As discussions of Title 24 emerge, policymakers often refer to the energy efficiency standards adopted in the state of California. It's inevitable that the California Title 24 policy will drastically change the way we all look at energy. Those governing Title 24 California will likely influence the political landscape of other states, influencing the adoption of similar energy efficiency changes. Did you know that by 2040 there will be an estimated 1.8 billion more people on the planet? Maybe not. But, what does this mean for you? Well, this projection translates into a 48% increase in energy consumption — a colossal depletion of renewable resources and tons more greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere (ASHRAE, 2018). That is, unless more states like California adopt, implement, and enforce aggressive energy efficiency standards to combat this potential crisis.
The contents of this article will provide information on existing appliance and equipment standards as they relate to the emerging Zero Net Energy policy. It will explain some ways you can gain your energy independence right now and describe how your future home might be impacted. Finally, this article will list a host of financial incentives offered by the U.S. government and other agencies to homeowners to assist in this transition toward complete energy sustainability.
What Exactly Does Energy Independence Look Like?
In a land of mass production, excessive waste, and seemingly endless supplies of, well, everything, it is difficult for most people to visualize how an energy-efficient environment looks, operates, and feels. After all, energy policies have a long-standing history in the United States, spanning over a 40-year period. And, not too much has changed in our everyday lives. Yet, such policies have never been more critical and achievable than they are at this moment in time.
Sure, you may have noticed a surge in dual-fueled, electric-powered cars, vehicles featuring better gas mileage, or energy-saving refrigerators and HVAC systems. But, imagine a neighborhood, district, or region where every residential building is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines, energy grids, LED lighting, automated control systems, and top-of-the-line energy-efficient appliances. Can you see it? Now, imagine schools, offices, factories, and corporations with these same power-generating amenities.
Together, scientists, engineers, and architects are making these self-sustaining microcosms of American society a reality as we near the brink of complete energy independence. That's right. No longer are such ideas figments of the imagination. These ideas are real; they are here to stay, and they are necessary.
The problem is that most people don't know what zero net energy means or why they should care. Let us explain further.
What Does Zero Net Energy Mean?
In order to appreciate energy independence, it is important to understand how it benefits you. So, we'll begin with some common definitions. The terms Net Zero Energy or Zero Net Energy (ZNE) are used to identify a concept that refers to the amount of energy consumed by a building or a community of buildings each year. The energy consumption of such buildings on an annual basis is either less than or equal to the amount of renewable energy generated on-site or off-site (CPUC, 2019; Peterson, Torcellini, & Grant, 2015; Torcellini, Pless, Deru, & Crawley, 2006).
Put differently, the on-site energy, produced by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, wind turbines, and other off-site renewable resources, is stored and used to offset the energy consumed by buildings (Torcellini et al., 2006). As a result, no energy is lost, leaving a net energy consumption of zero.
Now, this doesn't mean that buildings will not use common energy sources like natural gas, propane, and electricity. It just means that the buildings will use less energy from these sources due to structural and design efficiency regulations and will balance energy usage with the production of on-site and off-site renewable and storable energy. So, why now?
ZNE efforts serve as a response to the Energy Independence And Security Act Of 2007, enacted by former President Bush. Since then, waves of technological advancements have enabled government agencies and independent constituencies to make great strides, in a unified effort, to reduce our carbon footprint on a global scale.
Working in concert with appliance and equipment standards, the recently adopted Zero Net Energy (ZNE) standards will help establish an energy-positive solution designed to steer the U.S. toward energy independence and security. However, the intended goals and outcomes of this policy are far less understood than hoped.
The California Public Utilities Commission coined differentiating terms like Zero Energy Buildings (ZEB), ZNE campus, ZNE portfolio, and ZNE community to pinpoint areas of focus for the Zero Net Energy initiatives and to expand the reach of ZNE efforts (CPUC, 2019; Torcellini et al., 2006; Peterson et al., 2015). Influential organizations and government agencies such as ASHRAE and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) have also taken a leading role in shaping the standards and regulations that govern appliance efficiency and innovative technologies used to spearhead ZNE policies.
