rebates to homeowners to switch to electric air source heat pumps. These incentives, along with energy and cost savings, have made air source heat pumps a popular choice for single-family homes, townhomes, mid-rise residential developments, and more.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

An air source heat pump system moves heat from one space to another. When the weather is cold, the system extracts heat from the outside air – even when it’s cold – and moves it inside. When the weather is warm, the opposite occurs. The system pulls heat from your home and blows it outside while delivering cool air inside.

Most air source heat pump systems include an indoor unit and outdoor unit. The outdoor unit, in particular, has two noisy components: a compressor and a fan.

The noise emitted by the outdoor unit is often overlooked by homeowners and contractors. Depending on the make and model of the system and where it’s installed, a loud outdoor unit might disturb your neighbours and leave you in a tricky situation.

At BKL, we regularly work with developers during the design and permitting stages to help them avoid potential noise issues from building mechanical systems, including heat pumps. We can assess how noise from these systems will affect neighbouring properties and determine whether or not noise levels comply with municipal regulations.

How Is Heat Pump Noise Regulated?

Mechanical equipment noise, in general, is regulated by municipal bylaws. While some noise bylaws provide clear, objective daytime and nighttime noise limits, many municipal noise bylaws include subjective nuisance clauses that make it difficult to prove compliance or noncompliance. In either case, heat pump noise is regulated in most urban areas and any related complaints may involve the municipality.

Some municipalities have published guidelines to help residents navigate the applicable regulations and best practices for installing heat pump systems.

For example, here is a list of some of the guidelines in the Lower Mainland:

City of Burnaby

City of Coquitlam

City of Richmond

City of Vancouver

Township of Langley

Tips to Avoid Heat Pump Noise Issues

While every installation is different and reasons for noise complaints can depend on many factors, here are a few tips to avoid potential noise issues.

1: Select Quieter Equipment

Work with a contractor to select a quiet unit with the capacity to heat and cool your home. Some guidelines suggest including terms in the contract to require full compliance with municipal requirements.

2: Install the Outdoor Unit at a Suitable Location

Make sure the outdoor unit isn’t facing a noise-sensitive space, such as your neighbour’s bedroom. The unit placement should also comply with other municipal requirements, such as zoning bylaws. Plan ahead and choose your location wisely; relocating an outdoor unit after installation may be expensive and frustrating.

3: Break the Line of Sight

One effective way of minimizing noise is to avoid having a line of sight between a noise source and your neighbour. With this in mind, if you can’t avoid installing the outdoor unit near a noise-sensitive space, consider adding a barrier or enclosure. The barrier should be tall and wide enough to block the line of sight to the unit, and to the sound bouncing off the home. Furthermore, the material should be heavy enough to obstruct the sound waves and should not have gaps or holes on the side facing the noise-sensitive space.

Heat pumps require sufficient ventilation to work, so the barrier or enclosure should be designed carefully to allow for proper ventilation while also providing an acoustical benefit.

4: Vibration Isolation

Vibration generated by the compressor and fans can rattle the outdoor unit and create extra noise. Isolating the unit from its mounting surface, however, can provide some acoustical benefits.

Depending on the size and type of the outdoor unit, a contractor can use vibration isolators to mount the unit to the base or isolator pads below the unit. Either way, a properly installed outdoor unit generates less noise and vibration. This benefits your neighbours and you, as it reduces the potential for low-frequency vibration ingress in your living space.

5: Sound Blankets

As mentioned above, an outdoor unit has two noisy components, the compressor and the fan. While a sound blanket is a good way to control noise from the compressor, if more noise is coming from the fans, the results may be limited. Sound blankets are typically made of rubber, mass-loaded vinyl, and glass fibre. They are designed to wrap around the compressor to reduce noise. Contact the manufacturer of your heat pump to confirm if a sound blanket can be used for your unit.

6: Improve Thermal Insulation of the Building

Upgrading the thermal insulation of your home helps reduce your energy bills and the noise coming from the outdoor unit of your heat pump system. When a space has good thermal insulation, the heat pump system can operate at lower speeds. This means there’s less noise from the outdoor unit and inside your home.

7: Maintain the System

A poorly maintained heat pump unit can generate more noise than it’s supposed to. Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines and ask your contractor about maintenance tips and best practices for your system.

8: Plan Ahead

A heat pump can save you money and make your home more comfortable. These systems are energy efficient and ideal for our climate as they can deliver warm or cool air as needed. But if the heat pump system is poorly maintained or installed at a less-than-ideal location, it might create regrettable noise issues with your neighbours.

If you’re buying a new home, check with the developer to confirm they conducted a noise bylaw assessment during the permitting phase. If you want to install a heat pump to replace an existing furnace or air conditioning system, consult your municipal guidelines and hire a professional HVAC contractor who has experience on how to avoid creating a noise nuisance.

Either way, plan ahead and you’ll avoid the risks of exceeding noise limits and annoying your neighbours.

Written by Serkan Ulgen

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