New efficiency standards would help address heating bills of many homes in cold climates

Posted on by
Joanna Mauer

On the heels of a proposed rule for new efficiency standards for furnaces, late on Friday the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a proposed rule for another type of home heating equipment. While the proposed standards for boilers would save money for many consumers in cold climates, higher standards could achieve significantly greater energy savings.

About 11 million US homes are heated with boilers using either gas or heating oil. Most boilers are used in cold climates, where heating bills can be very high. About 60% of homes heated by gas boilers and 80% of homes heated by oil boilers are in the Northeast. Homes heated with heating oil face especially high heating bills. Homes using heating oil are expected to spend about $2,000 on average on heating bills this winter.

DOE estimates that boilers meeting the new standards sold over 30 years would reduce national energy consumption by 0.25 quadrillion Btus--enough energy to heat all the homes in New England that use heating oil for a year--and net savings of $0.6-1.7 billion for consumers. But higher standards that are cost-effective for consumers would save 1.2 quadrillion Btus, or enough energy to heat all the homes in New England that use heating oil for five years.

Boilers heat water and provide either hot water or steam to heat a home. Heat is generally distributed from the hot water or steam to the home using radiators. Hot water boilers make up the vast majority of sales.

The current standards for hot water boilers require a minimum efficiency of 82% for gas-fired equipment and 84% for oil-fired equipment. The new proposed standards would raise the minimum efficiency levels to 85% and 86% for gas-fired and oil-fired hot water boilers, respectively.

The proposed standards can be met by increasing the size of the heat exchanger. Higher efficiency levels that would save almost five times as much energy as the proposed standards could be met using condensing technology. Condensing boilers extract additional heat by condensing the water vapor in the flue gases, resulting in efficiency levels of 90% or higher.

It’s good to see this proposed rule issued after being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for more than nine months--far longer than the 90 days permitted by Executive Order.

DOE is scheduled to publish a final rule for boilers in 2016, and the new standards would take effect five years later.