Installing a new air conditioner or buying a house with a preinstalled unit can come with many complications. Among them are property lines, sound concerns, and where the condenser unit can or cannot be placed.
If you find yourself wondering how close an air conditioner can be to a property line, then you are in the right place. This guide will cover all the concerns, questions, and advice needed to get you the answers.
How Close Can An Air Conditioner Be To Property Line? (Distance Requirements)
The main issue with property lines, distance, and requirements is that they are different everywhere. There isn’t a standard requirement, and each municipality will have its own laws and regulations.
This can be extended to individual neighborhoods, HOAs, and even street to street. With so much confusion, it becomes a difficult topic, quickly. Let’s see if we can clear it up a bit for you.
Physical Installation Location
There are a few points of consideration when it comes to central air conditioner installation location. The first and arguably most important is the physical location of the condenser unit on your property.
The first thing to note is the minimum space requirements for the unit itself. Each brand and model will have different requirements to maintain proper airflow and cooling capabilities for their machines. You want to avoid placing the units in direct contact with any surface or obstruction on all 4 sides or the top.
In most cases, the minimum required space will be 12 to 24 inches, but some larger or more efficient models may require more. Next, you need to be concerned with the property line requirements.
Most cities and municipalities will have a property line clearance requirement for equipment. This helps maintain access points, through-ways, and other safety reasons. However, the actual requirement will range from a few inches to several feet.
For example, in Sunnyvale, California, the requirement is a minimum of 10 feet for rear yard setbacks. But, in San Mateo, California, it is only 3 feet, or 5 feet in Portland, Oregon. Some cities will restrict it based on the zone the property is in, others on the type of residence, and others will defer to the HOA the house is a part of.
It is also important to note that some regions, cities, and townships will require that the condenser unit be mounted on the ground, on a slab, and either the rear of the home or the side.
Noise And Distance Rules
Another factor to consider is the noise levels that the AC produces. Noise limitations are a standard requirement in most large cities, and even smaller towns are starting to add noise limitation standards to their bylaws.
The average decibel (dB) level for a modern air conditioner is about 70 to 74dB. This is usually measured at 5 feet from the unit when running on high. However, some brands like Carrier have sound dampening measures that reduce the noise output down to 45dB or lower.
Less expensive brands won’t have the added noise suppression additions and can reach levels over 80dB. So when it comes to installation, the decibel rating is highly important to make note of.
Like the physical distance, noise that travels over the property line must meet minimum requirements. In the case of an air conditioner, this can limit the actual installation location a great deal.
For example, if your zoning laws require a physical installation at least 3 feet from the property line, but your model is louder than 70dB, you may be required to put it an additional 4 feet back. Just like the physical installation requirements, sound and noise distance laws will also vary greatly from city to city.
Mini Split Systems And Apartments
When apartments or townhouses are concerned, you will usually find a bank of condenser units mounted near one another. This helps mitigate space and keeps everything tidy or out of sight.
However, the same laws will apply here. For multi-family housing, the property lines will be the same, but the noise requirements may be more strict. The biggest difference, though, is that the minimum clearance between units is more important.
Side, front and back clearance must maintain a specific distance (usually about 24 inches) from other condenser or electrical panels. Not only does this aid in access for maintenance and repairs, but it also keeps the units from using heated exhaust air from a neighboring unit.
Mini-split systems use a heat pump instead of a condenser unit, but the output and noise levels can be quite similar. The biggest factor here is that the unit itself doesn’t need as much clearance as an AC condenser.
Noise and property line distance requirements in your state or city will be the same. Whether you install a central air conditioner or a mini-split heat pump, you must maintain clearance distances.
How To Get Proper Property Line Air Conditioner Distance Requirements
Because each city, state, and municipality will have different requirements, it is virtually impossible to list every one. There are a few methods you can use, though, to ensure you know the exact requirements for distance and noise levels in your neighborhood.
First, check with your HOA. Many cities will defer these requirements to the HOA councils or authorities to mandate and inspect. Talking with the HOA leaders, they should be able to provide you with the information you need.
Talk to your contractor second. It is unlikely that your chosen HVAC technician is on their first-ever job assignment. They have performed many installations and are familiar with the city codes in this regard. Your contractor should know the spacing and distance laws in your area.
