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DOE Rule Regarding 80%- Efficient Furnaces Set To Take Effect May 1

The US Department of Energy has issued Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region (including Boston) that effectively prohibit the sale or installation of gas forced-air furnaces that are 80% efficient beginning May 1, 2013. This rule, if allowed to take effect, may have some undesirable consequences for consumers who purchase a new furnace in Boston after May 1. In some extreme cases, the regulations may actually prevent homeowners in Boston from installing the high efficiency furnaces the rule was intended to promote!

Essentially, the rule permits the installation of only high-efficiency furnaces – those above 90%. High efficiency furnaces operate somewhat differently than lower-efficiency models, and may have different installation requirements that will force consumers to spend more for heating equipment and installations.

The furnaces allowed under the rule must be vented to the outside of the home, using separate fresh air intakes and exhaust ports. An existing chimney may be used to vent exhaust gases from the furnace only if it has been lined with a special liner that reduces heat transfer to the surrounding home and prevents the corrosive byproducts of combustion from damaging the masonry.

High efficiency furnaces can also be vented to the outside of the home via PVC piping. PVC piping is less expensive than lining an existing chimney, but PVC is not without its own concerns. Heated PVC can release toxic fumes in a process known as “outgassing.” Stainless steel piping can be substituted for PVC piping, but the use of a stainless steel exhaust port requires a special adapter on the furnace, and adds to the cost of the installation.

In some historic homes, the high efficiency ventilation requirements may prove to be either cost-prohibitive or technically impossible. Historic homes, especially those with multiple tenants in a single structure, may not provide enough options for venting to the back of the building, out through the roof, or through an existing chimney. This may be especially true where other buildings stand immediately adjacent to a structure, and eliminate the possibility of venting out a sidewall.

The ventilation problem may be compounded over time if multiple tenants want or need to install new furnaces. As more tenants install new furnaces, fewer ventilation options remain for future installations. Without outside ventilation options, future installations may require the complete conversion of a home’s heating system to a technology such as electric heat, which does not require outside ventilation.

Several trade groups in the heating and cooling industry have offered an alternative solution, which has not yet been considered or accepted by the Department of Energy. The groups filed suit in a federal Appeals Court seeking an injunction to block the Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region from taking effect on May 1. As of this writing, the Appeals Court has not considered arguments in the case. If the court does not act prior to May 1, the rule will be implemented as written.

If you are considering the installation of a high-efficiency furnace, your window of opportunity to purchase a lower-efficiency (less costly) option is set to close on May 1st 2013. According to the DOE rules, no 80% efficiency furnaces may be sold, purchased or installed after that time. While higher-efficiency units will save money on operational costs, they also cost more to purchase and install. The increased cost of these units may reduce or eliminate a more affordable option for heating your home and saving money at the same time.
If you are considering furnace replacement but want to buy and install an 80% efficient model, you may have only a limited opportunity to do that. Please call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 immediately to schedule a consultation. We can explain purchase and installation options, and provide you with financing options that can help you determine the best heating choices for your home.