A heat pump all alone in the wide corridor. There are distance rules for the installation, which are not always easy to implement (symbolic image). © picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Reinhardt
When installing heat pumps, different regulations apply depending on the federal state. If you don't pay attention to them, you could get into trouble with your neighbors.
Munich - Heat pumps are a key technology in the energy transition. However, residents should not simply install the outdoor unit of the heating system in their garden, but observe distance rules to the neighboring property and noise protection rules to avoid trouble with the neighbors. Before the successful installation of the heat pump, however, the German legislator asked the question: Building-like or not?
Heat pump distancing rules are different in each federal state
During the Corona pandemic, it was impressively demonstrated what it means in practice when each federal state can set its own rules thanks to the principle of federalism. The situation is similar with heat pumps, where different distance rules apply at federal level. The fact that each federal state has its own regulation is causing criticism. Erik Uwe Amaya of the tenants' association Haus & Grund Rheinland Westfalen, for example, calls for clear guidelines and a nationwide regulation, as he told ZDF.
In Germany, we have the situation that we do not have one building code, but 16 state building codes.
Erik Uwe Amaya from the tenants' association Haus & Grund Rheinland Westfalen to ZDF
With a distance of three meters from the neighbor, residents should be on the safe side in most cases, as an overview shows:
|State||Distance of the outdoor unit to the neighboring property*|
|Baden-Württemberg||No minimum distance|
|Bavaria||Legal situation unclear, appeal to the Federal Court of Justice|
|Berlin||Minimum distance 3.0 meters|
|Brandenburg||no minimum distance (if not higher than 2.0 meters)|
|Bremen||No minimum distance|
|Hamburg||Minimum distance 2.50 meters (if similar to the building)|
|Hesse||No minimum distance (if not higher than 3.0 meters)|
|Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania||Minimum distance 3.00 meters (if similar to the building)|
|Lower Saxony||Legal situation unclear|
|North Rhine-Westphalia||Minimum distance 0.5 meters|
|Rhineland-Palatinate||No minimum distance|
|Saarland||No minimum distance (if not higher than 2.0 meters)|
|Saxony||Legal situation unclear|
|Saxony-Anhalt||Legal situation unclear|
|Schleswig-Holstein||Minimum distance 3.0 meters (if similar to the building)|
|Thuringia||Minimum distance 3.0 meters (if similar to the building)|
*Based on information from Spiegel magazine
Are heat pumps building-like or not?
Even though heat pumps are quite compact, they can fall into the "building-like" category in some places. In Hamburg, the distance between building-like structures and neighbours must be 2.50 metres, while in Berlin or Schleswig-Holstein it must be three metres. Elsewhere, however, there are still no regulations. In such cases, courts set the rules on a case-by-case basis. In Bavaria, the Higher Regional Court classified heat pumps as not building-like, and an appeal to the Federal Court of Justice is underway. A clear regulation is therefore not yet available for the federal state.
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The ruling is also groundbreaking for other federal states without regulation, including Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. Bremen, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, however, have already said goodbye to the minimum distance for heat pumps, while in North Rhine-Westphalia the distance rule has been only half a metre since the beginning of the year. This makes installation easier and more flexible for consumers, but could cause trouble with neighbors if noise regulations are not observed.
The most important tips for installing a heat pump
In order to avoid problems with the neighbor, residents should follow all guidelines when installing the heat pump. In principle, installers should be familiar with the usual distance rules and noise regulations, but the responsibility lies with the customer. To circumvent this, builders can have installers confirm in writing that the heat pump complies with all regulations. If there are complaints from the neighbor, the installers are responsible and have to make improvements. In addition, experts recommend that you obtain written information of all relevant regulations from the local building authority before installing a system and also send it to the installer. It is also recommended to hire companies that are as experienced as possible and to ask for references.
Neighbourhood disputes inevitable? This is how much noise heat pumps are allowed to make
The outdoor unit of a heat pump must not be louder than the current noise protection regulations provide. In purely residential areas, 50 decibels are allowed, but only 22 decibels at night between 6 p.m. and 35 a.m. So that's the maximum amount of noise that can reach the neighbor.
The noise level in front of the window of the nearest room worthy of protection is relevant. This can be the living room or bedroom, but not the storage room. Experts can accurately measure the volume of the heat pump with the help of special microphones, and the actual values sometimes deviate considerably from the manufacturer's specifications, an expert warns Der Spiegel.
Permitted noise pollution from heat pumps
|Purely residential areas||50 decibels, 35 decibels at night|
|General residential areas and small settlement areas||55 decibels, 40 decibels at night|
|Core areas, village areas and mixed areas||60 decibels, 45 decibels at night|
|Business parks||60 decibels, 50 decibels at night|
|Industrial||70 decibels, 70 decibels at night|
Of course, if you set up the heat pump, you don't want to be bothered by the noise yourself. Therefore, there is no particularly good location in front of your own bedroom window, as common sense says. Some manufacturers offer a so-called night reduction, which can reduce the sound by up to five decibels. Sound insulation hoods for the outdoor units can also be a good way to reduce noise. Even supposedly small structural differences, such as feet or bases, also help to minimize vibrations, which in turn also reduces noise.
How urgent the installation of a heat pump will be in the future depends on the adoption of the Habeck Heating Act, which, according to an expert opinion, is unconstitutional. The traffic light coalition is optimistic that it will be able to pass the controversial law before the summer break. In any case, the heat pump is good for the environment. According to the Federal Environment Agency, conventional heating is by far the largest emitter of CO₂ in the household.