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The Department of Energy announced last week that it will temporarily hold off on enforcement of the agency’s phase-out plan for 80%-efficient furnaces in Massachusetts and 28 other states. The change in plan comes as the result of pending industry litigation that is not expected to be resolved prior to the proposed May 1, 2013 start date.

For Boston homeowners, that’s good news because it provides some additional time to consider the purchase and installation of 80%-efficient furnaces. We don’t know when enforcement of the new plan will begin, but the DOE is committed to phasing out 80%-efficient furnaces as soon as possible.

For the consumer, the option of having an 80%-efficient furnace often means saving money on the purchase and installation costs of a new furnace, and a reduction in operating costs if the 80%-efficient furnace replaces an older, even less efficient model. While it’s true that 90%-efficient furnaces cost less to operate than 80% efficient models do, they also come with a steeper price tag and more costly installation requirements. In some cases, the amount of time required to see real savings from a higher-efficiency furnace is actually longer than the payback period for the less efficient 80% model!

In addition, very high efficiency furnaces require special venting preparations that increase the cost of installation. These preparations include the need to install a chimney liner (if it’s going to be used for ventilation) or suitable ventilation ports for your high-efficiency furnace.

Because the furnace exhaust port carries heated air, CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) is normally used for heated exhaust applications. When heated (even to a relatively low temperature), PVC piping can release toxins into the air and water through a phenomenon known as “PVC outgassing.” CPVC is manufactured differently, and is rated for use in applications where temperatures may reach 200°F. CPVC is somewhat more expensive than standard PVC, but both PVC and CPVC are substantially less expensive than metal piping made from stainless steel (for exhaust) or copper (for hot water).

The bottom line for homeowners in Boston: furnace replacement choices will become more limited very soon! Once the DOE regulations go into effect, it will be impossible to purchase or install a lower-cost, lower-efficiency furnace. Homeowners will need to absorb the increased purchase and installation costs associated with higher-efficiency furnaces and may find that their homes cannot provide the required ventilation for high-efficiency furnaces.

If you’re considering the installation of a new gas forced-air furnace, and would like to know more about your current options, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 362-0377 for a consultation. We can assess your home and provide you with a range of product and financing options.

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