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Will future home furnaces be more efficient?

New US standards announced this week barely raise the bar, critics say.

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Amid volatile and rising prices for natural gas, the Bush administration has unveiled new efficiency standards for home furnaces and boilers.

But there are problems: After six years in development, the new national standards will barely result in any energy savings – and won't take effect for another eight years.

Under the new rule, the US Department of Energy (DOE) in 2015 will require nonweatherized gas-fired furnaces – the kind most used for home heating – to be 80 percent energy efficient. That's up from the current mandate of 78 percent.

"These amended standards will not only cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions, but they also allow consumers to make smarter energy choices that will save energy and money," Andy Karsner, DOE's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said in a statement Monday.

But that slight uptick won't have much impact on natural gas use since 99 percent of furnaces sold are already at that level, industry data show.

Energy-efficiency groups quickly denounced the new standard as a Thanksgiving "turkey."

"We need bold action from our government," Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said in a statement. "But instead, for the second time in a row, [the DOE] has issued a very weak efficiency standard that once again leaves important energy and CO2 savings on the table at a time when we can least afford continued waste."

In October, the department released an efficiency standard for transformers, the ubiquitous gray cylinders on utility poles, that was weaker than what energy-efficiency advocates and even many manufacturers had wanted.

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