The Sad Joke of Higher Furnace Efficiency Standards

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furnace sealed combustion energy efficiency standard doe

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.

Get involved

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.

 

External Resources

DOE - Rulemaking for Residential Furnaces Energy Conservation Standards

DOE page on residential furnaces

ACEEE - Why DOE's Cave on Furnace Standards Is Such a Big Deal

Appliance Standards Awareness Project page on furnaces

 

 

Related Articles

The Problem of Getting Air for Atmospheric Combustion Appliances

The #1 Question to Ask before Putting Spray Foam in Your Attic

3 Problems with Atmospheric Combustion Inside the Building Envelope

 

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Comments

Harris

I'm reminded of the automobile industry's fight against efficiency standards. Same old story - "it will cost jobs! the sky will fall!" I'm not talking about the relatively extreme push that Nader created on safety in the 60s and 70s. I'm talking about post-year 2000 CAFE standards for higher MPG.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />You'll recall 2009 when the Obama administration essentially forced GM and Chrysler to accept bailout money and reorganize. Part of the deal was an immediate hike in fuel efficiency standards. But since Detroit was in no position to push back (they needed the money), they relented.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Now GM and Chrysler (and Ford, too) are making damned good quality cars, with much higher fuel efficiency and better quality; even electric vehicles are starting to great progress (albeit at the expense of very good battery technology). And even with all the costly technology to raise the bar (e.g. electric power steering, auto-engine shutoff), Americans are still buying them.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Nope: the sky didn't fall!&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />We need political will in this country to push back these, well, HVAC and fossil fuel industry morons. The Japanese and Koreans are making serious inroads with high-performance heatpumps. The Germans and French, too. With nat. gas prices much lower American manufacturers should be fighting back the gas suppliers in an effort to sell more furnaces to folks wanting to save even more...&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />The argument that folks won't buy an improved gas furnace when gas is lower (and therefore not as justified) is folly. What these people will do is consider heat pumps the moment their old nat gas furnace dies. What proportion will jump to HP from furnace is anybody's guess. But I'm willing to bet the gas furnace makers don't want to lose one sale.

Bob Seaton

I think I recall earlier arguments where the gas industry battled for apples-to-apples comparison of source energy (gas furnaces vs electric heat pumps), as well as more realistic acknowledgement of supplemental/defrost heat strip energy in the calculation of HSPF.

Dave

Sometimes your ideas don't make sense. Rallying the troops to grab their torches and pick up the pitchforks in order to storm the Capitol is really extreme. Everything in our energy world reflects the differences in climate zones but for some reason you feel furnace standards should have one standard? Cmon! As a guy from climate zone 2 I can argue I like the standard right where it's at. Why should I pay so much more for a heating device that I only use a few times a year? Calculate the payback on that scenario. No, I won't join your call to arms. Some things make sense the way they are. If high efficiency furnaces are really needed consumers will drive how much they want to spend in the cold winter months.

Rich Lavoie

As an HVAC contractor, we sell "high efficiency" products in the majority of cases since it saves our customers energy and more importantly makes us more profit. That said, there are many cases whereby "90+" gas furnaces will not fit due to access to flues, drain locations or increased airflow of HE furnaces (ductwork too small). Not sure about where you live, but in Boston, some of our multi-family housing does not allow easy installations of HE furnaces unless the customer is renovating. If you mandate 90+ with no exceptions, homeowners are going to get hurt.

Allison Bailes

<b>Harris</b>: Indeed, this fight has a lot of similarities to the CAFE standards battle.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br /><b>Bob S.</b>: Yes, I'm sure they've been grasping for all the straws they can find.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br /><b>Dave</b>: A few questions for you:&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />1. Why would you install a furnace in climate zone 2 anyway? A heat pump makes much more sense.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />2. What do you do about combustion air if you put that furnace inside the house? &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />3. If your answer to number two is that the furnace is in the attic, why would you put it and the ducts there when you take such a big efficiency hit in air conditioning season?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />4. Did you know that the upgrade from 80 to 90+ AFUE is only $200-300? Yes, for existing homes you have to upgrade the venting as well&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />5. How long do you expect gas prices to stay low? &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />6. Do you know when payback is relevant? If not, see my <a href="http://www.energyvanguard.com/blog-building-science-HERS-BPI/bid/30325/W... on the topic</a>.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />

Allison Bailes

<b>Rich L.</b>: I live in a condo and am familiar with the constraints such domiciles sometimes present. I'm on the board of our homeowners association, and at our meeting this week, we just discussed the problem of fitting water heaters made to meet the new standards that go into effect next month into the small closets some of the units here have for them. It's definitely an issue. I don't think it's one we can't overcome, though.

