Congress asked to establish new federal minimum efficiency standards for residential gas, oil boilers
‘Regionalization’ issues inserted in energy bill could cost homeowners

The U.S. Department of Energy has increased the energy efficiency standards for residential boilers and furnaces. The final rule, published Nov. 19, is effective Jan. 18, 2008. It prescribes the following standard levels applicable to products manufactured on or after Nov. 19, 2015:
  • Gas boilers - 82 percent AFUE
  • Oil-fired boilers - 83 percent AFUE
  • Nonweatherized gas furnaces - 80 percent AFUE
  • Weatherized gas furnaces - 81 percent AFUE
  • Mobile home gas furnaces - 80 percent AFUE
  • Oil-fired furnaces - 82 percent AFUE

    The standard levels in the final rule for nonweatherized gas furnaces, mobile home gas furnaces, oil-fired furnaces and oil-fired boilers are the same as the standard levels the DOE proposed in its Oct. 6, 2006, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. However, the standard levels in the final rule for weatherized gas furnaces and gas boilers are less stringent than what DOE proposed. No changes were made to existing standards for steam boilers.

    The Gas Appliance Manufacturers’ Association and other industry representatives sent comments to the Energy Department after the proposed rules were made public. The DOE had proposed an 83 percent AFUE minimum standard for weatherized gas furnaces and an 84 percent AFUE minimum standard for gas hot water boilers. GAMA cited safety issues with the DOE standards on these two types of products.

    “Product safety and energy conservation are both important values for GAMA and the industries we represent,” GAMA noted in 2006. “However, where higher efficiency could compromise product safety, product safety must prevail.”

    GAMA stated that the proposed 84 percent AFUE minimum standard for gas-fired boilers “presents serious consumer safety issues.” The safety issues were similar to those the group cited for weatherized gas furnaces.

    “The lack of a venting system on weatherized (i.e., outdoor) furnaces does not eliminate all of the concerns of increased condensation associated with higher efficiencies for noncondensing furnaces. There is still the concern of heat exchanger failure.”

    The DOE concluded that the health and safety concerns posed by an 83 percent AFUE level for weatherized furnaces “can be resolved by proper equipment and system design and proper installation.”

    “While proper design issues are within the manufacturer’s control, DOE has not properly evaluated what ‘proper equipment and system design’ is required to mitigate the health and safety concerns,” GAMA stated. “Conversely, proper installation is often not within the manufacturer’s control.”

  • 2007 Energy Bill

    In January 2007, GAMA and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy presented consensus boiler minimum performance and design requirements to key congressional staff for inclusion in a comprehensive energy bill in the 110th Congress to establish new federal minimum efficiency standards for residential gas and oil boilers.

    “The boiler industry directed GAMA to take this action as an alternative to new residential boiler standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy that would compromise consumer safety,” said Jack W. Klimp, president of GAMA.

    However, by the end of the year, there were serious problems with the portions of the energy bill that concern boiler standards. The House and Senate versions of the bill authorized the DOE to establish regional efficiency standards, but only for heating and cooling equipment.

    An industry coalition - including the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors-National Association; the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI); and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America - has tried since last May to educate lawmakers about the harm to millions of consumers that will result from the new regionalization strategy.

    Under current law, all regulated consumer products - including heating and cooling equipment - are subject to national federal standards. The coalition noted that environmental advocates lobbied for a new strategy. Under the new law, homeowners who use gas furnaces, air-conditioning and other heating and cooling systems will face new regional standards that will result in higher costs and less consumer choice, the coalition asserted.

    “Regionalizing heating and cooling efficiency standards would eliminate the largest markets for the most affordable equipment, causing immediate cost increases for those states whose standards might not even change at all,” according to Talbot Gee, vice president of HARDI. “Homeowners, increasingly on tight budgets and caught off-guard by sudden heating or cooling system failures, will have no choice but to repair and maintain older, less-efficient systems rather than replacing them with high-efficiency systems that they could no longer afford.”

    At press time, the energy bill had passed the Senate and was on its way to the House; once passed in the House, the president is expected to sign it.