These heat pumps are saving the planet… but who will save our EARS?

  • Homeowners say the noisy ‘droning’ contraptions are surprisingly loud 

Homeowners who have installed costly heat pumps at the behest of the government or who have found themselves living in the vicinity of them due to their neighbours have complained that the noisy contraptions are making their lives hell. 

It comes after a report warned the pumps too loud to be installed in millions of homes under the government’s own noise guidelines. 

Heat pumps can produce a low constant hum of between 40 to 60 decibels (similar to the noise made by the average fridge or dishwasher) and typically run for long periods of the winter. 

The effect of this noise pollution has led residents to complain of restless nights and permanently droning urban environments which some have compared to the sound of a ‘jet engine taking off.’ 

This week, a new report found that most air source heat pumps are too loud for properties in built up areas as the constant hum of the outdoor units would violate noise limits set for those who wish to install one without planning permission and with a government grant.

Homeowners who have installed costly heat pumps have complained that the noisy contraptions are making their lives hell

Heat pumps can produce a low constant hum of between 40 to 60 decibels - a similar amount of noise to the average dishwasher

A report presented to Net Zero ministers has said heat pumps are too loud to be installed in millions of homes

In order to qualify for the government grant, any installations of heat pumps must meet noise regulations set out by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) which state they should not generate a noise louder than 42 decibels within one metre of a neighbour’s door or window.

But the new report, which was compiled by experts from the consultancies Apex Acoustics, Sustainable Acoustics and ANV Measurement Systems, found that none of the top heat pumps from the five main manufacturers would meet MCS standard unless they were four metres away. 

It stated: ‘Without the MCS there is no BUS grant and, therefore, a likely significant reduction in uptake of [heat pumps] across England and Wales.’ 

Despite these concerns, as part of their commitment to Net Zero, the government has announced it wants to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. 

In order to help meet this target, last month they announced new grants of up to £7,500 for homeowners swapping their gas or oil-powered boilers for heat pumps. 

And for those people living next to the ‘noisy’ contraptions, the change to their daily lives has been seismic. 

In Reepham, Norfolk, local campaigner Mark Bridges has been waging a one-man war against a local high school after they installed two enormous heat pumps in their science block. 

Reepham High School’s installation of the two outdoor pumps has been controversial for residents – with Mark alleging that he and his neighbours can hear them droning ‘from 50 meters away.’

Speaking to MailOnline, he said: ‘They don’t actually produce enough heat to match the heating level previously enjoyed in that building and they’re very, very noisy.

‘It’s a fan noise like the one you get on an extractor fan in in the kitchen but much more disruptive.

‘They’ve put some noise mitigation measures in place but I’m an engineer with experience in noise mitigation and I can see its their cheapest option that won’t satisfy regulations to be compliant for the planning permission to be upheld.

‘It sounds horrendous. A frost cycle compressor comes on any anytime in cold weather, this and the fan noise wakes us neighbours.

‘You would not sanction the this outside your own home, so why do we neighbours have to put up with this?. It’s just unacceptable at every level.’

Reepham High School's installation of the two outdoor pumps has been controversial for residents

Some claim they can hear the 'noisy' pumps from as far as 50 meters away

A spokesman for Reepham High School told MailOnline that the new heat pumps would help the school save 8.34 tonnes of carbon per year and that ‘further acoustic testing’ would be taking place. 

Broadland Council has said that the retrospective planning application for the heat pump at the school were approved with noise mitigating conditions and that a noise assessment as part of that condition was forthcoming. 

The new report analysed factsheets from various heat pump manufacturers who covered around 70 per cent of the market to see how noisy they could be and how far they would have to be placed from neighbouring properties to comply with guidelines. 

Amazingly, it found that some models designed to provide a higher heat output for bigger homes could have to be placed as far as 10 metres away. 

In the report, Peter Rogers, of Sustainable Acoustics, said that homeowners living in terraces, flats and tenement buildings may struggle to install a heat pump under MCS guidelines. 

These properties equate to 47 per cent of Britain’s housing supply. 

He also warned that some installations in semi-detached homes, which equate for 31 per cent of homes, could also breach guidelines.

Typically, an individual heat pump placed outside a home gives off a sustained hum of between 40 and 60 decibels (stock image)

The Telegraph reports that due to to this the report surmises that Welsh local authorities are bracing themselves for a ‘sharp increase’ in noise complaints in urban areas due to the pumps. 

Should a homeowner wish to meet the noise regulations and still receive grant funding the report suggests they may need to build a sound barrier which can cost as much as £5000. 

Alternatively, they could choose a split system where half of the heat pump is installed within the house – however this is more expensive.  

And whereas Mark has taken the fight to his local council and the school, there are many other homeowners who have been forced to just endure the noise from the pumps for fear of upsetting their neighbours. 

Speaking to MailOnline on condition of anonymity, Tony from East Sussex relayed that since his neighbours installed a heat pump next door his house has been infested by a droning hum. 