Thomas A. Peterson

I think that we should all know by now that waiting for government standards to rise or the government to do anything at all is a waste of time and effort. The actions of politicians and bureaucrats are usually guided by the interests of large corporations, who support them in many ways and not the interest of the general public.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />To follow the KISS principle, why don&rsquo;t we (as energy efficiency experts) look out for our customers and simply advocate for (with an occasional simple phone call) and spec the highest efficiency furnaces available? This should eventually initiate some competition among manufacturers to produce even higher efficiency furnaces - - probably long before 2021. The manufacturers who snooze will eventually be the losers and who reading this will feel sorry for them.&nbsp; <br />

Rob Brown

The idea that the "market will decide" this is ridiculous. The majority of heating appliances installed in this country are installed with little to no input from a homeowner, and/or with what little input they might have, almost no idea of what they are talking about. I still talk to contractors every day for whom this is their livelihood who tout atmospheric 80%-ish appliances because they are "simple". I talk to homeowners who still don't understand that insulating an uninsulated wall would be cost effective in a fairly short timeframe. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Landlords who don't pay their own energy costs: tenants who don't keep equipment long term: spec housing: anyone in a home they don't expect to stay in long term: the number of times where homeowners are making longer term decisions past first cost are relatively small.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />This is a textbook case of an issue that the market can't really solve reliably. There are too many other factors that involve going cheap and kicking the can to someone else to pay the energy bills now or in the near term future. This is exactly why we need energy standards.

Rich Lavoie

Alison, I agree that everything can be overcome with more money. I don't look forward to when I have to tell a homeowner that he/she needs to remove ceilings, walls, hire a man lift, hire a police detail, so we can install a new PVC flue out the 4th floor masonry wall and get a condensate drain to the washing machine drain down the hall. Oh, and we can do all this all in 2 weeks because we can't get a lift in Boston due to the snow so go get a hotel room until then. I assume Boston housing is no less different than Philly, NYC or Detroit. Believe me, I love opportunity, but it seems some of you are missing the practical problem this idea represents.

Roy

Most of the manufacturers of furnaces also make heat pumps, so the conflict is not really at the equipment manufacturer level.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Many of you seem to want to continue to force higher efficiency on everyone ELSE, but some people prefer to make their own decisions.

Rob Brown

Roy, if people were actually making their own decisions, that would be one thing. But a large portion of the time they aren't. Especially in new construction. They are stuck with the decision someone else with no interest in their energy bills made.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />It's why there are so many code minimum houses out there. Not because it's most cost effective, but because it's cheap and easy, no thought required. If the codes were lower, they'd be even worse.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />No codes means uninsulated, unsealed ducts in basements and attics (see it all the time). It means cheap equipment installed during a build by someone who doesn't care at all what you're going to pay for heat.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />If you want to restrict it to new construction/rehabs, I could support that. But just throwing up your hands and acting like the market deals efficiently with this issue or that it's some issue of freedom or whatever is a pretty rose-colored interpretation. Without codes most people live in crappy homes they had no input on and just have to live with. That's a fact.

Kevin Virobik

Would our experience with lighting standards be applicable?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />It seems that once the lighting standards took effect, we not only achieved energy savings via CFLs, but LEDs became cost effective due to mass production and acceptance. Even some incandescent bulbs remain that meet the new standards.

Brian Miller

Why are we forcing things onto customers that they do not want? People will choose to upgrade their furnaces to high efficient models when it makes sense for them. Right now we have a glut of cheap natural gas on the market that probably will not change for many years. As there is no practical way to store natural gas, we either use it or flare it. I can install a new 80% efficient furnace (downsizing it so that is properly sized for the home) and save the homeowner more money than upgrading to a new 95% furnace in most cases. The payback period in North Dakota is literally decades. LET THE MARKET DECIDE!!&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />The only mandate that makes sense to me is requiring new construction to install high efficient furnace...knowing that one day the DOE will be successful in pushing thru efficiency standards legislation.

Roy

I don't have to buy a cheap house with minimum code requirements in my market. We have builders who will sell higher performance homes. It is my choice. I like it that way.

M.Johnson

Allison,&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />You are the only person I have heard who scorns a furnace for a warmer climate zone (two), saying a heat pump makes more sense. I would love to hear some elucidation on this.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />A friend of mine has a central Texas home with foamed attic and most if not all the trendy features for energy savings. With a heat pump he is pulling $300-400/mo both summer and winter, which makes me suspect he is drawing backup resistance heat too much. Haven't there been innovations to help heat pumps be efficient at lower temperatures than they used to be?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />I know one data point is worth little, but his house looks kind of energy hoggish to me, despite a quality build. My own house is larger, in Southeast Texas and using approximately half the energy his is. Although we need more measurements to have any statistical integrity, I think there is an actual issue here.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />In summary I would like to hear more about why natural gas is dumb and heat pumps are smart in a Climate Zone Two.

Harris

I'm reminded of the automobile industry's fight against efficiency standards. Same old story - "it will cost jobs! the sky will fall!" I'm not talking about the relatively extreme push that Nader created on safety in the 60s and 70s. I'm talking about post-year 2000 CAFE standards for higher MPG. 
 
You'll recall 2009 when the Obama administration essentially forced GM and Chrysler to accept bailout money and reorganize. Part of the deal was an immediate hike in fuel efficiency standards. But since Detroit was in no position to push back (they needed the money), they relented. 
 
