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What is the government up to with our furnaces

Washington Energy | 04/02/2013 | Posted in Heating, Furnace

You may have heard that there is national legislation that was proposed that would require all new furnaces sold in our area to be high efficiency (90%) gas furnaces. This legislation is facing some opposition, and for the right reasons – to protect you the homeowner.

For now, the industry awaits the Court’s ruling on the proposed settlement, so that the DOE can start over again on writing new standards for furnaces. However, should the Court reject the settlement the case would go to trial. At that point there are two possible outcomes. One is that the legal challenge would prevail and the rules would be officially stricken from the books. But if the rules are upheld and remain in place after a trial, then under this motion, the rules would take effect six months later.

Why would it be so bad to require a high efficiency furnace? Well, on the surface, that doesn’t sound so awful – getting a high efficiency furnace would lower your energy costs. BUT, the government didn’t think this through. Yes, the difference in cost of a high efficiency furnace would pay for itself with energy savings over the life of the product. However there are 4 huge issues that could end up costing you far more, even 2x as much for a furnace under this plan. Here are the issues. They may sound technical but we’ll explain them:

  1. Equipment space constraints.
  2. Venting requirements
  3. Condensate drainage
  4. Credit availability

The new law would require us to sell only high efficiency (90% AFUE) furnaces. They require different space, venting and drainage vs lower efficiency, non condensing, (80% AFUE) furnaces. Even today, new construction houses in our area are being designed with lower efficiency 80% furnaces.

While installing a high efficiency furnace is no problem for many homeowners, there are plenty of homes with limited space for furnaces; under staircases, in attics, and in the middle of the house footprint. The high efficiency furnace may not fit into those spaces, or have a path to vent properly. (Venting means get fresh air from the outside and send exhaust out).

We see this all the time in our business, especially with our old Seattle housing. If homeowners have no option to choose an 80% furnace replacement, this could require relocating the equipment, and finding appropriate space to vent it. You may need to redesign the ductwork or re-route the gas line and electric power. At worst case, this could require a major remodel. Or if your current furnace shares a vent with your other appliances, it may be necessary to separate them, and add new vents or line old chimneys that are being used for venting. High efficiency furnaces require a drain pipe to carry exhaust liquids (condensate drainage) to a sewer line. That can be an issue if you have a concrete basement floor without drain access. All that adds up to more cost for the homeowner, and some customers may not have access to enough credit for the larger payment. For those who can’t afford this new standard in heating, will they turn to wood burning stoves, electric space heaters and other highly polluting, non-efficient options?

Don’t get us wrong, we love being green and want everyone to get a high efficiency furnace, but we don’t want to take away options from homeowners who can’t fit one in their home or can’t afford it. If this legislation is enacted in May, we’ll be sure to post on our website all about it. We do recommend if you are thinking about replacing an 80% furnace that’s in a tight space that you consider buying a new one now. Just in case. We’re not saying that to make money off you, after all, the 90% furnace costs more. Call 800-398-4663 for a free estimate.

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