The Sad Joke of Higher Furnace Efficiency Standards
Do you know when the US last raised furnace efficiency standards? It was 1987. Do you know how long the US Department of Energy (DOE) has been trying to change that? At least since 2007. The past eight years have been a sad case of industry heavyweights preventing progress on this important issue. The DOE has just proposed a new rule, so we might finally see some action here. Do you know when it's set to go into effect, if passed?
A bit of furnace efficiency history
In 1987, the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act set a minimum of 78% Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). That's when furnaces with standing pilot lights went away.
In 2007, the DOE proposed raising the minimum from 78 to 80 AFUE. What?! Yes, it's true. They really did that, even though the rule would have had pretty much zero effect on saving energy.
Why? Because even though 78 AFUE was the minimum allowed, nearly every furnace being made was 80 AFUE or higher. I think I've seen only one new furnace that had an AFUE lower than 80.
So the battle began. The state of California and a coalition of environmental and energy efficiency groups sued the DOE. That led to the regional standards, whereby Northern states (with more than 5000 heating degree days) would have had to go to 90 AFUE whereas the warmer South and Southwest would get to stick with 80 AFUE.
Well, that's when the American Public Gas Association (APGA) had a hissy fit. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the APGA "argued that consumers would flock to electric resistance furnaces rather than install high-efficiency gas furnaces." (See their article, Why DOE's Cave on Furnace Standards Is Such a Big Deal.)
Are you kidding me? There's no way they really thought that would happen. Heat pumps maybe, but electric resistance furnaces, no way. They're not even allowed for primary heating here in Georgia, a warm state. The truth is the gas industry really should be afraid of heat pumps, not electric resistance.
So the effort to enact regional standards fell apart.
The latest move by the DOE
On 10 February of this year, the DOE announced a proposal to adopt a 92 AFUE standard, nationwide. That's nice. It should be higher and it should have been done a long time ago, but if enacted, it would effectively kill atmospheric combustion furnaces.
There will be opposition. According to The ACHR News, Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), said "Now, even though natural gas and oil prices are lower than they were [three years ago when the DOE issued regional standards] — in the case of oil, much lower — the DOE now feels a 92 percent nationwide standard is appropriate. How can that be? What's changed?"
And the Air Conditioning Contractors of America seems to be getting itself ready for opposition. "It's very aggressive," said senior vice president Charlie McCrudden in the same ACHR News article. "This would harm a lot of people, including those in lower income brackets."
So, as homes are required to reach greater levels of airtightness, the furnace efficiency circus continues.
Oh, yeah. Do you know when the new requirement would go into effect, if approved? 2021. At the earliest.
What a sad joke this whole story has been.
If you'd like to see higher furnace efficiency standards, make your voice heard. The DOE has a meeting next week in Washington. It's going to be Friday, 27 March from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at the U.S. Department of Energy, Forrestal Building, Room 8E-089, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585.
If you can't make it, then you can listen in as they'll be broadcasting the meeting as a webinar.
You also can submit written comments, which they'll be accepting through 10 June 2015.
See the DOE's furnace rulemaking page for details.
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