New furnace rules likely to be dropped in deal with industry


New energy efficiency rules for natural gas furnaces that could have cost homeowners thousands of dollars will be abandoned if a deal between the gas industry and the federal government receives court approval.

The new rules required that furnaces installed after May 1 be at least 90 percent efficient, compared with the current 78 percent efficiency criteria. But unlike older furnaces, which can be easily vented through a chimney, the new furnaces would have to be vented directly to an outside wall. That could have raised installation costs by hundreds or even thousands of dollars, home heating contractors have said.

The American Public Gas Association had filed suit against the U.S. Energy Department over the rules, saying the government did not provide adequate time for the public to comment. The gas industry group also said the rules would actually reduce efficiency, since homeowners might try to avoid the extra cost of the new furnaces by switching to electric heat, which is far less efficient.

The settlement between the gas industry and Energy Department vacating much of the rule was filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and announced Monday. The court has 30 days to approve the settlement.

“We think this is a victory for overall efficiency,” Dave Schryver, the gas association’s executive vice president, said Monday.

“Even though over their lifecycle the more efficient furnaces might pay for themselves, people don’t think in term of lifecycles — they look at what they have to pay now,” he said.

Milton Baum, general manager of Keil Heating and Cooling in Riverdale, said the agreement “works out great for everyone.” He did not see the loss in extra efficiency to be a big issue, saying that the ductwork in most homes is so poorly designed that added efficiency from the new furnaces would have been lost anyway.

But some North Jersey home heating experts were skeptical of the gas association’s contention that the rule would cause homeowners to switch to electric heat.

“That’s like saying that because the price of gas is up to $4 a gallon I’m going to switch to riding a horse,” said Richard Fertel, president and owner of Bornstein Sons, a home heating contractor that serves Bergen and Passaic. The cost of electric heat is so much higher than heating with a gas furnace that homeowners would never switch over, he said.

“The public wants more efficiency,” Fertel said. The gas association’s opposition, he said, “is the same sort of nonsense we heard from Detroit when they increased the mileage requirement for cars. … The mere fact that the gas association is fighting it means it’s a good idea.”

Energy Department analysis concluded that between 2013 and 2045 higher-efficiency furnaces, air conditioning systems and heat pumps would save one-fifth of the amount of total energy used annually by the U.S. residential sector. The drop in energy use would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If the court approves the deal, the Energy Department would generate a new preliminary rule within a year and provide for a 90-day public comment period. A final rule would be issued within a second year.


Source: The Record, Hackensack, NJ

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