DOE proposes stricter efficiency standards for gas furnaces

The Department of Energy (DOE) wants to update efficiency standards for residential natural gas-powered furnace for the first time in more than 20 years.

Under the new regulations, newly built furnaces would have to reach a 92 percent fuel utilization efficiency rate.

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The proposed rule, unveiled Tuesday, would be similar to standards released last week for commercial furnaces.

The residential rule would result in net savings of up to $16.1 billion for consumers, DOE estimated.

Natural gas is, by far, the most commonly used fuel for residential heating in the United States. About 40 percent of energy delivered to residential buildings is used for heat, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Efficiency minimums for residential gas furnaces haven’t been updated since Congress first enacted them in 1987, requiring a 78 percent efficiency rate in 1992.

DOE tried to update the standard to an 80 percent efficiency rate in 2007, but environmental groups and the state of California sued, saying a higher standard was feasible and justified.

The agency then proposed a 90 percent standard for northern states, but that was also challenged in court by gas utilities.

Tuesday’s proposal resulted from a settlement DOE made last year on that lawsuit.

The Natural Resources Defense Council welcomed the new rules, but said DOE could go even farther.

“While this proposed standard is a major step in the right direction from the current 80 percent standard, it falls short of the full economic potential indicated by DOE’s own analyses — which suggest a 95 percent efficiency level is best,” Robin Roy, director of building energy strategy for the group, wrote in a blog post.

“In addition, there are furnaces on the market that can deliver 98 percent efficiency.”

DOE will publish the proposed new standard in the Federal Register in the coming days, it said.