Coming in 2019...
Taming an Invisible Energy Hog with Efficiency Standards

The Department of Energy issued new efficiency standards in June that will dramatically reduce the energy use of a little-known home energy hog: Furnace fans, which circulate heated and cooled air throughout a home. These fans consume more than twice the electricity in a year as a typical new refrigerator. The new standards will cut the cost to power furnace fans by about 40 percent.

Most furnace fans come as part of a furnace. But in homes with central air conditioning, the fan circulates cooled air during the summer in addition to the heated air during the winter. Furnace fans consume about 1,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or almost 10 percent of the total electricity use of an average U.S. home. And yet, while the energy use of furnace fans is significantly higher than that of other common home appliances, because furnace fans are inside a furnace, their energy consumption is hidden.

Big energy savings can be achieved by switching out the motor used to drive a furnace fan. Typical furnace fans use permanent split capacitor motors, but brushless permanent magnet motors, which can be used to meet the new performance standards, are much more efficient and are available today. The new standards will save an average consumer about $340 to $500 over the life of a furnace fan. On a national level, it is estimated that the new standards will reduce electricity consumption by about 500 billion kilowatt-hours over thirty years of sales, an amount equal to the annual electricity use of about 47 million U.S. households, and will save consumers $29 billion. The standards will take effect in 2019.

Besides saving consumers money on their energy bills, the new standards for furnace fans can also improve comfort in two ways. First, furnace fans using current motors are often unable to provide sufficient airflow to achieve desired comfort levels throughout a home. Furnace fans using more efficient motors can improve comfort simply by doing a better job of providing sufficient airflow.

Second, the new standards are also based on the use of multi-stage controls for furnaces. Most furnaces today have only two modes: “on” or “off.” With these single-stage furnaces, the furnace will shut off once the desired room temperature is reached, and will turn back on again once the temperature drops below some threshold. Multi-stage or modulating furnaces, on the other hand, can provide two or more levels of heat output, such as high and low, allowing the furnace to better match the actual demand for heat. The energy savings from the new standards for furnace fans will also translate to reductions in CO2 emissions of about 180 million metric ton.
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