In recent years the industry has made substantial progress in the energy efficiency of HVAC/R and plumbing equipment to the point where, today, every step is much more difficult, more expensive and results in a smaller gain.
At the same time, as important as energy efficiency and associated things like greenhouse gases and global warming may be, it seems that issues like public safety and protection of the consumer/homeowner from unreasonable costs are going by the wayside.
In this issue we talk about the coming changes to storage type water heaters. Like so many appliances, water heaters have traditionally been a relatively low cost appliance that functions silently in the basement for years with little if any thought from the homeowner and virtually no maintenance.
But that is going to change with the new efficiency requirements. Water heaters will become considerably more expensive and, because they require an electric flue damper, will no longer function when the power goes out.
That’s a problem. Today’s appliances are extremely safe in that they won’t catch fire, they won’t explode and they won’t electrocute anyone. But, in order to meet new efficiency requirements, every HVAC/R and plumbing appliance relies more and more on having a stable reliable electricity supply. Unlike many of the older furnaces, boilers and water heaters, high efficiency equipment doesn’t function without electricity.
This comes at a time when extreme weather along with aging over-burdened power grids result in wintertime power outages of days and even weeks in some parts of the country making this, in my mind, an extreme safety hazard.
Governments push energy efficiency standards relentlessly forward. They assume that manufacturers will always come up with a way to meet them – and so far they have. Or, they exit the market, as one major manufacturer of oil-fired water heaters has done as meeting the new rules would be prohibitively expensive.
The assumption is that as the technology matures it will become more reliable and the costs will come down. That would be true, except that efficiency requirements are changing so often that research and development engineers don’t have time to catch their breath.
And then different jurisdictions introduce different requirements, which pushes up costs even further as manufacturers must create different products for each market.
Energy efficiency requirements shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. Industry works with governments on these issues, but the governments set the agenda. There needs to be more input from consumers and building owners and, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on those responsible for public safety that heating systems that don’t work if the power goes out are a serious safety issue. That needs to be addressed.
Yes, reducing pollution and increasing energy efficiency is very important for the survival of this planet, but right now everyone needs to slow down, look at the big picture from all angles and develop a more reasonable plan going forward.