Now GM and Chrysler (and Ford, too) are making damned good quality cars, with much higher fuel efficiency and better quality; even electric vehicles are starting to great progress (albeit at the expense of very good battery technology). And even with all the costly technology to raise the bar (e.g. electric power steering, auto-engine shutoff), Americans are still buying them. 
 
Nope: the sky didn't fall! 
 
We need political will in this country to push back these, well, HVAC and fossil fuel industry morons. The Japanese and Koreans are making serious inroads with high-performance heatpumps. The Germans and French, too. With nat. gas prices much lower American manufacturers should be fighting back the gas suppliers in an effort to sell more furnaces to folks wanting to save even more... 
 
The argument that folks won't buy an improved gas furnace when gas is lower (and therefore not as justified) is folly. What these people will do is consider heat pumps the moment their old nat gas furnace dies. What proportion will jump to HP from furnace is anybody's guess. But I'm willing to bet the gas furnace makers don't want to lose one sale.

Bob Seaton

I think I recall earlier arguments where the gas industry battled for apples-to-apples comparison of source energy (gas furnaces vs electric heat pumps), as well as more realistic acknowledgement of supplemental/defrost heat strip energy in the calculation of HSPF.

Dave

Sometimes your ideas don't make sense. Rallying the troops to grab their torches and pick up the pitchforks in order to storm the Capitol is really extreme. Everything in our energy world reflects the differences in climate zones but for some reason you feel furnace standards should have one standard? Cmon! As a guy from climate zone 2 I can argue I like the standard right where it's at. Why should I pay so much more for a heating device that I only use a few times a year? Calculate the payback on that scenario. No, I won't join your call to arms. Some things make sense the way they are. If high efficiency furnaces are really needed consumers will drive how much they want to spend in the cold winter months.

Erik Kengaard

Good call. High efficiency furnaces have some downsides - disposal of condensate for one. Expensive reconstruction to accommodate venting for another. Ready, fire, aim government regulation needs to be stopped.

Rich Lavoie

As an HVAC contractor, we sell "high efficiency" products in the majority of cases since it saves our customers energy and more importantly makes us more profit. That said, there are many cases whereby "90+" gas furnaces will not fit due to access to flues, drain locations or increased airflow of HE furnaces (ductwork too small). Not sure about where you live, but in Boston, some of our multi-family housing does not allow easy installations of HE furnaces unless the customer is renovating. If you mandate 90+ with no exceptions, homeowners are going to get hurt.

Allison Bailes

Harris: Indeed, this fight has a lot of similarities to the CAFE standards battle. 
 
Bob S.: Yes, I'm sure they've been grasping for all the straws they can find. 
 
Dave: A few questions for you: 
 
1. Why would you install a furnace in climate zone 2 anyway? A heat pump makes much more sense. 
 
2. What do you do about combustion air if you put that furnace inside the house?  
 
3. If your answer to number two is that the furnace is in the attic, why would you put it and the ducts there when you take such a big efficiency hit in air conditioning season? 
 
4. Did you know that the upgrade from 80 to 90+ AFUE is only $200-300? Yes, for existing homes you have to upgrade the venting as well 
 
5. How long do you expect gas prices to stay low?  
 
6. Do you know when payback is relevant? If not, see my article on the topic
 

Erik Kengaard

" . . .for existing homes you have to upgrade the venting as well " and the drainage for condensate - not cost free undertakings.
I'm thinking, instead of replacing the 80% Afue furnace I have, to just replace the heat exchanger, blower, exhaust fan, circuit board, ignitor, etc . . . In other words, rebuild the furnace in place.

Allison Bailes

Rich L.: I live in a condo and am familiar with the constraints such domiciles sometimes present. I'm on the board of our homeowners association, and at our meeting this week, we just discussed the problem of fitting water heaters made to meet the new standards that go into effect next month into the small closets some of the units here have for them. It's definitely an issue. I don't think it's one we can't overcome, though.

Thomas A. Peterson

I think that we should all know by now that waiting for government standards to rise or the government to do anything at all is a waste of time and effort. The actions of politicians and bureaucrats are usually guided by the interests of large corporations, who support them in many ways and not the interest of the general public. 
 
To follow the KISS principle, why don’t we (as energy efficiency experts) look out for our customers and simply advocate for (with an occasional simple phone call) and spec the highest efficiency furnaces available? This should eventually initiate some competition among manufacturers to produce even higher efficiency furnaces - - probably long before 2021. The manufacturers who snooze will eventually be the losers and who reading this will feel sorry for them. 

rj

I agree that new construction needs a mandate to high efficiency furnaces but we should have a "water heater / automobile" style efficiency disclosure for retrofits. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Zone 2 does benefit from natural gas since it is almost free down here because of much higher delta T's over heat pumps and the occasional cold periods with moisture and wind. Unfortunately high efficiency heat pumps have not really penetrated down south; most don't know about them; trademen are often scared of their complexity; standard split units (heat pumps and ac) have not been reliable over the last decade due to high 410a pressures and thin evaporator tubings causing an epidemic of leaks; and the controls themselves are sometimes poorly implemented in some brands. Just like LED lights, high quality at a competitive price are just now coming on the market for standard split heat pumps. However new construction needs high efficiency standards for HVAC and for ducting.

