In just the past few years, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has set or revised standards for dozens of residential and commercial HVACR and water-heating products and components, including commercial rooftop units (RTUs), boilers, water heaters, central air conditioners and heat pumps, furnace fans, electric motors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and many more. Part of my job here at The NEWS is to cover the regulatory actions affecting the industry, and while it’s pretty much impossible to report on all of it (you should see how many DOE notices I get in my inbox every day), we hit the highlights.
Notably, the DOE last year proposed raising minimum efficiency levels for residential, nonweatherized natural gas furnaces from the current 80 percent AFUE to 92 percent AFUE, which would effectively eliminate noncondensing furnaces in the U.S. The industry is fighting this proposed standard tooth and nail, as one might imagine, with many citing faulty data and analyses as the top reasons the standard isn’t viable. The DOE has yet to release a final rule for this one, and there’s a chance it could be open to some kind of negotiated rulemaking (only time will tell). Additionally, energy legislation just passed by the U.S. House of Representatives includes a fix that would give stakeholders more time to work with the DOE on a standard that is more palatable to all parties involved; this legislation has yet to make its way through the Senate, however, and many in the industry anticipate it won’t go anywhere in the next year.
Also in 2015, I reported on the (lack of) enforcement of the new regional energy conservation standards for split-system and single package central air conditioners. What a debacle. This one had me and many others in the industry scratching our heads. Why hasn’t the DOE, more than a year after the standards went into effect (on Jan. 1, 2015), released any kind of enforcement plan, especially since stakeholders had already put in the work to develop a consensus enforcement plan for the DOE.
That’s right. Industry leaders and other stakeholders did virtually all the work for the DOE, and it still took the agency a year to basically reprint the working group’s suggestions — a year during which contractors and distributors adapted as best they could to the new energy conservation standards in the total absence of enforcement guidance from the DOE. (The DOE has not yet released a final rule for enforcement; you can read more about this topic at http://bit.ly/RSEnforcementNOPR.)
Given the unprecedented amount of regulations being handed down by the DOE, one thing is clear: It’s more important than ever for those in this industry to stay informed. Luckily, the DOE keeps a list of current rulemakings available online, which you can access by visiting http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/current-rulemakings-and-notices. From there, you can click on each product/equipment category that interests you to view recent updates, public meeting dates, milestones and documents, contact information, information on how to submit comments and sign up for email alerts, and more.
I highly encourage you to take a look at the list to see what will be happening in the next year. Staying involved in the rulemaking process is going to be more important in 2016 than it has ever been before, and ensuring the HVACR industry’s interests are represented will help ensure new standards are developed fairly and properly.
Publication date: 1/18/2016