installing a heat pump in an apartment: a practical guide

Today, the construction of the most recent and modern apartments often involves a central ecological heating system, such as an aerothermal or geothermal heat pump or a remote heating network, which will be connected to a floor heating system for each apartment. This heating system also ensures the production of domestic hot water at the same time.

But many apartments also have individual centralized or decentralized heating. This means that each apartment has its own gas or electric boiler, which supplies water radiators, or has several electric radiators.

While in collective housing, switching to a heat pump implies the agreement of the entire condominium, as well as a substantial budget due to the size of the heating system, in housing with individual heating, it is quite possible to switch to a heat pump with the idea of consuming less energy and therefore reducing the energy bill.

In Europe, just over 40% of the population lives in an apartment, with a record in Spain, Latvia and Estonia. The challenge of switching to heat pumps in apartments therefore appears important in the light of these statistics.

Graph that shows the distribution of the population in Europe, by type of housing.👇

However, there are a number of specific features of apartments and multi-family buildings that make the process of installing a heat pump in an apartment seem rather unclear at first glance.

What types of heat pumps are suitable for apartments? But also what are the town planning rules to be taken into account, the necessary authorizations, or the precautions to be taken with regard to the neighbors? What are the space constraints of an apartment for the installation of a heat pump? So many points that we will try to clarify.

What types of heat pumps are suitable for apartments?

As you probably know, there are different types of heat pumps on the market. These include air-to-water heat pumps, air-to-air heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps.

To install in an apartment, we can consider two main solutions, which are the air-water solution and the air-air solution. Indeed, the geothermal solution can be forgotten insofar as it requires a drilling and thus an access to a garden that we do not have in apartment generally.

Air-water heat pump for apartment

Installing an air-to-water heat pump in an apartment is basically the same process as for a single-family or semi-detached house. You have to install an outdoor unit that collects the heat, and you have to install the water tanks. A buffer tank if necessary for the good functioning of the system, and a domestic hot water tank to make hot water.

This system is relevant if you currently have a hydraulic distribution system (radiators or underfloor heating). The air-water heat pump will be able to capture the calories from the outside air in front of your building and redistribute them to the radiators or underfloor heating in your apartment.

If, however, you do not have any hydraulic distribution today, it is still possible to opt for this type of heat pump by adding fan coil units. Fan coil units are similar to radiators, which connect directly to your heat pump outdoor unit. Water circulates through an exchanger and a fan helps push air through the exchanger to pulse it into the room at the right temperature. The result is a combination of convection heating (air is forced into the room with minimal draught effects) and radiant heating (hot surface of the fan coil radiates into the room). This solution will of course be more expensive, since it requires the purchase of one or more of these fan coil units.

Air to air heat pump for apartment

This second type of heat pump is ideal if you don't have any hydraulic distribution today and if you heat with electricity for example.

In fact, the air-to-air heat pump consists of an outdoor unit to be placed in front of the house, and one or more indoor units that diffuse temperature-controlled air into the rooms. These units can be placed high up, as is most often the case, or lower down at wall level in order to pulse the air into the room from below.

An advantage of these systems is that they are often reversible, which means that you will have the luxury of having air conditioning in summer!

Advantages and disadvantages of the different types of heat pumps for apartments

To summarize, here is a table that presents the advantages and disadvantages of each system:

Air-water heat pump for apartmentAir to air heat pump for apartment
Benefits- Use of outside air as an energy source
- Possibility of heating the existing central heating network
- Capacity to produce domestic hot water
- Use of outside air as an energy source
- Possibility of heating rooms without hydraulic distribution system
- Reversible operation for heating and cooling in summer
Disadvantages- Need for an existing hydraulic distribution system for a simple installation
- Potentially higher cost if fan coils are added
- Limited capacity to heat a large volume of space
- Potential noise from the fan of the indoor units
- Need multiple indoor units to heat multiple rooms
Suitable for- Apartments equipped with water radiators or underfloor heating
- Possibility of replacing an old boiler
- Apartments without hydraulic distribution system
- Apartments with individual rooms to be heated
Power sourceOutside airOutside air
Heating capacityCentral heatingIndividual room heating
Cooling capacityNot really air conditioning, because the cold temperature is limited by the dew point of the water. We speak more about cooling.True Air Conditioning with unrestricted downward temperatures, without exaggerating 🙂

Operation of a heat pump in an apartment

The heat pumps in apartments are no more or less than the heat pumps that can be found in individual houses, except that they are generally lower power models.

Operation of the air-water heat pump for apartments

The air-to-water heat pump for apartments works on the classic principle of a refrigeration circuit. This circuit captures the calories in the outside environment, via the evaporation of a refrigerant gas often of the R410A or R32 type, and redistributes these calories via a condensation at the level of a condenser on the water of the heating network. This is for the winter case. For the summer it is reversed, we capture the calories on the water of the network, and we evacuate them in the outside air.

Here is an example of an outside group

It is the one that will provide the hot water to your existing water distribution, or that you will connect to convectors.

Operation of the air-to-air heat pump for apartments

In a similar way, the air-to-air heat pump works on the principle of the usual refrigeration circuit, the calories captured from the outside air by the refrigerant are given back to the inside air via an air condenser located in the units in each room.