Rob Brown

The idea that the "market will decide" this is ridiculous. The majority of heating appliances installed in this country are installed with little to no input from a homeowner, and/or with what little input they might have, almost no idea of what they are talking about. I still talk to contractors every day for whom this is their livelihood who tout atmospheric 80%-ish appliances because they are "simple". I talk to homeowners who still don't understand that insulating an uninsulated wall would be cost effective in a fairly short timeframe.  
 
Landlords who don't pay their own energy costs: tenants who don't keep equipment long term: spec housing: anyone in a home they don't expect to stay in long term: the number of times where homeowners are making longer term decisions past first cost are relatively small. 
 
This is a textbook case of an issue that the market can't really solve reliably. There are too many other factors that involve going cheap and kicking the can to someone else to pay the energy bills now or in the near term future. This is exactly why we need energy standards.

Rich Lavoie

Alison, I agree that everything can be overcome with more money. I don't look forward to when I have to tell a homeowner that he/she needs to remove ceilings, walls, hire a man lift, hire a police detail, so we can install a new PVC flue out the 4th floor masonry wall and get a condensate drain to the washing machine drain down the hall. Oh, and we can do all this all in 2 weeks because we can't get a lift in Boston due to the snow so go get a hotel room until then. I assume Boston housing is no less different than Philly, NYC or Detroit. Believe me, I love opportunity, but it seems some of you are missing the practical problem this idea represents.

Roy

Most of the manufacturers of furnaces also make heat pumps, so the conflict is not really at the equipment manufacturer level. 
 
Many of you seem to want to continue to force higher efficiency on everyone ELSE, but some people prefer to make their own decisions.

Rob Brown

Roy, if people were actually making their own decisions, that would be one thing. But a large portion of the time they aren't. Especially in new construction. They are stuck with the decision someone else with no interest in their energy bills made. 
 
It's why there are so many code minimum houses out there. Not because it's most cost effective, but because it's cheap and easy, no thought required. If the codes were lower, they'd be even worse. 
 
No codes means uninsulated, unsealed ducts in basements and attics (see it all the time). It means cheap equipment installed during a build by someone who doesn't care at all what you're going to pay for heat. 
 
If you want to restrict it to new construction/rehabs, I could support that. But just throwing up your hands and acting like the market deals efficiently with this issue or that it's some issue of freedom or whatever is a pretty rose-colored interpretation. Without codes most people live in crappy homes they had no input on and just have to live with. That's a fact.

Kevin Virobik

Would our experience with lighting standards be applicable? 
 
It seems that once the lighting standards took effect, we not only achieved energy savings via CFLs, but LEDs became cost effective due to mass production and acceptance. Even some incandescent bulbs remain that meet the new standards.

Brian Miller

Why are we forcing things onto customers that they do not want? People will choose to upgrade their furnaces to high efficient models when it makes sense for them. Right now we have a glut of cheap natural gas on the market that probably will not change for many years. As there is no practical way to store natural gas, we either use it or flare it. I can install a new 80% efficient furnace (downsizing it so that is properly sized for the home) and save the homeowner more money than upgrading to a new 95% furnace in most cases. The payback period in North Dakota is literally decades. LET THE MARKET DECIDE!! 
 
The only mandate that makes sense to me is requiring new construction to install high efficient furnace...knowing that one day the DOE will be successful in pushing thru efficiency standards legislation.

Roy

I don't have to buy a cheap house with minimum code requirements in my market. We have builders who will sell higher performance homes. It is my choice. I like it that way.

M.Johnson

Allison, 
 
You are the only person I have heard who scorns a furnace for a warmer climate zone (two), saying a heat pump makes more sense. I would love to hear some elucidation on this. 
 
A friend of mine has a central Texas home with foamed attic and most if not all the trendy features for energy savings. With a heat pump he is pulling $300-400/mo both summer and winter, which makes me suspect he is drawing backup resistance heat too much. Haven't there been innovations to help heat pumps be efficient at lower temperatures than they used to be? 
 
I know one data point is worth little, but his house looks kind of energy hoggish to me, despite a quality build. My own house is larger, in Southeast Texas and using approximately half the energy his is. Although we need more measurements to have any statistical integrity, I think there is an actual issue here. 
 
