***It has come to my attention that the Department of Energy has withdrawn the new standard for heating and cooling equipment installation.
The following post reflects my view of the topic and that it still is a good idea for consumers, when it is time for them to replace their older furnaces, to replace them with high efficiency type furnaces. The original post has been edited to make sense in relation to this about-face by the DOE.***
As we rapidly approach May 1st, 2013, there is more and more discussion about the Department of Energy’s new standard for heating and cooling equipment installation (now unfortunately withdrawn and taken back to the drawing board). While roughly based on region it is more accurately defined by state. The most affected states are the ones with the higher heating loads—-above 5000 HDD (heating degree days).
The requirement was an attempt to deal with the long term energy future of the United States. The requirement for the affected Northern States is to install or replace furnaces (when replacement becomes necessary) with an efficiency rating of 90% or above. This essentially would have eliminated the common mid-efficiency type furnaces prevalent in these states. See this link to see if your state is included.
Most of the backlash I am hearing, regarding this change, is related to replacement of furnaces as opposed to installation of furnaces in new construction. In new construction installation can be easily planned for. In older homes it may prove difficult to get the venting for the new equipment to a proper location as well as it may be difficult to route condensate drains to proper locations.
If the existing furnace shares a flue with a water heater, the removal of the furnace from the venting system may leave the vent over-sized for the water heater. Replacement of the furnace thus may result in replacement of the water heater or may require re-lining of the vent for the water heater.
HVAC contractors have been relining chimneys for mid-efficiency furnaces for years, therefore I do not see this as a major concern, but it is something that must be factored into the overall replacement cost of the furnace.
One aspect that I do not hear talked about is that there is a little savings in the fact that a b-vent type chimney will not be necessary at all. There are many options for the venting of a high efficiency furnaces that might allow for eliminating the need for b-vents and/or masonry chimneys altogether. In new construction this is a no-brainer.
It is my experience that a huge percentage of b-vent chimneys should be replaced when the furnace is replaced and yet they rarely are. The cost of this replacement should be factored into the cost of that new mid-efficiency furnace but rarely is.
While it is unfortunate that there are home designs where complying with the new regulations may be difficult, the dwindling supply of energy unfortunately could not foresee these poor designs.
In the vast majority of cases, installation of a high-efficiency furnace should be relatively straight forward.
As modern homes become tighter and tighter, these high efficiency furnaces, that can bring in their own combustion/dilution air from the exterior and then exhaust the combustion gases to the exterior, will assist in maintaining better indoor air quality. There is energy savings in the fact that the furnace will no longer be using heated house air to sustain the furnace.
In modern homes we are headed to a time when no gas appliance will likely be allowed to get its combustion/dilution air from the interior of the home. In all likelihood, in time, this may even include your gas cook stove.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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