The first and most pivotal goal of ZNE will take effect in 2020 and apply to all new residential construction in the state of California as well as 50% of state buildings (CPUC, 2019). The ZNE policy will not apply to the existing residential buildings or low-rise residential areas like single-family homes. Instead, the policy governs the building of new multi-family residential developments whereby property owners, engineers, architects, project and supply managers, and building inspectors apply a holistic, collaborative approach for constructing whole-building energy efficiency and sustainability (ASHRAE, 2018).
Other goals of the ZNE policy take effect in 2025 and 2030 but apply to the renovation and construction of commercial buildings and the remaining 50% of state buildings. Now that you have a general idea of ZNE and its origins, it's time to understand how this policy will have an effect on you.
How Zero Net Energy Policies Affect You
Once implemented, measured, and evaluated, the ZNE policy goals of California will likely influence the adoption of similar policies in other metropolitan cities and states. If implemented nationwide, ZNE can establish long-term energy sustainability that will significantly benefit the national economy, consumer savings, manufacturer uniformity, and the overall environment (DOE, 2015).
So, let's break this down a bit.
Federal vs Local Energy Standards
In 1975, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) led to the development of minimum energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment across the United States. The federal mandates were put in place for appliances that utilize approximately 90% of the energy in residential homes (DOE, 2015). Since then, the DOE makes periodic updates or amendments to said policies to dispel inefficient products, level the playing field between domestic and foreign manufacturers, and reduce energy consumption, which saves consumers loads of money on utility expenses each year (DOE, 2015).
However, the state of California has a separate set of Energy Standards governing its residents, placing them at the forefront of the energy independence movement and making them the paradigm for energy efficiency in other states. The local government refers to California's Energy Standards as Title 24. And while there is some overlap between the local and federal energy efficiency standards, California residents are expected to abide by and comply with stricter Title 24 Standards above and beyond those outlined by the DOE.
Benefits to Your Pockets
At first glance, restrictive standards may seem a bit invasive and overreaching, but there is a silver lining to it all for you. Not only will you save lots of money from high-efficiency appliances that use less energy, but you will also have access to entire energy-efficient buildings with superior insulation, lighting, and self-generating power sources to further minimize your expenses.
Projected savings from the 2016 amendments to the federal energy efficiency standards are expected to reach over $1 trillion for consumers by 2020 and double that amount by 2030 (DOE, 2015). This means that the average household saves around $321 per year on utility expenses, a figure that is expected to increase to $529 per year when consumers replace outdated appliances with newer and more energy-efficient models.
With the successful implementation of ZNE, these savings will likely increase even more. But, the only way to know for sure is through appropriate measures and evaluations. That's why it's important that you take action into your own hands.
Just because low-rise residential homes are not mentioned or included in ZNE policies doesn't mean you can't benefit from the cause. In fact, if you search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE), you'll find that several utility companies and the U.S. government, in general, are offering financial incentives to consumers to make their homes more energy-efficient.
The financial incentives come in various forms, including rebates, loans, grants, or leasing programs. The government is even offering corporate depreciation credits, personal and corporate tax credits, property tax incentives, feed-in tariffs, and more (N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, n.d.). It's literally a win-win situation that you can take advantage of to maximize your savings!
With extra money in your pockets, you can easily replace energy-guzzling appliances and replace them with new, highly efficient models. And, you won't have to feel bad about running your fireplace year-round nor get rid of those beautiful gas torches, fire pits, or other gas or electric-operated appliances from your home. But, you may need to find suitable replacements. That's why eFireplaceStore is here.
When Manufacturers Compete, You Win!
Without question, when manufacturers are held to the same efficiency standards, it not only levels the playing field for them to compete, but it ultimately benefits the customer. You get to compare cost-saving brands against uniform measures to determine which appliances best meet your unique needs. The goal, of course, is to find a great product that works well and looks good without breaking the bank.
In the next few sections, eFireplaceStore will help you figure out which fire appliances and components will help you comply with Title 24 Standards and federal energy efficiency standards. We'll even explain which features to look for as you shop for quality replacement units to ensure you make an informed purchase.
How Do Fire Appliances Fit In With Title 24 Standards?
With so much focus on energy efficiency or energy conservation, many people presume that nonessential appliances like fireplaces or fire pits will eventually be phased out and discarded. This is not the case.
It's important to note that federal and local energy efficiency standards typically omit specific fireplace regulations, deferring most restrictions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, there are a few fireplace ordinances that are worth exploring.
