More than half of French homeowners are unwilling to switch to heat pumps – despite generous government incentives for their installation.
A survey, carried out by the BVA research group, found 52% of respondents would not change their existing system for a heat pump, with the proportion rising to 67% for people aged over 65.
At the same time, 66% accepted that heat pumps were likely to be the most common heating system in future, and generally approved of their benefits.
Some 65% believed they were efficient and warmed houses well, 62% rated them good for the environment, and 53% accepted they offered value for money.
Number one problem was noise
In an attempt to understand homeowners’ reluctance to change systems, Radio France recently asked for feedback from listeners already using heat pumps.
Top of the problems encountered was noise. One respondent said a neighbour complained so much since their installation that they no longer use the pump during the day.
Le Figaro has also reported that heat pump noise from neighbouring properties is to blame for several house sales in the Paris region falling through, including one buyer pulling out of a €700,000 deal the day before the contract was due to be signed.
More expensive models are quieter
An engineer from the French agency for ecological transition, Ademe, told Radio France that buyers should check noise levels before buying a heat pump, adding that more expensive models are usually quieter.
She also said it was possible to put noise screens around pumps, but doing so increased installation costs.
Screens can also reduce the efficiency of heat pumps by shading and cooling them.
Other homeowners have complained of expensive servicing and maintenance costs, with some electronic parts requiring replacement, at a cost of €550, after only a few months’ operation.
Owners must, by law, have their pumps serviced by a qualified professional every two years, but the trade body Synasav estimates that half of pumps are never serviced.
Energy bills increased
Another group of Radio France listeners complained their heat pumps were too powerful in relation to the size of their property, and had more than doubled energy bills compared to electric radiators.
Similarly, one respondent claimed that switching from an oil-fired central heating system to a heat pump had resulted in a 10-15% fall in fuel bills, rather than the 30% promised.
The Ademe engineer suggested the problem might be that heat pumps had been installed before a property’s insulation had been upgraded, necessitating a more powerful pump than would otherwise be the case.
Heat pump factories in France to get support
Among recent measures to support French heat pump manufacturers was a promise of tax credits of between 20% and 25% for investments by professionals in the sector from 2024.
The objective is to see €2billion invested in heat pump factories by 2027, which should equate to a dozen sites.
Economic development agencies have been told to offer suitable sites for the factories, which can be handed over ‘key in hand’, and to provide personal advisers for businesses to smooth any administrative problems.
The government also intends to steer heating and renovation grants for home-owners towards heat pumps, and to favour the most ‘eco-responsible’ models, possibly by promoting a European label.
Details are not yet finalised.
Reader experiences with heat pumps
Several Connexion readers have been in contact to offer feedback on their experiences of heat pumps. Although mainly positive, there were notable exceptions.
‘Quieter than our old oil boiler’
Among the happy customers is Wendy Jones, who is delighted with her new Daikin heat pump. It was installed with government help and cost her €15,000.
She and her husband live in a 100-year-old stone property in Vosges and made the decision to upgrade their oil-fuelled system so they could sell the house.
“We had a terrible energy rating of E, even though we have insulation, double-glazing and the house is comfortable to live in,” she said.
“Changing from oil heating seemed the only practical way to raise it, because we are in a conservation area.”
She said she was surprised by how large the pump was – but also how quiet it is.
“The installer told us noise used to be more of a problem than it is now,” she said.
“I keep opening the windows to see if I can hear it, but it is quieter even than the old oil boiler. My husband is an engineer and did a lot of research before choosing this model.”
Installing the system took four days. “It took some time to figure out the settings,” she said, “but the rooms are nice and warm now. It is too early to know the electricity bill but my husband has been monitoring consumption and it does not seem too bad.
“Fingers crossed, we might be able to put the house on the market in spring!”
‘An excellent choice’
Fellow reader Lynn has installed four air-to-air heat pumps and finds them “an excellent way to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. They are not noisy and warm the room in 20 minutes.
“We like that you can switch them off when you leave a room. We made an excellent choice.”
Another reader, who did not wish to be named, had a heat pump installed as their main system for underfloor heating, when their 202m² wooden, architect-designed house was built in 2010.
“We have not had any issues with it,’ he wrote.
His electricity bill for the house, which also has an electric hot water system and a small air conditioning unit for warm spells, was €1,661 in 2023.
In cold spells, they also use a woodburner.
The pump is maintained through an annual maintenance contract, the price of which has risen from €221 in 2016 to €257 in 2023.
‘System was never reliable’
Saaskia Aark-Bennett complains that their neighbour’s heat pump is “very noisy indeed, and sometimes we have to move to different rooms to avoid it”.
Another reader with a bad experience is Simon Croxson, who moved into a property more than four years ago with a heat pump already installed by the previous owners.
“The system was never reliable,” he wrote. “Within the first six months of our using it there was a problem with the water connections to the external unit.
“It was very difficult to contact the company which had installed the unit, but they eventually came and fixed it for €200.
‘We replaced heat pump with a gas boiler’
“A few months later, the external heat pump stopped working and we were advised that the best option was to replace the heat pump for €7,000.
“The internal unit also had several leaks, the electric heating element needed replacing, and the control system did not seem to function correctly.”
He added: “We would have liked the heat pump to work well since we are very ecologically minded, but paying €15,000 for a system that lasts five years, three months, is not economically or ecologically sound.
“So we had a condensing gas boiler installed for €6,000, sold the old system for scrap and spare parts, and now have a reliable system for heating and hot water.
“Because the old system often used its electric heating element, our gas plus electricity bills after changing were very similar to the bills while using the heat pump.”