New Federal Regulations Could Hurt HVAC, Frig Efficiency

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Of the 88 new rules from the federal Department of Energy since 2001, 40 have been enacted in the last three years and 22 in the last year as part of the federal Climate Action Plan. That’s all part of an effort to stem climate change as quickly as possible, given that Congress won’t take action.

While this may seem like good news for energy efficiency and climate change, the rules, especially intended to improve HVAC and refrigerator efficiency, have been enacted too quickly and may ultimately undermine efforts to combat climate change and bring more efficiency online.

That’s the word from Steve Yurek, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

“The Climate Action Plan is an attempt to deliver through the EPA and DOE what Congress won’t do,” says Yurek. “It’s created a race to get rules finalized.” As a result, ACHR is seeing errors in the final rules.  What’s more, they’re overly ambitious and could lead to less energy efficiency, not more.

One of  the problems, he says, is that once the DOE issues a final rule, it’s nearly impossible to change it.

“They’re moving too quickly and some calculations are incorrect,” he says.

The rules in question often over-estimate energy savings or call for savings that manufacturers just can’t meet, he says. They’re also being enacted too quickly for manufacturers to keep up. For example, no products are on the market that meet the too-high efficiency standards in the commercial refrigerator ruling, he says. It covers 40 product categories and calls for the top energy saving technologies, rather than some of the technologies that yield lower savings but are available on the market.

“By overestimating energy savings, you won’t get the savings and it increases the costs of the products,” he says. “Rather than buying the products, people will repair instead of replace.”

The industry needs to slowly raise the energy efficiency floor to get people to buy the products, he argues.

In addition, the federal government should provide a transparent process that allows organizations like his to provide input.

“We want a transparent process where the analysis can be reviewed. We want to make sure the information is correct so the rules follow the mandates of the law. We also want the rules to be  technically feasible and economically justified,” he says.


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  1. Hi Lisa, the problem with HVAC efficiency is not the equipment but the installation. Here in North Carolina all new homes require leakage testing on the system. If the system is out of compliance a new home will not get a certificate of occupancy.
    This has revealed systemic problems with installers showing that there is no oversight of the industry. The DOE is trying to address the problem superficially because the equipment and estimates savings are the only variable they can control.
    If Steve Yurek was genuinely proud of his industry and willing to stand behind it he would provide a mechanism for Certified HERS Raters to report companies that refuse to install properly. Steve needs to provide feedback to the Rater of the corrective action. Contractors that refuse to comply will have to be barred from working in the industry and flagged for Builders to not use them.

  2. Robin Boyd says:

    I have been stating this for years. While a lot of the issues for energy savings with high efficiency “rated” systems is due to poor installation, proper application has become a major battle that current SEER ratings of systems has caused. The main problem is that the consumer only believes what government approved agencies have to say on the matter. Consumers are also lured into the rocks of high energy usage and being uncomfortable by government and utility company sirens posing as tax credits and rebates.

    In the humid Mid-Atlantic states, where there is not a really high heat load, oversized furnaces are being installed in order to get system SEER ratings that are high enough for monetary incentives. With the oversized furnaces with oversized blowers along with the low latent capacity high SEER rated cooling components, consumers wind up being so uncomfortable from humidity in the summer that they turn their thermosats much lower than they had in the past, and in the winter, the furnace short cycles so badly that it never reaches anywhere near its potential effiency. To add insult to all of this injury, these systems are very noisy because too much air being pumped through the existing duct system in the failing attempt to satisfy the HVAC systems needs.

  3. I am from the Philadelphia area at times we get high temperatures with high humidity, I am a Bryant dealer and recommend to my customers that they have installed a Evolution two stage or a new Modulating heat pump or condensing unit with a variable speed modulating gas furnace or variable speed fan coil unit. These have SEER rating from 16 to 21.5. With the Evolution Connex control my customers have found they can set the temperatures much higher than they ever had and still feel comfortable because the equipment has brought the humidity down dramatically. My customers have raved at how much more even the heating and cooling has become with the variable speed unit. Another plus with this is that many of our customer complaints are that the second floor is always 5 degrees hotter than the first floor so with the DC fan motor being so efficient that you can leave it run constantly during the summer and see very little increase in energy costs.