The 2007 “Energy Bill” passed by the U.S. Congress requires the minimum efficiency of all heating and cooling equipment throughout the country to increase. The requirement varies depending upon where you live. Some details are still being worked out, but for Ohio and the northern states that will mean all gas furnaces will have to be at least 90% efficient starting May 1, 2013. These high efficiency units have been around for decades and are proven technology. Obviously, these furnaces will consume less gas and utilities—a good thing. On the other hand, you will not have all the options you once had and in many cases, a pretty big house remodeling task on your hands.
Why might you have to remodel your home just to replace your furnace?
Most older homes with lower efficiency furnaces vent the fumes up the chimney. This is a tried and true method that has been incorporated in home construction for many decades. The problem is that it cannot achieve the minimum efficiency mandated by the government. The new, higher efficiency technology requires that the fumes be vented directly outside with a PVC pipe—you have to abandon your chimney. It is possible to go up through the roof, but there are often finished living spaces above and then you have to punch a hole in the roof. So to avoid these problems the pipe is usually run through the unfinished basement and out the sidewall of the home. There are some limitations as to route and location, but we have been doing this for many years now and it usually works out well.
The problem comes when the furnace is “trapped.”
Often people have invested significant money to finish off their basement or the basement is below grade. Now there is not a good route for the pipe to go. Condominiums, apartment buildings and multi-family construction offer similar architectural challenges. If you don’t have a basement, it could also be very difficult. If you are uncertain about your situation and you want to keep your options open, now would be a good time to have your installation evaluated by a qualified heating professional.
As we get closer to the May 2013 deadline, the supply of the furnace designed to go in your chimney will decline. After the deadline they will be outlawed, and in the northern states obsolete. Manufacturers and wholesalers may reduce stock so they are not stuck with inventory. It is possible that we could start to run out before we get too far in to the 2012-2013 heating season!
If you choose to wait, you will not have the option of replacing your furnace with the same type using your chimney. High efficiency furnaces are more expensive and have some additional constraints, but they are often a very good option. For some homeowners, this type of furnace could add a lot of difficulty (and cost) to their heating installation. The better choice might be to use the technology that they have employed for years. The differences in some cases will be thousands of dollars plus architectural compromises to your home that you did not want.
Paul Wadsworth is the President and Owner of P.K. Wadsworth Heating and Cooling. For 37 years, Paul has been providing heating and cooling services to the Greater Cleveland area. P.K. Wadsworth has been a trusted Cleveland HVAC service company for 75 years. The company understand the area's construction and local heating and air conditioning needs. Paul has an MBA from the University of Michigan and a B.S., Industrial Engineering from Purdue University. He's been President of the Cleveland Air Conditioning Contractors of America and a founding member of the local chapter. Paul was born and raised in Cleveland and has been active in the local community. He resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and two sons.
The opinions and statements contained in this article are for general informational purposes only and are not instructions. Only trained, licensed and experienced personnel should attempt installation/repair. The author assumes no liability for the opinions/statements made in this article. Any individual attempting a repair or installation based on this article does so at their own risk of loss.