He explained: ‘You can hear it all day when it when it’s very cold. They didn’t tell us they were going to install it, it just turned on one day. 

‘I wasn’t happy about it at all and I told her that, she seemed embarrassed and said she might try and put a shield round it.

‘I don’t know what sort of shield, but I mean, it’s right on the path and they can cost as much as £5000. 

‘Whatever they put around it is going to be be in the way so I can’t see that happening.

‘Sometimes just as I’m getting to sleep the compressor kicks in. It’s extremely annoying.’

Richard King installed his heat pump a few years ago and hasn't looked back

However, he freely admits the noise can be quite startling at times

Richard claims the pump is incredibly energy efficient for his Dorset home

And even those who have installed heat pumps themselves aren’t blind to the noise they can make. 

Richard King installed his pump a few years ago and through a process of trial and error claims he’s found one that’s incredibly energy efficient for his Dorset home. 

However, he freely admits the noise can be quite startling at times. 

He said: ‘When you turn it on and it runs up to full power, it can be very noisy. I described it as an airplane moving up to to take off at the end of the runway.

‘It’s pretty loud, but I will say that it doesn’t last for very long. 

‘When it goes back to normal running, I would say it’s probably a bit louder than the average fridge. 

‘My partner doesn’t like the noise because sometimes at night, when it’s heating the water she says it disturbs her, and it is quite loud, but not for very long.’ 

Speaking to MailOnline, Mike Foster of the Energy Utilities Alliance urged the government to commit to further trials on the cumulative effects of heat pump noise pollution. 

He said: ‘There are concerns quite rightly about the noise emitted from the outdoor units of heat pumps and as more of these appliances are rolled out obviously the likelihood of them impacting upon neighbours grows.

‘The government are consulting about whether they should reduce the restrictions and regulations around the noise and for me that’s a backward step.

‘One of the key issues we should be looking at is the noise from a concentration of heat pumps in a neighbourhood. So if you had five or six houses in a terraced block with heat pumps for instance, all running at the same time, we don’t know how loud that noise would be.

‘This is why we should at the very least have a trial. If there was a village scale trial of heat pumps, so that every house in the neighbourhood was told it had to have a heat pump we could see what happened.

‘If products are getting quieter, that is a good thing.

‘But the only way in which products continue to get quieter is if you tighten up the regulations. not relax them completely. If you relax the rules completely. then there’s no need to make these products quieter.

‘The government seem to be taking the opposite view. They seem to wish and hope that the products become quieter without necessarily providing the regulations to make them do so.’

Charlotte Lee, Chief Executive of the Heat Pump Association said: ‘To date, we are aware of only a very limited number of concerns about noise emissions from air source heat pumps.

‘There are many viable alternative heat pump solutions being deployed now for higher density buildings, apartment blocks and tenement buildings. 

‘These do not require individual external devices.

‘Industry continues to invest in product development and the number of ultra-quiet heat pumps will inevitably increase once the unit size increases from England’s Permitted Development Rights current limit of 0.6m3. 

‘With only a small increase in physical volume, the noise level could significantly decrease yet further.

‘It is noted that the report makes it clear that heat pump technology is key to the decarbonisation of UK homes and business premises. Our industry will continue to support the installation of the most appropriate heat pump solution in all situations.’

The Government says 'heat pumps can be installed in the overwhelming majority of homes without the need for planning permission'

Peter Rogers of Sustainable Acoustics said: ‘ This claim by the Telegraph is in inaccurate, and misleading for the public given the urgency with which decarbonisation needs to occur and with urgency. 

‘The work is aiming to do this with regard for the evidence. 

‘It is right to say that noise emissions are an important factor when selecting the right Air Source Heat Pump for the right location and the public can find guidance on this from the Institute of Acoustics website, to help the public make a choice that will neither disturb them or their neighbours.’

Jack Harvie-Clark from Apex acoustics said: ‘While noise is a valid concern with heat pumps that needs to be addressed, technology improvements and proper installation can mitigate noise issues in most homes.

‘The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) rules are designed to prevent disturbance. With proper siting and installation, most properties could comply with the rules, if they could identify the appropriate heat pump.

‘Our paper presented in October 2023 at the Institute of Acoustics conference demonstrates how many heat pumps are too noisy for some properties. We don’t believe that this is significantly constraining the roll-out yet, as there are so many properties for which noise is not a constraint at all.

‘UK data shows noise complaints about heat pumps are very low. The survey reported in our IOA paper suggests about 100 complaints for 300,000 installations. Proper installation is key to preventing noise issues. 

‘The MCS standards provide reasonable noise limits that aim to prevent nuisance noise, rather than obstruct heat pump installations.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘These claims fail to recognise that heat pumps have got significantly quieter over the past decade, with ultra-low noise emission models now available.

‘Heat pumps can be installed in the overwhelming majority of homes without the need for planning permission or additional acoustic insulation.

‘We remain committed to our ambition of 600,000 heat pumps a year installed by 2028, backed by a 50 per cent increase in the Boiler Upgrade Grant – the most generous of its kind in Europe.’

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