Biden administration finalizes costly and unnecessary furnace regulations

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There’s a lot of consumer anger over pending federal regulations targeting stoves, but Biden administration bureaucrats are also going after dishwashers, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, ceiling fans, and water heaters. And just last Friday, the Department of Energy (DOE) finalized a costly new energy efficiency standard for furnaces. It is another win for climate change activists but a big loss for millions of homeowners. Fortunately, the fight for furnace freedom is not yet over.

As CEI noted last year in our coalition comments to DOE critical of the proposed furnace rule (which was finalized with minimal change), it restricts furnace choices in a manner that may leave some homeowners out in the cold. In particular, it all but outlaws non-condensing natural gas furnaces in favor of condensing ones. The difference is that a condensing furnace extracts more heat out of the exhaust and thus is more efficient, but it creates different venting requirements.  Bottom line – some homeowners with a non-condensing furnace and compatible venting system will have considerable difficulty making the switch. Compliant condensing furnaces are also larger, adding further to installation challenges.

According to the American Gas Association, a condensing furnace costs $350 more on average and adds up to $2,200 in installation costs.

Simply put, condensing gas furnaces are not the best option for some homes. This is particularly true of older and space constrained homes where replacing a non-condensing furnace with a condensing one will be especially difficult. For this reason, the regulation poses disproportionate burdens on low-income and senior households, who are more likely to own such homes.

And remember, any homeowner who prefers a condensing furnace is free to choose one, with or without this DOE regulation. Washington meddling only serves to eliminate the non-condensing option.

In reality, quite a few homeowners in need of replacing their current non-condensing gas furnace may avoid all the costs and complexities of trying to install a condensing furnace and make the jump away from gas entirely and towards an electric furnace. This is by design, as the regulation is part of the Biden Administration’s climate change-inspired efforts to wean Americans off natural gas in favor of electrification. As with the regulations targeting stoves and water heaters – which, like furnaces, come in both natural gas and electric versions – DOE is misusing the appliance efficiency standards program to favor the latter in pursuit of its climate change objectives. Indeed, in its proposed rule, the agency asserts “the need to confront the global climate crisis,” and calculates the claimed climate benefits.

The good news is that the fight is not yet over. A legal challenge to the rule is already in federal court – a 2022 suit against a related DOE rule impacting furnaces was held in abeyance until the new efficiency standard was finalized, so that the court could address all the issues at once. The case will center on provisions in the law that prevent DOE from setting efficiency standards that harm consumers – provisions that were clearly flouted by taking condensing furnaces off the market.

In addition, ever since the backlash over potential gas stove bans earlier this year, it has become clear that these appliance regulations are badly out of step with public sentiment. The House of Representatives has already passed a bill stopping DOE from setting a new stove regulation.   Similar legislation blocking this anti-consumer furnace regulation is expected.