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Electricity Savings from Variable-Speed Furnaces in Cold Climates

Panel: Panel 1. Residential Buildings: Technologies, Design, Performance Analysis, and Building Industry Trends

Authors:
Scott Pigg, Energy Center of Wisconsin
Tom Talerico, Glacier Consulting Group

Abstract

Electricity use by new furnaces has come under scrutiny in the last several years, particularly in states such as Wisconsin where the furnace market has come to be dominated by furnaces with high gas combustion efficiency. This paper examines electricity use among new condensing furnaces in Wisconsin, and focuses on the electricity savings from variable-speed furnaces that use electronically commutated motors (ECMs). Field testing and monitoring of 31 new furnaces, combined with interviews with several hundred purchasers of new furnaces suggest that variable-speed furnaces do indeed offer significant electricity savings over typical condensing furnace models, but the savings in the field are affected by important technical and behavioral factors. Static pressure in the field is considerably higher than that used in the federal test procedure for rating furnaces, with the consequence that ECM furnaces use more electricity than their ratings would suggest. Moreover, the proportion of households that operate their furnace fan continuously is an important determinant of the average savings from the technology. Here the data suggest considerable take-back of savings due to a propensity for heating contractors to advise their customers to switch to continuous fan operation when purchasing an ECM furnace.

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Panels of

Panel 2. Residential Buildings: Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation

Panel 1. Residential Buildings: Technologies, Design, Performance Analysis, and Building Industry Trends

Panel 3. Commercial Buildings: Technologies, Design, Performance Analysis, and Building Industry Trends

Panel 4. Commercial Buildings: Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation

Panel 6. Market Transformation: Designing for Lasting Change

Panel 5. Utility Regulation and Deregulation: Incentives, Strategies, and Policies

Panel 7. Human and Social Dimensions of Energy Use: Trends and Their Implications

Panel 9. Efficient Buildings in Efficient Communities

Panel 8. Energy and Environmental Policy: Changing the Climate for Energy Efficiency

Panel 10. Roundtables: Thinking Outside the Box

Panel 11. Appliances and Equipment