Finally, you can head directly to city hall. In the code enforcement or building inspection departments of your local city hall, you can get the exact distance requirements (as well as any permits) you need for the project.
Reasons Why You Do Not Want Central AC Units Too Close
As you are no doubt aware by now, proper placement of your AC condenser is quite important. But, exactly why is it important? Let’s look at some of the most popular reasons you do not want your central AC close to your home or property line.
The biggest reason is proper airflow. Without clearance from vegetation and structures, the air cannot enter and exit the condenser properly. This results in overheated components and inefficient cooling in the home.
- Noise and Vibration.
Having the unit too close to a wall can cause reverberation when it kicks on, making dull or throbbing vibration noises inside the home. The noise the unit produces while starting and running can also be loud enough to wake you at night.
- Cleaning and Maintenance.
Annual maintenance is required for all AC condensers, and if the unit is mounted too close to a wall, vegetation, or fence, it can prevent proper care. This not only raises your energy bills but can cause a shorter lifespan for these expensive machines.
- Laws and Regulations.
Finally, staying within building codes, local rules and laws, and zoning requirements is vital. Proper placement will keep you from being fined or having to pay thousands to relocate your equipment.
How Close Can An AC Safely Be To Your House?
We understand that some home and property layouts may require outside-the-box thinking to meet all the requirements for placement. But how close is too close? What is safe for you and your home, as well as that of the HVAC equipment?
All of the city and HOA rules and regulations are helpful but may not always be practical. Depending on your installation location, you may need to get awfully close to some of those limits.
However, if you are too close to the house, as discussed above, you may run into maintenance and performance issues. When it comes to safety and distance from structures, fences, and vegetation around the property, there is only one guide you must follow. That is the one written by the manufacturer.
In the installation and owner’s manuals of every HVAC model will be clearance requirements. These must be adhered to for multiple reasons, but the machine’s performance is the largest one.
Most will have clearance guideline minimums, typically between 12 and 36 inches. You can install further away, of course, but any closer can cause overheating, improper function, and even void the warranty.
Make sure your installer has the correct measurements as outlined by the manufacturer. As long as the property line requirements and noise distance suggestions are also met, you won’t have any problems.
What To Do If My Neighbors Window AC Overhangs My Property Line?
If your property line is breached by an overhanging window AC unit, you enter a different area of concern. Mainly, airspace.
While you may own your home and the land, there is a limit on how much of the airspace over your land you actually own and have control of. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.
The first step is to be a good neighbor and bring the matter to the attention of your neighbor. Ask them to move the AC to another window or otherwise remedy the problem and explain your reasons or concerns.
If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you may have some legal ground, but it is always best to get the city involved. Because of the HOA and city rules regarding property lines and clearance along them, the neighbor may be forced to fix the problem this way.
Finally, you can take legal action in most states, but this is a drastic and last resort type of effort.
Frequently Asked AC Distance On Property Line Questions
How far should an air conditioner be from a fence?
Fences are typically placed along or just inside the property line. They require the same distance measures as the actual property line when installing your HVAC equipment. You also have the added concern of a physical blockade instead of an invisible property marker. This will require the clearance measurements listed in your owner’s manual as well as the city or HOA property line requirements as outlined in the guide above.
What if an AC is too close, but it’s covered up and can’t be seen?
While you may prevent a fine or levy from the HOA or city with a covered or hidden air conditioner that is too close to the property line, you have other issues to deal with. Covering a condenser can block airflow and prevent proper cooling, which will drastically shorten the life of your AC and can even void the warranty.
How can I reduce the noise from my Neighbor’s air conditioner?
If the neighbor’s AC is too loud, but otherwise, in accordance with all installation rules, distance laws, and requirements, you will need to block the sound yourself. Many plants and shrubs have sound-absorbing properties. So does water. Installing a pond on that side of the home, for example, can help reduce noise levels. A fence will also work.
Installing HVAC equipment is expensive and difficult enough. One of the main placement factors for clearance is also set by your HOA, city, or state. Property lines should not be crossed or approached by any permanent structure, such as an air conditioner condenser unit or heat pump.
However, distance regulations vary drastically from state to state and even city to city (or between neighborhoods). Therefore, you will need to check with code enforcement to ensure you are within regulations before the installation takes place.