Sandy Victims Face Costly Energy Regulations as They Rebuild

Sandy Victims Face Costly Energy Regulations as They Rebuild

As New Jersey residents without heat try to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, new federal energy standards regarding furnaces will force them to pay thousands of dollars more to buy furnaces that are compliant. 

The new rules require those purchasing furnaces after May 1 must buy “energy-efficient natural gas furnaces,” which will cost residents in New Jersey thousands of dollars; in addition to the cost of the furnace, it “must be vented directly to an outside wall rather than through the chimney, which can increase installation costs dramatically,” according to home contractors. 

Congress passed a law in 2007 that allowed the “Department of Energy to develop regional standards for central heating and cooling equipment.” Under those rules, “gas furnaces installed after May 1 must be at least 90 percent efficient, compared with the current 78 percent efficient criterion.”

Though the “new rules will not affect homeowners with gas-burning boilers that heat water for radiator systems,” most homeowners in New Jersey will be impacted because “up to 80 percent of homes in the region are heated with forced hot air systems that use gas-fired furnaces.”

Energy-efficiency furnaces already cost $300 more than older models, but since most homes need to be modified to accommodate the new furnaces, homeowners will have to pay significantly more.

For instance, since “the venting pipe needs to be at a certain angle to allow proper venting, relocation of the furnace might be necessary,” which would “require moving the gas line and changing the electrical wiring.”

In addition, the piping may have to be changed if the furnace sits in the middle of the basement. And if a home has a standard 40- or 50-gallon gas water heater, removing the old furnace venting pipe will not generate enough heat in the chimney “by the water heater venting pipe alone to prevent condensation from occurring.” The sulfuric acid from the condensation can “eat away at a chimney’s mortar joints” and “re-venting the water heater could increase the total cost of the new furnace project by an additional $3,000 to $4,000.”

While the Department of Energy “concluded that the higher-efficiency furnaces and air conditioning systems would save energy,” this may not be the case because nearly all homes in New Jersey “do not have properly designed ductwork,” which means the furnaces will have to use as much energy as the ones they are replacing.

Lastly, many condominium bylaws in New Jersey “prohibit modifying or punching through any exterior wall,” so condo groups would have to modify their bylaws before condo owners could comply with the new federal energy guidelines.