A Ban on Standing Pilot (Millivolt) Ignition Systems
While most Title 24 standards do not apply to fireplaces directly, a few energy-efficient modifications and requirements are outlined for vented and ventless fireplaces. For instance, continuous gas-burning pilot lights are now disallowed under Title 24 provisions for newly constructed buildings, additions, or alterations performed on existing buildings (California Energy Commission, 2018).
This means customers are no longer allowed to install indoor or outdoor fireplaces with standing pilots or millivolt ignition systems in California. Instead, they must select fire appliances, cooking appliances, furnaces, and pool or spa heaters with an intermittent pilot ignition (IPI) system - one that initiates ignition electronically and only uses gas fuel when the appliance is in use. Such systems manage energy usage better and align the goals of the ZNE policy. So, what about customers who have existing appliances with a millivolt ignition system?
Title 24 provisions do not require that California residents replace existing appliances or equipment. However, when it comes to home renovations and the buying or selling of homes, sellers could be held to the new Title 24 standards and be required to replace outdated equipment. If you are planning to sell or renovate parts of your home, we suggest posing questions pertaining to Title 24 standards to your contractor, the energy commission, and/or your realtor.
Rules for Gas Fireplace Ventilation
In addition to the ignition system regulations, three other restrictions apply to ventilation requirements for gas fireplace installations. These new ventilation rules not only ensure good indoor air quality but also improve the overall efficiency of the fireplace and the insulation of the building.
First, all masonry and prefabricated fireplace installations, including the installation of other decorative gas appliances or gas logs, must have a closable metal or glass door installed to cover the entire opening of the firebox (California Energy Commission, 2018). Second, new fireplaces must have an air intake kit that measures at least six square inches and pulls air from outside of the building for combustion. Third, new fireplaces must have an in-line, controllable damper to close off the flow of air when the fireplace is not in use.
Two exceptions to these rules apply to a fireplace that is installed on an interior wall on a slab (poured concrete) foundation and when the CMC or manufacturer instructions call for the flue damper to be set to open for decorative gas logs, log lighters, or other appliances as installed in a fireplace (California Energy Commission, 2018).
With so many restrictions in place, you're probably wondering which fireplaces meet ZNE requirements and Title 24 standards. The truth is that your options are pretty much the same as before but with more restrictions placed on conventional masonry wood or gas fireplaces.
As stated above, if you choose to retrofit an existing wood-burning fireplace with a gas burner or gas logs, you'll need to adhere to the Title 24 ignition system and ventilation requirements. Other options include ventless or direct-vent fireplace models. These options work well to preserve energy and improve efficiency.
Ventless Gas Fireplaces - Many California residents are aware that vent-free or ventless gas fireplace models are strictly prohibited and have been for several years. Ventless gas models are also banned in several cities and municipalities across the United States, specifically in areas that are elevated at or above 4,500 feet above sea level. Other common installation restrictions for vent-free units apply to bedroom and bathroom installations and confined spaces.
Although ventless gas fireplaces are regarded as the most thermal efficient options for heat output, they are not really needed in regions with warmer climates. But, if you're looking for a supplemental heat source to cut down on your utility bill, a ventless gas model is definitely the way to go.
These units do not lose heat to the chimney as conventional masonry or prefabricated fireplaces. This makes them more thermally efficient, which means they require less fuel to produce equal or more heat. It is important to note, however, that the size of the ventless fireplace you select is regulated by its British Thermal Unit (BTU) output and the amount of space available in the room used for installation.
Some models are approved by room type, including bedroom, bathroom, and mobile home applications. So, if you're looking for a supplemental heat source, you can browse some vent-free gas fireplaces by clicking here.
Electric Fireplaces - If heating is not a priority and you find yourself more interested in the aesthetic value of a fireplace, it is a great time to consider some electric fireplace options. Technological advancements with LED lighting have transformed the look of electric fireplaces, giving them a contemporary edge, unlike any other unit.
Several electric models offer a realistic flame pattern with or without a heating component, making them ideal alternatives for the new energy efficiency standards. For example, the 39" Amantii portrait frame unit can add a taste of elegance to any room in your home. Or, if you prefer a larger model, you can purchase the 50" Amantii Panorama model for your living room. For those of you who are not fans of a contemporary aesthetic, you may consider a direct-vent gas fireplace. Direct-vent gas fireplaces offer a range of styles with excellent efficiency ratings.