In summary I would like to hear more about why natural gas is dumb and heat pumps are smart in a Climate Zone Two.

w d

Allison's article on furnace efficiency has generated some very spirited dialogue. Thought provoking.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />I like energy efficiency and energy savings. I've reduced our energy consumption by over half. I wanted to. I'd prefer others follow this example. They frequently do not. I do not mind so much. I value their freedom to decide.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />As Rob points out, however, the decisions on furnace purchase does not always involve the eventual resident and utility bill payer. Where the resident is involved, I support their right to decide. However, I remember the days when I lived in an apartment. I had no part in the decisions on appliances such as the furnace (heck, it was electric resistance heating in Wisconsin as I now recall) but I had to pay the utility bills. The market is working. It's providing an outcome that is rational but the outcome doesn't please some people. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />The market outcome has a structural bias and there's room to believe a modification might produce a different result. I'm thinking about apartment buildings. The furnaces for these facilities are provided by a landlord and contractor, neither of whom are likely to reside there. The future residents cannot now even be identified. Would they prefer the el cheapo furnace or the more expensive state-of-the-art green design? Should they be forced to install PV instead and by-pass the antiquated idea of fossil fuel heating? Do we need increased legislative standards when those appliances are already on the market? Who gets to decide?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />I can understand the fervor for a legislated increase in required energy efficiency. I'm wondering about an option to use tax credits for apartment buildings that opt to install more efficient furnaces. If the economics slightly favored efficient units, this might achieve the same end point but without the hand of government. (If these incentives are already in place but not working, I'd be reluctant to press forward with mandates ... better to understand why it's not working first.) Political will? On this topic, less government feels better to me.

rj

I agree that new construction needs a mandate to high efficiency furnaces but we should have a "water heater / automobile" style efficiency disclosure for retrofits.  
 
Zone 2 does benefit from natural gas since it is almost free down here because of much higher delta T's over heat pumps and the occasional cold periods with moisture and wind. Unfortunately high efficiency heat pumps have not really penetrated down south; most don't know about them; trademen are often scared of their complexity; standard split units (heat pumps and ac) have not been reliable over the last decade due to high 410a pressures and thin evaporator tubings causing an epidemic of leaks; and the controls themselves are sometimes poorly implemented in some brands. Just like LED lights, high quality at a competitive price are just now coming on the market for standard split heat pumps. However new construction needs high efficiency standards for HVAC and for ducting.

Andy

I don't think the argument for high efficiency furnaces has to be concerned with savings. If there are going to be air tightness standards of around 3 to 5 ACH50 sealed combustion should be the only option, it's more a safety issue. Hey and not having an open flue will make it easier to hit those numbers. &nbsp; <br />

Allison Bailes

<b>Andy</b>: You nailed it. I mentioned airtightness in the article, and that's my number one reason for requiring 92+ AFUE, too. Of course, that argument works better for homes with furnace in conditioned space than those with it in an attic, but even when it's in an attic, basement, or crawl space, it can still depressurize the house.

w d

Allison's article on furnace efficiency has generated some very spirited dialogue. Thought provoking. 
 
I like energy efficiency and energy savings. I've reduced our energy consumption by over half. I wanted to. I'd prefer others follow this example. They frequently do not. I do not mind so much. I value their freedom to decide. 
 
As Rob points out, however, the decisions on furnace purchase does not always involve the eventual resident and utility bill payer. Where the resident is involved, I support their right to decide. However, I remember the days when I lived in an apartment. I had no part in the decisions on appliances such as the furnace (heck, it was electric resistance heating in Wisconsin as I now recall) but I had to pay the utility bills. The market is working. It's providing an outcome that is rational but the outcome doesn't please some people.  
 
The market outcome has a structural bias and there's room to believe a modification might produce a different result. I'm thinking about apartment buildings. The furnaces for these facilities are provided by a landlord and contractor, neither of whom are likely to reside there. The future residents cannot now even be identified. Would they prefer the el cheapo furnace or the more expensive state-of-the-art green design? Should they be forced to install PV instead and by-pass the antiquated idea of fossil fuel heating? Do we need increased legislative standards when those appliances are already on the market? Who gets to decide? 
 
I can understand the fervor for a legislated increase in required energy efficiency. I'm wondering about an option to use tax credits for apartment buildings that opt to install more efficient furnaces. If the economics slightly favored efficient units, this might achieve the same end point but without the hand of government. (If these incentives are already in place but not working, I'd be reluctant to press forward with mandates ... better to understand why it's not working first.) Political will? On this topic, less government feels better to me.

Andy

I don't think the argument for high efficiency furnaces has to be concerned with savings. If there are going to be air tightness standards of around 3 to 5 ACH50 sealed combustion should be the only option, it's more a safety issue. Hey and not having an open flue will make it easier to hit those numbers.  

Allison Bailes

Andy: You nailed it. I mentioned airtightness in the article, and that's my number one reason for requiring 92+ AFUE, too. Of course, that argument works better for homes with furnace in conditioned space than those with it in an attic, but even when it's in an attic, basement, or crawl space, it can still depressurize the house.

