WASHINGTON — Fake fireplaces do not need real rules on energy efficiency.
A federal appeals court on Feb. 8 threw out an Energy Department rule that could have forced decorative fireplaces to meet federal energy-efficiency standards. The appliances, also known as “gas logs,” are fueled by natural gas but are designed to minimize the amount of heat generated.
A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the Energy Department rule made no sense because the appliances are purchased for their appearance rather than to heat homes or businesses.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown, writing a 2-1 opinion for the court, could not resist a little judicial humor as she poked at the Energy Department. “We hold DOE’s feet to a not-so-decorative fire by vacating the rule in part” and ordering officials to come up with a new rule, Brown wrote.
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A spokesman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, which represents the fireplace industry, called the ruling an important victory. More than two-thirds of the estimated 6 million gas fireplaces in the U.S. are purely decorative, the group said.
Had the DOE rules gone into effect in April as scheduled, several companies could have been forced out of business, said Jack Goldman, president and CEO of the fireplace group.
“It would have been very difficult to meet that deadline,” he said.
Niketa Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the appeals court misconstrued the rule, which she said applied only to fireplace heaters and furnaces and specifically excluded decorative fireplaces.
Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph made a similar point in his dissent, noting that the Energy Department distinguished between genuine heaters and purely decorative devices.
But Goldman said the federal rule made it difficult to determine whether a fireplace could be considered decorative. Expensive design changes would have been needed, either to meet the definition of being decorative or the energy-efficiency standards required of heaters, he said.
“The court told DOE to take another shot at it,” Goldman said, adding that the industry does not oppose energy-efficiency standards for products intended as heaters.