Efficiency & Enforcement at Issue: A Fight Over Furnaces in 30 States

RTAblog_2013_0408_furnaceIn 2008, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) began considering minimum standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps in homes. Minimum standards for furnaces were already in discussion. On June 27, 2011 the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Published a change in the efficiency requirements in the Federal Register. That change requires gas furnaces installed on or after May 1, 2013 in the Northern Region1 to be at least 90% AFUE.

The AFUE acronym stands for “annual fuel utilization efficiency“. It’s intended to allow consumers to compare the heating efficiency of furnaces or boilers. AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output (used to warm your home) compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by the furnace or boiler. A furnace with an AFUE of 80% means that 80% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for your home while the other 20% is lost up the chimney. Obviously, you’d want the highest efficiency possible to avoid wasting money.

The DOE rule increasing the efficiency for furnaces installed on or after May 1, 2013 in the Northern Region1 has been challenged by the American Public Gas Association. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) association posted a copy of the action on its website. If you read through the filing, you’ll see (on page 6) the process will likely be delayed by two years.

In its statement issued this past Friday, the DOE said “in an exercise of its enforcement discretion”, it won’t enforce the rule because of the lawsuit. We’d like to know the point of having rules developed at the speed of government, with public comment periods, if the DOE is going to set aside its own rules.

There are four other rules for efficiency requirements for split systems (like the one pictured) that are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015. Should we expect these to change too? To further complicate matters, states may adopt building codes with more stringent energy efficiency requirements.

If you’ve asked a few contractors to give you estimates for a repair or replacement of your air conditioning system, don’t assume that they’re installing the same equipment. Be sure to compare the specifications of the equipment so you can tell why the prices vary. You can ask them to walk you through their pricing when they provide it. The less-expensive contractor may be installing less-efficient equipment that will cost you lots of money over the life of the system.

We reviewed a series of government, professional association and commercial web pages to  learn more about this issue and we think you’ll find this blog post from Fire & Ice Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio to be helpful if you’d like to learn more about the challenges from the contractor side of the issue.

Photo by Ardyiii used under creative commons license.

1 The “Northern Region” is comprised of thirty states: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.


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