David Butler

I concur with those who believe the higher efficiency (condensing) furnaces should only be mandated for new construction, especially considering that the 2012 energy code must meet a verified infiltration threshold. (But why wait until 2021?!!)&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />It's amazing that the codes now require verified tight construction and still allow atmospheric appliances. Even the new water heater standards going into effect next month continue to allow atmospheric water heaters to be installed in super-tight homes. Where's the logic in that?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />If someone owns a leaky 60-year-old home with an unfinished non-insulated basement and a failed furnace, it doesn't make a lot of sense to force them to spend money re-plumbing their flue, a condensate lift, and whatever extra cost the furnace might be to save a few 10's of dollars a year on their gas bills. I would much rather see them apply that money on envelope improvements. But that's their choice.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />As for the heat pump vs. furnace argument... with all due respect Allison (and you know I'm a huge fan of heat pumps), that's a lame retort to Dave in CZ2. While gas is cheap, a heat pump may not be the best option for a home that's not been brought up to current codes. And no one has a crystal ball. Of course, anyone without access tp natural gas would be nuts to install a propane furnace as their primary heat source, no matter where they live. But the heat pump vs. furnace debate has nothing to do with the merits of new furnace efficiency standards.

David Butler

I concur with those who believe the higher efficiency (condensing) furnaces should only be mandated for new construction, especially considering that the 2012 energy code must meet a verified infiltration threshold. (But why wait until 2021?!!) 
 
It's amazing that the codes now require verified tight construction and still allow atmospheric appliances. Even the new water heater standards going into effect next month continue to allow atmospheric water heaters to be installed in super-tight homes. Where's the logic in that? 
 
If someone owns a leaky 60-year-old home with an unfinished non-insulated basement and a failed furnace, it doesn't make a lot of sense to force them to spend money re-plumbing their flue, a condensate lift, and whatever extra cost the furnace might be to save a few 10's of dollars a year on their gas bills. I would much rather see them apply that money on envelope improvements. But that's their choice. 
 
As for the heat pump vs. furnace argument... with all due respect Allison (and you know I'm a huge fan of heat pumps), that's a lame retort to Dave in CZ2. While gas is cheap, a heat pump may not be the best option for a home that's not been brought up to current codes. And no one has a crystal ball. Of course, anyone without access tp natural gas would be nuts to install a propane furnace as their primary heat source, no matter where they live. But the heat pump vs. furnace debate has nothing to do with the merits of new furnace efficiency standards.

Bob

1st of all, I don't believe government regulation is the answer to anything. I have yet to see an EFFECTIVE government regulation.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />That being said, if the government really wanted to improve efficiency standards they could limit the BTU/KW per sqft for the structure based on climate zone and age of structure. Let the builder decide if they want to get there by building a tighter house or installing higher efficiency equipment.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Mandating that equipment and ductwork be moved into conditioned space would have a MUCH larger effect than going from 80% to 90%+ furnaces.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Government could require 90%+ furnaces over a certain size instead of by climate zone. IMHO any furnace over 80k should be a 90%+. There is no fear of electric conversions at 80k+ sizing.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Another big problem is the way NG is billed. We currently pay more in fixed delivery charges than for the NG itself. $360/yr to have 50DTH delivered. NG averages about $5/DTH. At a $250 per year NG cost there is little incentive to go form 80% to 90% furnace.

Bob

1st of all, I don't believe government regulation is the answer to anything. I have yet to see an EFFECTIVE government regulation. 
 
That being said, if the government really wanted to improve efficiency standards they could limit the BTU/KW per sqft for the structure based on climate zone and age of structure. Let the builder decide if they want to get there by building a tighter house or installing higher efficiency equipment. 
 
Mandating that equipment and ductwork be moved into conditioned space would have a MUCH larger effect than going from 80% to 90%+ furnaces. 
 
Government could require 90%+ furnaces over a certain size instead of by climate zone. IMHO any furnace over 80k should be a 90%+. There is no fear of electric conversions at 80k+ sizing. 
 
Another big problem is the way NG is billed. We currently pay more in fixed delivery charges than for the NG itself. $360/yr to have 50DTH delivered. NG averages about $5/DTH. At a $250 per year NG cost there is little incentive to go form 80% to 90% furnace.

Dan Goss

I prefer sealed combustion furnaces as they are generally safer, and eliminate infiltration of combustion air into the structure. In addition, the routine common venting of draft hood appliances (water heaters) with induced draft furnaces is a bad thing- even though it is code permissible.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />That being said, I think it would be best that the government or advocates for 92/ 95 percent furnace installations in all cases, be required to literally have to stand before the home owner. That way they can explain why it will cost an extra 1000.00 or more dollars to run new vents when the furnace is in a basement that is below grade. This is not uncommon. I am sure that the home owner will not mind having a replacement vent being routed through their main and upper floors en route to a roof termination. There are numerous situations in existing homes ( furnaces in mechanical closets common vented with water heaters ) in middle of home where replacing with a 92 percent furnace would be a venting nightmare. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />And, let's not fail to forget that Ms. Jones at age 78 on a fixed income does not have the extra 4-5 k to cover the cost of the 92 percent furnace replacement with the aforementioned venting issues.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />So, it is probably best that an unconditional mandate be for new construction and major remodeling only. If not, the law of unintended consequences will be, in some cases, the home owner continue to run an unsafe and (or) very inefficient furnace. That is how it works in the real world.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />

Dan Goss

I prefer sealed combustion furnaces as they are generally safer, and eliminate infiltration of combustion air into the structure. In addition, the routine common venting of draft hood appliances (water heaters) with induced draft furnaces is a bad thing- even though it is code permissible. 
 
