New home heating standards: terrific or a turkey?

The U.S. Department of Energy announced increased energy efficiency standards for residential furnaces and boilers this week, “…. underscoring the Department’s commitment to meet its aggressive, five-year appliance standard rulemaking schedule.”
The problem is the new standard is already met by most new furnaces sold, say critics of the measures, and makes just a modest improvement on standards that are 15 years old.
The standard, stated as a percentage, measures the efficiency of a furnance in converting fuel into heat.
The DOE says the new rules will lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions ” … of about 7.8 million tons of carbon dioxide, or the amount of emissions produced by 2.6 percent of all light trucks on U.S. roads in one year,” and save the equivalent of the total amount of energy consumed by 2.5 million American households in one year.
That sounds great. But the chart below, provided in a release put out by the Edison Electric Institute, The American Public Power Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows how anemic the changes really are.

1987 standards were effective in 1992. 2007 standards will be effective in 2015.

A two percentage point increase. That’s it. The groups would have preferred a 90 percent efficiency standard (which one-third of the units sold already meet). They noted:

A gas furnace standard at 90% efficiency — an efficiency level currently met by about one-third of all furnaces sold — would save typical consumers about 11% off of their home heating bills relative to the current minimum efficiency units available. On average nationally, families who heat with natural gas will spend about $1,000 on their winter heating bills this winter. In some of the coldest states, they will spend far more.

The American Gas Association praised the new rules, however, saying higher standards would have penalized people living in warmer climates.

“This rule underscores DOE’s understanding that consumers who live in warmer climates should not have to pay the additional costs for central heating equipment that, in the long run, will not pay for itself through energy-efficient savings,” said Charles Fritts, the gas association’s vice president-government relations. “In fact, an unreasonably high efficiency requirement could cause the unwanted and unsafe consequence of consumers attempting to repair equipment rather than replace it with a cost-prohibitive newer system.”

In other words, new systems will be too expensive for people in warmer areas like us in Houston, so it would lead us to do the dangerous deed of trying to repair our existing systems. Hmmmmm….
The amended standards can be found in the Federal Register as of November 19.