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Energy Star

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ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) designed to promote energy efficient products. ENERGY STAR guidelines were developed in the United States and are now also in use in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the European Union (other energy efficiency standards also exist in some locations -- such as the Energy Savings Trust in the United Kingdom -- and, in some cases, are more widely adopted than ENERGY STAR).

When buying a new furnace or air conditioner, the alphabet soup of HVAC terminology you might encounter can be confusing. What do all of those acronyms and symbols really mean? If your new furnace comes with an ENERGY STAR seal of approval, read on to learn what that guarantees.

How Certification Works

ENERGY STAR sets energy efficiency standards for a variety of consumer and commercial products ranging from large appliances such as dishwashers, televisions, and furnaces to smaller items such as battery chargers and blenders. The standards are designed to identify the products in each market that both save energy and save money (considering both initial purchase cost and operating costs over time). Certification under the ENERGY STAR program consists of the following steps:

  1. Specific energy standards are set for each category of product. These standards are designed to identify a reasonable portion of the most energy efficient products on the market. For example, approximately 35% of gas furnaces on the market in 2008 met the ENERGY STAR efficiency requirements for gas furnaces.
  2. Testing requirements are set to ensure eligible products meet the performance requirements of the program
  3. Manufacturers agree to provide a limited warranty of their qualified products. No specific length requirements are mandated for this warranty.

Product Testing Requirements

The ENERGY STAR certification process is a collaboration of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Historically, all ENERGY STAR testing was performed by the product manufacturer with extremely limited oversight by ENERGY STAR.

No independent verification of eligibility claims or reported performance numbers are made; unless a competitor or outside agency flags a claim as erroneous, a manufacturer can claim any level of energy efficiency it wishes with impunity. There have been several such complaints about a variety of products included in the ENERGY STAR program; when tested by Consumer Reports, several of these complaints proved to be valid. Although the relevant products did still meet the requirements for the program, they performed less efficiently than claimed by the manufacturer.

In Spring 2010, the Government Accountability Office issued an audit of the ENERGY STAR program stating that it is susceptible to misuse and fraud. The EPA and the DOE responded swiftly to accelerate enhancements that were underway at the time to require more stringent testing and testing under conditions that more closely mimic real world use.

The specific testing requirements and methodology mandated by ENERGY STAR is outlined in 10 CFR part 430 Appendix N as maintained by the DOE.

What Standards Apply to Furnaces?

ENERGY STAR efficiency standards exist for both oil and gas furnaces. Oil furnaces with an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating of at least 85% and gas furnaces with an AFUE rating of at least 90% may qualify for ENERGY STAR certification.

Gas furnaces are also required to have an average annual auxiliary electrical energy (Eae) consumption of less than 800 kilowatt-hours per year (kWh/yr). This is the total electrical energy supplied to the furnace over the course of a full year.

What Standards Apply to HVAC Systems Generally?

The following section provides a comparison of the ENERGY STAR requirements for various HVAC systems:

Furnaces:

  • Gas: AFUE > 90%, Eae < 800 kWh/yr
  • Oil: AFUE > 85%

Boilers:

  • All: AFUE > 85%

Heat Pumps:

  • Indoor: SEER > 14, EER > 11, HSPF > 8
  • Split Systems: SEER > 14.5, EER > 12, HSPF > 8.2

Central Air Conditioners:

  • Indoor: SEER > 14, EER > 11
  • Split Systems: SEER > 14.5, EER > 12

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