That being said, I think it would be best that the government or advocates for 92/ 95 percent furnace installations in all cases, be required to literally have to stand before the home owner. That way they can explain why it will cost an extra 1000.00 or more dollars to run new vents when the furnace is in a basement that is below grade. This is not uncommon. I am sure that the home owner will not mind having a replacement vent being routed through their main and upper floors en route to a roof termination. There are numerous situations in existing homes ( furnaces in mechanical closets common vented with water heaters ) in middle of home where replacing with a 92 percent furnace would be a venting nightmare.  
 
And, let's not fail to forget that Ms. Jones at age 78 on a fixed income does not have the extra 4-5 k to cover the cost of the 92 percent furnace replacement with the aforementioned venting issues. 
 
So, it is probably best that an unconditional mandate be for new construction and major remodeling only. If not, the law of unintended consequences will be, in some cases, the home owner continue to run an unsafe and (or) very inefficient furnace. That is how it works in the real world. 
 
 
 
 

Roy

Requiring higher efficiency in new houses, but not existing houses makes sense for the reasons given by others, but it is not that easy. Federal law says that state and local regulations cannot be stricter than federal regulations on equipment efficiency, so building codes cannot require higher efficiency for new construction. Also, current federal regulations apply to what can be manufactured, regardless of end use, thus there is really no provision for the federal regulations to distinguish between new construction and replacement markets. There is a current similar issue with regional efficiency standards. How does one assure that lower efficiency equipment is not bought in one region and sold in another? Should we have the government do surprise inspections on installations?&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />The bottom line is that when the government tries to regulate a market, things get complicated in a hurry.

Thomas A. Peterson

Many great comments have been made here. What some don't understand is that the free market can determine the best product and what is sold, if that market is adequately informed of its alternatives. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />HVAC installers are who should be doing this education as they are closest to the consumer. However, if they don't or in some cases don't know how to or have too much vested in the status quo, then the government will step in with a "one size fits all" mentality and make no one happy. I have seen this happen time &amp; time again.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Decades ago, I realized this and taught it to college students in a business ethics course.

dave

How many gallons our commode can flush,&nbsp; <br />what light bulbs we can use, &nbsp; <br />what foods we should eat, &nbsp; <br />what insurance we must have, &nbsp; <br />when we should move our clocks forward or backward, &nbsp; <br />what gas mileage our cars should get, &nbsp; <br />what should be taught in our schools,&nbsp; <br />what color our new car should be,&nbsp; <br />how fast we can drive,&nbsp; <br />the list can go on and on.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />The real "sad truth" of Allison's article is the idea that he thinks more regulation is a good idea. I applaud those who have commented about how the market should move the trends. I live in the woods where no sunshine hits my roof and wind is rare below the canopy. I truly enjoy these articles Allison but your ideas that zero energy for homes is the way of the future cannot be mandated. What would I do? Cut down all my trees so the sun could power my house? I don't think so. Energy codes are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were in the 70's and 80's. We are at the point of diminishing returns on how to make homes more efficient. The days of affordable homes are slipping past the common American due to regulations. Stop it already! &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Government main purpose is to protect its' citizens. Let's not advocate for more federal regulations.

Roy

Requiring higher efficiency in new houses, but not existing houses makes sense for the reasons given by others, but it is not that easy. Federal law says that state and local regulations cannot be stricter than federal regulations on equipment efficiency, so building codes cannot require higher efficiency for new construction. Also, current federal regulations apply to what can be manufactured, regardless of end use, thus there is really no provision for the federal regulations to distinguish between new construction and replacement markets. There is a current similar issue with regional efficiency standards. How does one assure that lower efficiency equipment is not bought in one region and sold in another? Should we have the government do surprise inspections on installations? 
 
The bottom line is that when the government tries to regulate a market, things get complicated in a hurry.

Thomas A. Peterson

Many great comments have been made here. What some don't understand is that the free market can determine the best product and what is sold, if that market is adequately informed of its alternatives.  
 
HVAC installers are who should be doing this education as they are closest to the consumer. However, if they don't or in some cases don't know how to or have too much vested in the status quo, then the government will step in with a "one size fits all" mentality and make no one happy. I have seen this happen time & time again. 
 
Decades ago, I realized this and taught it to college students in a business ethics course.

dave

How many gallons our commode can flush, 
what light bulbs we can use,  
what foods we should eat,  
what insurance we must have,  
when we should move our clocks forward or backward,  
what gas mileage our cars should get,  
what should be taught in our schools, 
what color our new car should be, 
how fast we can drive, 
the list can go on and on. 
 
