What You Need To Know About Low NOx HVAC Requirements

Find out how California’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions can impact your home heating and cooling choices and what energy-saving options are available to you. 

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In an effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, some areas of California are regulating the nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions of residential gas furnaces. In addition, several communities are encouraging electric only or electrification mandates for all new residential construction. While this may sound confusing, the good news is that whether you’re in California or not, Trane® has a heating solution that can meet these environmentally friendly regulations and could lower your energy costs over time compared to traditional gas furnaces. 

Our goal: Low greenhouse gas emissions. High-quality heating comfort.  

Greenhouse gases are bad for the environment and bad for your health. According to the EPA, nitrogen oxides contribute to respiratory problems, acid rain, smog, elevated algae levels, and global warming1. Greenhouse gas emissions attributable to residential buildings in California currently represent about 25% of the state’s total emissions.2 And the largest source of greenhouse gas savings comes from eliminating on-site combustion of natural gas3. 

What it all means: Replacing traditional residential gas furnaces with low NOx or zero-emission heating solutions will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help California reach its 2030 emissions goal.

What is low NOx or Ultra-low Nox?

NOx is an abbreviation for nitrogen oxides – a collection of harmful and toxic greenhouse gases. These gases are released when fuel is burned at high heat like in an engine or home gas furnace. Low NOx and Ultra-Low NOx refers to emission limits on these products and are determined by local EPA standards and will vary for each type of heating equipment. 

What are the HVAC Low NOx regulations in my area?

If you live in California, any heating equipment you buy may need to conform to local EPA standards as set forth by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) introduced Ultra-Low NOx Rule 1111 and Rule 4905, respectively, which require NOx emissions of less than 14 nanograms per joule.

Our Low NOx solution: Install a zero-emission heat pump.

Trane heat pumps are an electric heating source that are environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and meet all current Low NOx and Ultra Low NOx regulations. Heat pumps can both heat and cool your home, so if you currently don’t have central air or have a traditional split system, a heat pump can keep you more comfortable year-round, and use less energy to do it. In fact, based on Southern California’s mild climate, heat pump space heating averages about 4 to 6 times greater efficiency than natural gas furnaces.4

Why a heat pump is right for you.

  1. Zero emissions: The new Low Nox and Ultra-Low NOx standards are meant to make gas furnaces more environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of harmful greenhouse gasses they emit. This is great, but you know what’s better than low NOx emissions? ZERO emissions! A heat pump is 100% electric, so there are no fossil fuels burned in the heating process – making it a far more environmentally friendly heating choice than a gas or oil furnace. 
  2. Versatility: A heat pump acts as an air conditioner and heating system in one self-contained unit. This versatility makes it a great solution in homes where space is limited. 
  3. Ultra-efficient: Unlike a furnace, a heat pump doesn’t burn fuel to make heat. It simply uses electricity to move heat from one place to another – making it a more energy-efficient solution. Our most advanced heat pumps are ENERGY STAR® Qualified and deliver top SEER and HSPF ratings as well as other energy-saving technologies that can help lower your energy costs. Energy analysts encourage the installation of high-efficiency HVAC heat pumps rather than standalone central air conditioning units plus gas furnaces whenever possible5. 

See how much you can save with a zero-emission heat pump.

The higher the system SEER and HSPF ratings, the more comfort you’ll get from each energy dollar. 

 *The majority of systems installed prior to 2006 are 10 SEER or lower. Potential energy savings may vary depending on your personal lifestyle, system settings, and usage, equipment maintenance, local climate, actual construction and installation of equipment and duct system.
 **Based on Energy Star’s Savings Calculator for a 3-ton 21 SEER/10 HSPF heat pump and programmable thermostat versus the industry standard 14 SEER/8.2 HSPF 3-ton heat pump and standard thermostat in St. Louis, MO.

How do the new Low NOx or Ultra-Low NOx standards affect your heating system?

If you live in one of the newly regulated areas, any new heating system you purchase will need to conform to the local emission standards. You may also have the opportunity to switch out a gas furnace for a more efficient one or a zero-emission solution like a heat pump. Your local government or utility provider may even offer incentives to make the switch to a more energy-efficient solution. 

Electrification. What it is and why it’s the smart solution to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The American Wind Energy Association defines electrification as:
Electrification, also known as energy conversion, refers to the transition across all economic sectors to electricity-powered end-use technologies. For example, the transition from diesel to electricity-powered battery buses, or the shift to air-source heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. 

Many city planners and local governments are looking for ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions by promoting or mandating the use of electricity as a power source as opposed to fossil fuels like natural gas. Even if your neighborhood isn’t mandating electrification now, more and more communities will be looking for similar solutions. That’s why now is a good time to get ahead and invest in a heating solution that meets all emission standards and delivers the comfort you expect – like an energy-efficient heat pump.

Heat pump myths – it’s time to set the record straight

Heat pump technology has been around since the 1940s. While today’s models are far more efficient than earlier generations, several myths and misconceptions about heat pumps and the comfort they deliver continue to persist in the minds of many homeowners. It’s time to set the record straight. 

MYTH: HEAT PUMPS ARE ONLY FOR HEATING.

TRUTH: NAMES CAN BE MISLEADING.
Heat pumps use a mechanical-compression refrigeration system that can either heat or cool your home depending on the season. This means you only need one system year-round to maintain a comfortable temperature indoors.

MYTH: HEAT PUMPS ONLY WORK IN WARM CLIMATES.

TRUTH: HEAT PUMPS CAN HANDLE TEMPS AS LOW AS 0 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT.
One of the biggest misconceptions about heat pumps is that they only work in more temperate climates — not true. Most efficient heat pumps, like Trane systems with their Climatuff® Variable Speed Compressor, can handle temperatures as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit for average-sized homes.           

MYTH: HEAT PUMPS ARE EXPENSIVE AND HAVE A LIMITED LIFESPAN.

TRUTH: HEAT PUMPS CAN ACTUALLY SAVE YOU MONEY OVER TIME AND LAST AS LONG AS OTHER SYSTEMS.
Heat pumps are generally cheaper than the combined cost of a new gas furnace and standalone central air conditioner, and energy savings are seen in most homes as well.6 In addition, a heat pump will generally last 15-20 years – which is comparable to furnaces and air conditioners

Final thought

Switching to a heat pump for increased home comfort, more year-round efficiency, and lower emissions is a win for you as a consumer—and it’s the responsible thing to do for the quality of life in California. For even more information about Trane heat pumps, check out our heat pump vs. furnace guide and our heat pump myth busting article.

1. EPA.gov: https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2#Effects
2. Residential Building Electrification in California, April 2019. Energy and Environmental Economics. Page i.
3. https://www.ethree.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/CA_Res_Building_Electrification_Final_Presentation.pdf
4. Residential Building Electrification in California. April 2019. Energy and Environmental Economics. Page 86.
5. Residential Building Electrification in California. April 2019. Energy and Environmental Economics. Page 27.
6. Residential Building Electrification in California. April 2019. Energy and Environmental Economics. Page 27.