I run an energy program in the mountains of Colorado. We have a lot of homes without existing duct work and older style wall-mounted furnaces. I've been looking for a decent upgrade choice for my clients - so far Rinnai seems to be the brand of choice for most heating contractors.  Problem is they have an AFUE of only .82 at the max, so don't qualify for high-efficiency furnace rebates through our program.  

I recently discovered the Energy Saver 90 Plus from Empire Heating, a direct-vent wall mounted unit with an AFUE of .90.  I haven't been able to find any good information about the reliability and quality of these units, and I am distrustful of any company that manufactures ventless heaters, as Empire does.

Here is a link to the product I am referring to: http://www.empirezoneheat.com/ehs/index.php?view=ultrasaver-high-ef...

Generally speaking, what other options would be suitable to improve health and safety, as well as efficiency, for homes w/out duct runs?  I am talking affordable options as our community generally can't afford big expensive upgrades.  Pellet and wood stoves are also options but I'd prefer to hear about more natural gas options.

Thanks in advance!

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Tags: .90, AFUE, Direct, Empire, Equipment, Heating, Mount, Vent, Wall

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Comment by Bob Blanchette on March 20, 2014 at 4:43pm

Don't forget you have to deal with condensate removal on a 90% heater. Could be an issue for retrofit installations.

Comment by Cameron Millard on March 20, 2014 at 8:21am

Bob, we administer rebate funds to help people overcome payback costs for upgrades.  Agreed that 10% isn't that big of a difference; hence my dilema in supporting something like this.  I have given out rebate funds for 80% AFUE wall-mount replacements in the case of dangerous situations (replacing a ventless heater in a home, for example); I'm thinking the 90% would be a better justification for efficiency funds but without good practical experience with this particular product I am hesitant.  

Comment by Bob Blanchette on March 18, 2014 at 7:10pm

I replaced my own 80% with a 90% furnace last fall, made no noticeable difference in the gas bill. The payback time for going from 80% to 90% just isn't there unless you can buy the 90% for cheap.

Comment by Cameron Millard on March 18, 2014 at 12:30pm

Bob, price point is similar to a small furnace but without installation costs associated with duct runs.  I like your idea of installing a small furnace with registers off the plenum feeding several rooms; my building science mentor did something like that at his home and it worked out pretty well.  However, I do see demand here for wall-mounted furnaces.  We have an old housing stock (1880's-1950's), lots of small homes without much room for a conventional furnace.  Wall-mounted units like those made by Rinnai are quite popular and are often combined with small electrical heaters dispersed throughout the home.

Also, these do plug in so I'm not sure they work in a power outage?

Norman, thanks for chiming in about Empire products.  I just got word that some of our Colorado weatherization agencies will install wall mounted units; I think the jump from an 80 AFUE to a 90 would be a great gain for efficiency in the right situations.  The 90 Plus from Empire does require a condensate line w/either a pump or gravity feed into an appropriate drain; this complicates things when the location is not right and the home is on a slab, for example.

Comment by Norman Bair on March 18, 2014 at 10:18am

Wisconsin's weatherization program replaces space heaters infrequently.  So I am interested in how well these perform. 

Our 1900+ Ft2 condo uses the 90% Empire Mantis fireplace for heat.  It was replaced on warranty after three years.  The replacement has worked for three additional winters.  The blower fan is very noisy.  Although it tests at 90% with a combustion analyzer, this must be discounted for the condensate that is pumped to a tray above the firebox and evaporated into the condo.  I clean the stainless steel tray with baking soda twice a year.  The original fireplace had the stainless steel tray eaten through at the welds and the inducer fan motor failed.  It gives out great heat.

Comment by Bob Blanchette on March 15, 2014 at 8:09am

There isn't much demand for these. Wall heaters are purchased due to low cost, most will spring for central systems before they will pay to upgrade to a 90% unit. Others buy wall units because they will work in power outages, but the 90% defeats this also. Other than getting rebate money, there is no reason to sell this product.

How does the price point of this product compare to a small 90% furnace? Frame in a base/closet for the furnace and use bottom for return/top for supply. Centrally locate furnace in house and have registers come right of the plenum to feed several rooms at once.

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