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New Furnace Mandates Have Arrived: Are You Prepared?

As of 2019, ECM requirements for furnaces have changed. Is your home prepared?

New Furnace Mandates Have Arrived: Are You Prepared?

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Olivia Minnier


October 4th, 2022

As of July 2019, The Department of Energy created new mandates to make furnaces more energy efficient. The regulation requires a new type of fan motor that is much more energy-efficient. You may wonder how this impacts you if you have an older system or have been looking for a replacement.

At Fire & Ice, we want to ensure you understand how this impacts you and your system.

What Does ECM Mean?

An ECM motor is an electronically commutated low-wattage motor. It is a self-regulated motor that does not need the assistance of another system to operate. It also allows unparalleled airflow delivery for HVAC systems.

The department of energy is now mandating Furnace manufacturers must now use these motors. They are replacing the permanent split capacitor (PSC) induction blower motors that have previously been the standard.

Why the Change in Standards?

The answer is simple: Energy efficiency.

The ECM fan motors use less electricity than the old-style motors. How much less? Estimates are in the area of 45%, so just about half as much.

What Does it Mean for My System?

This is very likely the question many people are asking. The new ECM fan motors do add a few dollars to the upfront cost of a new furnace, but the homeowner should quickly get that money back. The Department of Energy estimates an energy savings of $340 to $500 over the furnace's life, which takes into account the higher upfront cost. The ECM fan motors can also make you more comfortable by making airflow in the home more efficient.

How Will This Impact my Older System If I’m Looking to Upgrade?

This won’t directly impact your older system until it needs repairs. However, it does mean that your HVAC system is not running as efficiently as it could.

On an older system, sometimes a repair will cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the part. So the repair cost is probably not worth it if it’s on an older system.

Other times a system could probably get another year or two of life with minor repairs, but the difference in efficiency compared to a modern system again makes it a money sink compared to a total replacement.

To be clear, the decision on what to do always belongs to the homeowner. A good HVAC technician will educate you on the issues they’re seeing and, if appropriate, discuss options with you. But you should never feel pushed into a decision.

However, there are very clear benefits to upgrading your system.

How Does a Newer System Impact My Home’s Energy Efficiency?

However, getting a new system can significantly impact your home’s energy efficiency. Newer systems utilize the energy they use more efficiently because of the features. High-efficiency furnaces have a secondary heat exchanger. The furnace creates heat, recycles what it doesn’t use, and uses the waste in a secondary heat exchanger, finally exhausting what is left. Standard-efficiency models use the heat and exhaust the rest because they lack a second heat exchanger.

Functionally they will do the same thing; you can have a variable-speed blower, a two-speed, or a fixed speed on both. The difference is how many BTUs you need to do the job. The newer systems use fewer BTUs.

Saving energy can also help lower your utility bills.

Lowers Utility Bills

Less energy will lower your utility bills, but newer systems also use the power they produce significantly more efficiently. On the other hand, older systems waste a significant amount of energy; chances are, if your system is over a decade old, it’s not running as effectively as it once was.

But is it worth replacing your current system instead of repairing it?

Repair vs. Replace

When making this critical decision, the new mandate should be a factor to consider. For example, does it make sense to spend money repairing an old inefficient furnace in your home?

Many older furnaces are only 50% to 70% efficient compared to 90% to 95% today. The new ECM fan motors mean the gap is even wider, and a new furnace will save you even more monthly money on utility bills.

However, once you replace your system, you still have to maintain it.

Maintain Your System by Getting Regular Maintenance

No matter your furnace's age, regular maintenance appointments, including tune-ups, are crucial to keeping your system running the way it should. Most homeowners only buy a few systems during their lifetime, so protecting that investment is essential.

While getting a furnace tune-up, look for your technician to complete the following:

Steps for Furnace Tune-Up

  • Test for carbon monoxide.
  • Test for gas leaks up to furnace shut-off valve.
  • Check the air filter, and replace it if necessary.
  • Check humidifier operation, change for winter operation.
  • Test and adjust the process of safety and operating controls.
  • Inspect flue pipe and draft diverter.
  • Monitor for combustion leaks.
  • Test gas valve operation.
  • Check blower motor (and belt if applicable)
  • Test and tighten all wiring and connections.
  • Adjust burner for maximum efficiency.
  • Clean burners and inspect heat exchanger.
  • Clean and adjust the thermostat.
  • Lubricate all motors, bearings, fans, and circulators.
  • Clean and adjust pilot assembly.
  • Clean flame sensor.
  • Inform customers of equipment conditions.