Here's what the units in each room look like:

left unit in the lower part, right unit in the upper part.

Where and how to install a heat pump in an apartment? Precautions ?

There are many precautions to take, especially because you are not alone in your building.

Urban planning rules to respect

Wherever you are, you will have to file a declaration of work at the town hall, describing your project well, and wait for their approval to start the work.

Details of the installation, including plans, must be provided. It will also be necessary to specify the measures taken to avoid noise nuisance to the neighborhood.

We invite you to inquire with your municipality about the applicable urban planning rules, as they differ from municipality to municipality.

In the case of protected areas, heritage zones, etc., additional approval from the heritage protection authority may be required, which may increase the time frame and also decrease the likelihood of the project being approved.

The co-ownership must be informed

Syndicate of co-ownership

Since you are not the only one living in your building, you must inform the condominium corporation of your heat pump installation project, and present them with the possible impacts in terms of aesthetics on the building's façade.

You will also have to reassure them about the noise, which is a crucial point. That's why you should choose the quietest models and check the acoustic data of the chosen model. Your neighbors are the first to be concerned, because it is never pleasant to have breakfast on your balcony with a loud fan or compressor noise. It is common to be turned down because of noise concerns. You can put forward the fact that you have a very quiet heat pump, and that you are going to install an acoustic cover for the heat pump for example to limit the noise nuisance to the maximum.

Agreement general assembly of owners

Hold a show of hands at the next homeowners' meeting, at which you will briefly present your project and let the majority decide whether or not to approve it.

Between the co-ownership and the municipality, you will have to be patient and persistent. If your project is refused in the first instance, you can always rethink it and submit a new application.

Some precautions to take to limit noise or aesthetic nuisance

Aesthetic precautions

When an outdoor unit is installed in the front of a building, it immediately causes an aesthetic disturbance. This is why you can think of installing a heat pump cover, otherwise known as an air conditioning cover. This is a design structure to be placed around your outdoor unit to hide it from view and preserve the appearance of a facade.

If you don't have any ideas, Pinterest can be a good inspiration. Look this way for example:

Sound precautions

Whether the device is located on the balcony or in front of the building, you will also have to take precautions regarding noise pollution:

Installing anti-vibration mounts: they limit or stop the repercussion of the compressor's vibrations towards the house's frame, which could be the object of tensions between neighbors or even of legal complaints.

Install an anti-noise or acoustic box: it allows to absorb a large part of the sound emissions of the compressor and/or the fan, so as not to disturb the neighborhood. It can also be used as a decoration to eliminate aesthetic discomfort.

Prefer installation in a technical room or on the roof

Of course, if you have the possibility to hide this outdoor unit on the roof so that it is invisible, or in a technical room not too far from your apartment, then this is the ideal solution. But this is rarely the case.

Heat pump installation solutions adapted to space constraints in apartments

PAC Air Air for apartments without hydraulic distribution

If you don't have a water system, your best bet is to install an air-to-air heat pump, which will have the advantage of serving as an air conditioner in summer.

The process steps are as follows:

  • Find out about the quietest air-to-air heat pumps or reversible air conditioners
  • Buy your model either through an installer (recommended) or directly. It will consist of an outdoor unit and an indoor unit per room to be heated/cooled
  • Install the outdoor unit on the facade, on the roof, or in the technical room, outside the apartment. If on the facade, you need a wall support and anti-vibration mounts. See pictures
  • Install each indoor unit in the room of your choice, preferably high up, to limit the amount of wall space taken up in the living area, and also to place the cold air source (in summer) upwards.

PAC Air Water for apartments with hydraulic distribution

Ask about silent and space-saving models. Note that the Toshiba brand offers one of the slimmest outdoor units on the market, with its Estia model.

  • Buy your model via installer or directly
  • Install the outdoor unit in front of the building
  • Install a hot water tank in a closet if necessary, or in a suitable room in the apartment. This tank will be connected to the outdoor unit.
  • Either to be grafted onto your existing hydraulic network, with radiators or floor heating, or to replace the radiators or floor heating and start with a new one.

To conclude: the advantages and disadvantages of installing a heat pump in an apartment

Advantages of the heat pump model
  • Energy savings: Reduced energy bills by using the outside air as an energy source.
  • Ecological: Environmentally friendly heating solution.
  • Comfort: Homogeneous heating and production of domestic hot water.
  • Adaptability: Possibility of installing different types of heat pumps (air-to-air or air-to-water) according to the needs and constraints of the apartment.
  • Air conditioning in summer: Some air-to-air heat pumps are reversible and can cool the apartment during the hot months.
Disadvantages of the heat pump model
  • Installation cost: High initial investment for the purchase and installation of the heat pump.
  • Agreement of the co-ownership: Need to obtain the agreement of the co-ownership for the installation of the heat pump.
  • Town planning rules and permits: Obligation to respect town planning rules and to obtain the necessary permits for the installation of the heat pump.
  • Noise: Potential noise nuisance for neighbors due to the noise generated by the operation of the heat pump.
  • Space constraints: Difficulties related to the installation of the heat pump depending on the space available and the constraints of the apartment (no garden, balcony, technical room, etc.).
  • Aesthetics: Visual impact of the installation of the outdoor unit on the building's façade.