According to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued 86 rules regulating the HVAC industry in the past 13 years. And that’s just the DOE. Other federal agencies and various levels of government are making rules that impact the HVAC sector, and industry experts are paying close attention to what may lie ahead in 2014.

“The regional efficiency standards issue is obviously still not resolved,” acknowledged Bryan Rocky, director, residential product management, unitary products, Johnson Controls. He added, “The list of other issues is significant.”

Rulemaking Roundup

According to Rocky, the two federal agencies to watch most closely are the DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The Department of Energy is really the driver,” he said, noting that a new furnace rulemaking process will be moving forward in 2014.

“The DOE has been under the gun in meeting some of their mandated statutory requirements for new or revised efficiency standards relative to energy metrics. As a result, they are trying to fast-track a lot of activity to meet the laws as mandated by Congress. In the process, much of the economic analysis and impact on customers and the HVAC industry is being rushed. As a result, some of the science, economic analysis, and justification for new regulations appear to not make much sense,” Rocky said.

He continued, “The EPA is the second regulatory organization that is really moving things, so things like accelerating the refrigerant change is a significant issue that the two agencies are working on.”

As The NEWS reported in December, the EPA’s most recent hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) proposal will accelerate the R-22 phaseout.

“The EPA has proposed a modified phaseout of HCFCs that could accelerate the phaseout of R-22 and its availability in the next three years,” Rocky said. “The latest proposal basically means there wouldn’t be any new virgin R-22 manufactured after 2017, which represents an accelerated phaseout from what is the law today.”

Adding to the list of rules to watch this year, Rocky said, “Energy-efficiency test procedures and calculation methods will impact residential furnaces and air conditioners. Also, changes in both Energy Star and CEE [Consortium for Energy Efficiency] tier levels have not yet been finalized as part of the delays in regional efficiency standards.”

Karen Meyers, corporate director of government relations for Rheem Mfg. Co., said her company is currently monitoring 14 rulemakings that affect HVAC, water heating, commercial refrigeration, pool/spa heating, and boilers. She pointed to the increasing regulation coming from the DOE as of late.

“On the water heating side, we’re preparing for the 2015 energy-efficiency standards as part of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA),” Meyers said. “However, the DOE is still finalizing new water heater test procedures, which manufacturers will have to comply with in addition to preparing for new products that meet new efficiency standards.”

Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations for Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), noted that the most pressing pending regulation for contractors revolves around the regional standards, but there are others to watch, as well.

“The open rulemaking with the most significant impact on the residential HVACR contractors is the ‘Enforcement of Regional Standards for Residential Furnaces and Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps,’” he said. (For more on this topic, see the article on page 10.)

McCrudden added, “ACCA is also watching rulemakings at OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] on Confined Space in Construction; DOE appliance standards on furnace fans, walk-in coolers, freezers, and commercial refrigeration; and the 2015-2019 HCFC allowance rule at EPA.”

McCrudden also pointed out that the timing in 2014 means that it’s important to track DOE and EPA actions this year, since both agencies have to finish major rules before 2015 begins.

“DOE’s enforcement rules for regional standards must be in place for the regional standards on central air conditioners. And EPA’s Adjustments to the Allowance for Controlling HCFC Production, Import, and Export rule will set the final five-year allocation for virgin R-22 before the 2020 milestone,” he said.

Industry manufacturers are also particularly concerned this year with the DOE’s furnace fan efficiency rulemaking.

According to John Gibbons, director of residential product and platform strategy, Carrier, “The DOE’s proposed rule is problematic and in some cases not feasible. We’ll be working with DOE and AHRI to craft a more reasonable outcome.”

Meyers explained, “Recently, the DOE issued test procedure requirements for testing the efficiency of furnace fans, which is just one component of an overall unit, and the DOE is in the process of establishing efficiency standards for furnace fans as well. Adding efficiency standards for product components, as well as requiring a product meets an overall efficiency standard, increases the test requirements, which hinders our speed-to-market with new, innovative products that may actually offer more energy savings.”

Rocky further discussed the complexity created by this rule. “The furnace fan efficiency rulemaking is the one that is of real concern to us. Essentially, it mandates high-efficiency fan blowers in furnaces. However, the definition also impacts air handlers, modular blowers, and other pieces of equipment and will have a huge impact on costs as well as performance as contractors and homeowners consider what products they can install and purchase.”

Publication date: 2/10/2014

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