The real "sad truth" of Allison's article is the idea that he thinks more regulation is a good idea. I applaud those who have commented about how the market should move the trends. I live in the woods where no sunshine hits my roof and wind is rare below the canopy. I truly enjoy these articles Allison but your ideas that zero energy for homes is the way of the future cannot be mandated. What would I do? Cut down all my trees so the sun could power my house? I don't think so. Energy codes are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were in the 70's and 80's. We are at the point of diminishing returns on how to make homes more efficient. The days of affordable homes are slipping past the common American due to regulations. Stop it already!  
 
Government main purpose is to protect its' citizens. Let's not advocate for more federal regulations.

Bob

Lets get government out of ALL energy subsidies and let prices rise to their natural levels. A large portion of your energy costs are paid in your TAX BILL instead of your UTILITY BILL. Just look at what energy costs in other countries. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Do you see residential central AC units in most other countries? Tank water heaters? No, because energy costs are too high.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />If 100% of energy costs was reflected in utility bills then energy efficiency companies could thrive w/o government subsidies.

Bob

Lets get government out of ALL energy subsidies and let prices rise to their natural levels. A large portion of your energy costs are paid in your TAX BILL instead of your UTILITY BILL. Just look at what energy costs in other countries.  
 
Do you see residential central AC units in most other countries? Tank water heaters? No, because energy costs are too high. 
 
If 100% of energy costs was reflected in utility bills then energy efficiency companies could thrive w/o government subsidies.

Donnie Jordan

When you need a new heater,and you get a estimates in most cases the cost to install a new furnace is about the same to install a 80 percent vs a 95 % except for some venting in some cases.the cost of the furnace is a little more,labor little more,cost to do business same.venting a little more in most cases.effiency is huge and the impact on the environment ,well you decide.I just sell have.

Donnie Jordan

When you need a new heater,and you get a estimates in most cases the cost to install a new furnace is about the same to install a 80 percent vs a 95 % except for some venting in some cases.the cost of the furnace is a little more,labor little more,cost to do business same.venting a little more in most cases.effiency is huge and the impact on the environment ,well you decide.I just sell have.

Cameron Taylor

If we must mandate anything for new residential construction and/or major remodeling, I'd rally for requirements that no part of the HVAC system can exist outside of the building's thermal and pressure boundaries.&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />It is well known, and can be quantified, that delivered capacity of HVAC equipment in residential settings seldom coincide with rated capacity, due to part or most of the HVAC heat exchanging and air delivery components existing outboard of the building's thermal and pressure boundaries. &nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />That said, all would be compromised with natural or induced draft open combustion appliances within the building thermal and pressure boundaries, so.... :)&nbsp; <br />&nbsp; <br />Oh, just realized I wrote the phrase "thermal and pressure boundaries" three times above. Maybe someday, if we discuss and educate on it often enough, the significance of it might sink in at a regulatory level.&nbsp; <br />

Cameron Taylor

If we must mandate anything for new residential construction and/or major remodeling, I'd rally for requirements that no part of the HVAC system can exist outside of the building's thermal and pressure boundaries. 
 
It is well known, and can be quantified, that delivered capacity of HVAC equipment in residential settings seldom coincide with rated capacity, due to part or most of the HVAC heat exchanging and air delivery components existing outboard of the building's thermal and pressure boundaries.  
 
That said, all would be compromised with natural or induced draft open combustion appliances within the building thermal and pressure boundaries, so.... :) 
 
Oh, just realized I wrote the phrase "thermal and pressure boundaries" three times above. Maybe someday, if we discuss and educate on it often enough, the significance of it might sink in at a regulatory level. 

Andy Kuss

What I would like to see is a national installation standard. What use is a 92 AFUE mandate if 75% of HVAC installers dont fully understand the importance of a tightly sealed and well-balanced duct/distribution system?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

David Butler

@Andy, amen to that... but unlike equipment efficiency, there's no mechanism for setting or enforcing national standards for hvac installation quality. That's strictly the domain of local building codes and officials. Which is why 3rd party Quality Installation programs are so important.

Andy Kuss

What I would like to see is a national installation standard. What use is a 92 AFUE mandate if 75% of HVAC installers dont fully understand the importance of a tightly sealed and well-balanced duct/distribution system?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

David Butler

@Andy, amen to that... but unlike equipment efficiency, there's no mechanism for setting or enforcing national standards for hvac installation quality. That's strictly the domain of local building codes and officials. Which is why 3rd party Quality Installation programs are so important.

Erik Kengaard

Good call. High efficiency furnaces have some downsides - disposal of condensate for one. Expensive reconstruction to accommodate venting for another. Ready, fire, aim government regulation needs to be stopped.

Erik Kengaard

" . . .for existing homes you have to upgrade the venting as well " and the drainage for condensate - not cost free undertakings.
I'm thinking, instead of replacing the 80% Afue furnace I have, to just replace the heat exchanger, blower, exhaust fan, circuit board, ignitor, etc . . . In other words, rebuild the furnace in place.

Bob

Amen, putting all ductwork/equipment in enclosed space would make a HUGE difference in delivered efficiency!!

Bob

Amen, putting all ductwork/equipment in enclosed space would make a HUGE difference in delivered efficiency!!