The U.S. Dept. of Energy has to start all over on establishing new efficiency standards for gas-burning residential heating appliances and central air-conditioners. In a settlement reached this week on a long-standing lawsuit brought by Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), the energy department agreed to be more inclusive in its process for revising efficiency standards (see "HARDI Announces Settlement with DOE in Regional Efficiency Standards Lawsuit"). HARDI felt that distributor interests were being ignored, because once the updated SEER and AFUE standards go into effect (which should have happened in May, 2014), distributors would be left holding the bag on inventory of out-dated, illegal equipment. To avoid that, the energy dept. has also agreed on an extended “sell-through” period of 18-months.

HVACR distributors have not been the only group blocking the increase in residential  efficiency ratings.The American Public Gas Association (APGA)  sued the energy department (see the APGA statement issued Jan. 11. 2013) over concerns that forcing a minimum 90% AFUE on furnaces in the northern states would drive consumers to buy less expensive, but much more energy intensive, electric heating appliances.

Congress first established minimum AFUE ratings for furnaces in 1987, and SEER ratings for central AC units in 1992. (For detailed information on appliance efficiency standards, see "Standards and Test Procedures" at energy.gov.) Since then, Congress has twice  directed the energy department to strengthen the standards  – first by 1994 (which was not acted on), and again by 2007 (when the minimum was meaninglessly moved from 78% to 80%). In 2011, the department finally issued a proposal with teeth,  calling for regional specific rules - mimimum 90% AFUE condensing furnaces in northern states and SEER 14 central AC units in the southern states. This proposal seemed to meet with broad approval at first (see "Industry and Enviros Alike Applaud New Furnace and AC Efficiency Standards"), but litigation by the APGA and HARDI has kept the proposal from advancing.

While residential heating and cooling efficiency has been stymied, commercial appliance standards may have a better shot. The Department of Energy has been pushing hard on new rules proposed  for energy-gobbling commercial washers (see proposed rule by the Energy Department on March 4, 2014),  walk-in coolers and freezers (see proposed rule by the Energy Department on Feb. 20, 2014),  part-load efficiencies for  commercial boilers (see a second proposed rule by the Energy Department on Feb. 20, 2014).