Direct-Vent Gas Fireplaces - With virtually no installation restrictions, direct-vent gas fireplaces are great units for meeting the energy efficiency standards, especially in areas where vent-free gas units aren't allowed. All direct-vent models feature a glass front or glass door made from tempered or ceramic glass. They are also designed to utilize outside air for combustion, and they feature higher Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings (70% or greater) compared to conventional and electric models.
Two popular brands of direct-vent gas fireplaces include models like the 35" Superior Pro Series and the 36" Kingsman Zero Clearance Linear model. Just remember, in order to meet the Title 24 standards, you will need to select a direct-vent gas fireplace with an electronic ignition system. Yet, there are still other energy-efficient options available.
Freestanding Wood Stoves - Another popular heat source befitting to the Title 24 agenda is the free-standing wood stove. These wood-burning units free you from being grid-dependent as they utilize a renewable resource for fuel. They produce low particulate matter (PM) or air pollution, which is great for the environment as well (EPA, 2015).
With so much information centering Title 24 and federal energy efficiency standards, there is limited space in this article to cover regulatory standards used to govern other hearth appliances in great detail. However, current standards for wood-burning appliances are not only relevant but also worthy of a brief discussion here.
Like all other energy-efficiency measures, wood-burning appliances are now held to similar standards. In 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the first time, developed, implemented, and enforced federal clean air standards known as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to reduce harmful emissions produced by wood-burning appliances (EPA, 2015). The appliances affected by these new standards include the following: new wood heaters, outdoor and indoor wood-fired boilers, indoor wood-fired forced air furnaces, and single and adjustable burn-rate wood stoves (EPA, 2015).
So, what makes woodstoves good energy-efficient alternatives?
In areas where cordwood is cheaper than gas fuel and winters are mild, a wood stove could serve as a perfect supplemental heat source. Under the new regulations, wood stoves feature a clean burn that is suited for better air quality and the environment in general, reducing harmful emissions that have been linked to climate change. Plus, these units have a longer lifespan than other fire appliances mentioned in this article.
For these reasons, newer models of wood stoves are extremely popular in the Northeast, Northwest, and Southeast regions of the United States where tree services provide an abundance of low-cost firewood for sale. These units give you more bang for your buck, heating your home for hours on a single load of wood for both catalytic and non-catalytic wood stove models. Not to mention, free-standing wood stoves are also low maintenance and easily identifiable with an EPA certified label (EPA, 2015).
Consider Yourself Energy Dependent No More
Hopefully, you have gained a strong understanding of current and upcoming energy efficiency regulations as well as the things you can do right now to ensure your compliance. It's never too early to make definitive changes to your home that will produce long-term positive effects for the environment and future generations.
With the abundance of financial resources available to help you secure energy-efficient equipment and supplies, there is really no need to wait. The amount of savings you'll earn on your utility expenses this year through 2030 is priceless in comparison to your contributions to the global society.
Remember, if you have any questions about fireplaces, wood stoves, or any content discussed in this article, our NFI Certified Technicians here at eFireplacestore are always here to help. Feel free to call 1 (800) 203-1642 Monday through Friday, from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. For more literature on and examples of energy-efficient fireplaces and appliances, please review the links below.
- ASHRAE (2018, May 11). Part 1: The completed building [Video file]. Retrieved from YouTube
- California Energy Commission. (2018, December). Building energy efficiency standards for residential and nonresidential buildings. Title 24, Part 6, and Associated Administrative Regulations in Part 1, 1(1), 1-325.
- California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). (2019). Zero net energy.
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). (2017). Fact sheet: Energy efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and equipment.
- EPA. (2015). Fact sheet: Summary of requirements for woodstoves and pellet stoves.
- N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center. (n.d.). Database of state incentives for renewables & efficiency.
- Peterson, K., Torcellini, P., & Grant, R. (2015, September). A common definition of zero energy buildings. Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 1(1), 1-22.
- Steven Winter Associates, Inc.. (2016). Net zero energy buildings.
- Torcellini, P., Pless, S., Deru, M., & Crawley, D. (2006, June). Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look At The Definition. Conference Paper NREL/CP-550-39833.