The Critical Eye!
Feds Remove 90% Furnace Mandate... Yeah!!!
Photo Courtesy of Ken Salvo - ASHI - New Jersey
There was a big courtroom battle between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the American Public Gas Association (APGA) that has resulted in the backing off of a requirement that was set to greatly impact the majority of American homeowners regarding residential heating furnaces. Starting in May 2013 all installed residential furnaces in the northern states were going to have to be 90% or higher models. But now that mandate has gone by the wayside, we get to keep the lesser 80% or greater mandate in place. Let me repeat, you will NOT be forced to upgrade to a 90% efficient furnace when you lesser model fails.
The affected states are: 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.
CURRENT STANDARDS: Current standards require 80% or higher gas fired units for new construction and existing furnace upgrades. 80-89% models usually have steel exhaust flues that run up through the roof, while the 90+% models feature two plastic vent pipes that usually either go out the sidewall of the home or up through the roof.
MAJOR ISSUE: One of the biggest points of contention was the added expense that retrofit upgrade would incur because of the added installation cost of converting from the metal flue to the plastic. Most homeowners would probably think that this was no big deal; out with the metal and in with the plastic. In most gas furnace installations there is also a gas fired water heater that shares the same exhaust flue. And since there has been no discussion of any mandate to upgrade the water heaters also, then the metal flue will still be needed. This adds to the installation costs because it requires figuring out how to install the two plastic vent pipes for the 90+% furnace.
MORE EXPENSIVE: There is also the added cost of the higher efficiency furnace. 90%+ units are usually anywhere from $500 to $2,000 more than an 80% model (depending on the efficiency of the selected model). Combined with the flue installation expenses and the higher installation cost, it will require more time to recoup from the savings of the higher efficiency furnace. Last I heard it took 5 to 7 years years to recoup the upgrade cost from an older pre-80% furnace to an 80+% unit. Who knows how long it will take to recoup a 90% upgrade in an older home.
MIND BOGGLING: In researching the topic I smiled when I read this statistic...
“Kit Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote on the NRDC's website that the standards would have saved Americans an estimated $10.7 billion in lower heating bills over the next 30 years and cut millions of metric tons of global warming emissions.”
Whenever they refer to “millions of tons of global warming emissions” being saved, I just have to smile because I know they are trying to tug at my my heartstrings in hopes of swaying my emotions. How much is a metric ton? Who knows? But what I do know is that when a small home furnace goes from $2,000 to $3,000 or more to trade out and the homeowner can’t afford it, then we are going to see a lot more carbon monoxide illnesses and deaths when it is too cost prohibitive to upgrade.
EXCEPTIONS: One of the biggest flaws with the DOE mandate was that there were no defined exceptions for cost prohibitive installations. Think about it for a moment, as this was also going to affect apartments, condos, and major high density housing too. How do you make the installation conversion when the furnace is installed nowhere near an exterior sidewall or roof? The 100% residential mandate just did not make sense, yet there was no provision for the obvious exception cases.
DON’T WORRY, FOR NOW: The good news is that the mandate has been removed. The bad news is that there is probably just a two year reprieve. This will return. But the next time it is hoped that it will be better thought out and more realistic in its implementation.
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - www.TheHomeInspector.com