Monday, January 17, 2011

Fireplace: Round 3 - EnerChoice

As some of you may remember, when we started this process we lamented over what to do with the old wood burning fireplace, deciding in the end to put in a natural gas insert.

For LEED, you are permitted to have a traditional fireplace. However, under Indoor Environmental Quality (EA 2.2) you get 2 points for having no fireplace (there are also some pre-reqs that need to be met).  You can get 1 or two points in this category with a fireplace but they need to be greener or more efficient models.

For our natural gas insert, we were gunning for the full 2 points which meant:

Direct or power vented insert

Direct vented means that the combustion takes place completely closed off to the interior of the home.  Fresh air comes straight in to the fireplace and exhaust goes straight outside.  This was fairly standard so not too hard to meet.

Permanent fixed glass door 

Yeah... I don't think I have ever seen an insert you can crack open and toast marshmallows over so this was also easy.

Electronic Pilot
This bumped us up into higher end models.  An electronic pilot (goes by a lot of different trade names) means that in place of a traditional pilot light which burns continuously,  combustion is initiated by an electronic starter.  Becomes more efficient by not constantly burning gas.

EnerChoice certified
Headaches galore!!

EnerChoice is essentially EnergyStar for fireplaces.  Fireplaces are already evaluated through EnerGuide to tell you how efficient they are.  The problem is that as a consumer you probably don't know what to expect rating you should be targeting. Should I expect 50% or 80% in an insert?  EnerChoice identifies and certifies the top 25% of fireplaces to answer that question.  Great, sounds perfect.

The problem lies in the fact that EnerChoice is a relatively new program.  Launched in 2007 it is just starting to take root now.  When I first began looking into the rating system last spring their website was pathetic.  Visually appealing but lacking any type of valuable information. They have since started to add  some valuable content such as participating retailers and minimum efficiency standards [I would have killed for that 4 months back].

But to date, the website still has no contact information, no listing of approved products.  Heck their FAQs section doesn't even have the word EnerChoice appear in it.  It is focused purely on the EnerGuide ratings system.  So I could not find the answer to what I thought was a very important question:  "What fireplace inserts are certified EnerChoice?"

Barring any support from the website, we turned to retailers for support.  The website does list 55 participating retailers... all in BC.  Turns out this program is very regional: launched in BC, supported in BC - they even have the provincial gas company providing rebates for consumers who replace their wood or old gas fireplace with a EnerChoice model.  This obviously explains the very high level of interest in BC retailers to be involved in the program.

Out in Quebec, every person I asked about the program met me with blank stares.

So what did we do.....  we found what we hoped was the most efficient natural gas insert that fit our heat output requirements and physical space. At the time, there were no cutoff efficiencies listed on the website so we had to hope for the best.  In the end... looks like we missed it by 2%.

Long story short.  We have a beautiful insert that we enjoy very much and we get one LEED point out of a possible two.

My advice for anyone else on how to proceed with the program outside of BC.  Look at the minimum efficiencies listed on the EnerChoice website, on the "What is EnerChoice?" tab.  [currently 61% for inserts]. Then go to the EnerGuide website and use their search tool. It allows you to search for specific types: fireplace vs. insert, fuel type and efficiency level.  Gives you an excellent starting point to view the options that are best for your specific situation.

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