At Fire & Ice, we first ask if the homeowners have all the registers open. As part of the query, you want to get a cursory overview of the air distribution system and see if registers are closed, that there’s not a sofa or something against the wall blocking the return air.

With the furnace, you give it a once-over in terms of cleanliness. The in-shot burners may need to be cleaned on a gas furnace. That’s why checking the amp draw on the blower motor, check the blower bearings, and the amp draw of the little inducer or draft motor to make sure that it’s running correctly.

You bring the furnace up to temperature, do a combustion analysis, and check a sample of the flue gas. Look for problems with the heat exchanger and the mixture of gases in there. You do a visual check of the heat exchanger and check the gas pressure.

You measure the temperature rise of the machine, which is the temperature of the return air coming to it versus the supply air leaving it. It’s supposed to be at a certain range. If it’s too hot, it’s running too high, and you’re losing efficiency that could damage the heat exchanger. If it’s too low, you risk condensing in the heat exchanger because you don’t have enough heat to get the flue products through without condensing.

We’re going to check all the safety devices. You pull the hose off the pressure switch. Make sure the port is clean where it goes into the heat exchanger. When the hose is off the pressure switch, the machine should shut down as a safety feature. You may want to disable the motor to see if the safety trips. On a condensing furnace, you’re going to flush the condensate system to make sure that it’s draining correctly.

We’ve seen it a hundred times where we went out and did the maintenance, then we go out there when it’s really cold, the furnace is running a lot and creating a lot of condensation, and the homeowner is saying, “It’s not keeping up with the thermometer.” Well, it’s easy to tell if the condensate trap is plugged up. You clean out all the gunk, and magically the furnace runs.

Additionally, signing up for a maintenance plan is a great way to keep your furnace up to date on maintenance.

Maintenance Plans are a Great way to Keep Your Furnace Running Efficiently

A great way to keep up with your furnace is to sign up for a maintenance agreement. Maintenance agreements are a great way to ensure your system is running effectively and to resolve issues before they arise.

The sooner you start thinking about maintenance, the better because HVAC systems eventually break down. Even the best ones. Maintenance can prevent that. That’s the obvious side. Even when your system is working at its absolute best, it still needs maintenance.

If we use your air conditioner as an example, the outdoor condenser will get dirty. This is an inevitable aspect of having a conventional A/C unit with an outdoor unit. Therefore, it needs to be cleaned professionally to ensure proper operation.

The fear is that it seems to be working fine, so maybe you skip this cleaning for a year or two. Once you start to ignore this responsibility, the efficiency of the air conditioner will drop by approximately 10% each year.

Furnace maintenance is no different. You likely already know that your filter needs to be changed regularly, but other items must be performed periodically to keep it running well over time.

Remember that most homeowners only purchase one or two HVAC systems in their lifetimes, so it’s essential to maintain the investment. Additionally, manufacturers only honor their warranties for up to ten years. The other decade of your HVAC system? That is on you.

Additionally, for a manufacturer warranty to be valid, most manufacturers require that regular maintenance be performed on your system and that there is a record of it; otherwise, you can run the risk of voiding your warranty.

That leads us to the importance of getting regular inspections and check-ups on your system.

What is a Maintenance Agreement?

A maintenance agreement is very simply an agreement to maintain a product. For HVAC, this means you will be paying a certain amount for the expectation that your machine will be serviced and provided for.

At Fire & Ice, we offer three different service levels for our maintenance agreements. All include a warranty period of one year for the better level, two years for the best, and three years for the fantastic level.

We also offer priority service for all three levels with hour time limits for each. For better, we offer 36-hour priority service, 24-hour priority service for the best, and same-day service for our fantastic members. Discounts are also included with the plan on equipment repairs and accessories. All plans also include money off equipment replacements.

Benefits of a Maintenance Agreement

For a complete list of services in our available maintenance agreements, check out our Maintenance Agreement Page.

Rather than exhaustively re-list examples from the link above, below, we talk about a few critical aspects of the plans and why they exemplify the desirable traits you want in a maintenance plan.

The heating season is here, and colder weather is on the way. So don't forget to schedule your furnace tune-up.

At Fire & Ice, we understand that restrictions and regulations on your equipment are hard to keep up with and might be challenging to understand. If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call. If you live in the Columbus, Ohio, area and are interested in taking the next step towards your home comfort, use the zip code map below to see if you are in our service area.

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