Washington officials remove heat pump mandate, maintains natural gas ban

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(The Center Square) – The Washington Energy Code Council has removed a mandate for heat pumps in new houses and apartments, though the delayed update still maintains certain regulations that building industry advocates say constitute a veritable ban on natural gas.

Building Industry Association of Washington Executive Vice President Greg Lane said in a statement that the council “insist on unnecessary new codes that restrict access to natural gas energy for new homeowners, restaurants and other businesses and continue to drive up the cost of housing for no discernable gain in energy efficiency.”

The council initially voted to delay implementation of code changes until Oct. 29, when they had been set to take effect on July 1. The vote to delay was in response to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in May overturning a city of Berkley ordinance regarding the installation of new natural gas piping. The ruling found that federal law preempts state and local restrictions on natural gas use.

“Unfortunately, the State Building Code Council continues to ignore federal law and public opinion,” Lane said in the statement.

Washington’s building industry has opposed the new code not just for the natural gas restrictions but also for the mandated installation of heat pumps in residential dwellings. While more energy efficient than other heating and cooling devices, they constituted a higher upfront cost that they claim would drive up the cost of housing.

The council’s revised code updates remove that mandate but require more compliance credits that “ensures that natural gas for space and water heating is so cost-prohibitive (based on credit allotments) that it would deter usage of natural gas in new homes,” according to a BIAW statement.

“The council’s decision to delay implementation of these new codes is one step in the right direction,” Lane said. “Builders, building officials, and training professionals need time to digest these changes, train up and comply. At the same time, the supply chain needs time to adjust to the new materials and appliances needed.”

In a statement emailed to The Center Square, EarthJustice Attorney Jan Hasselman said that “this is an important step that moves Washington State closer to adopting new residential and commercial codes that will incentivize electrification over gas. The building electrification movement is unstoppable because it’s better for people’s health while also protecting our climate and creating jobs. We commend the diligent work of the Washington State Building Code Council in crafting these codes so they’re both effective and durable against potential litigation from the gas industry.”

The council has delayed the new code implementation until March. BIAW and others have requested the council delay it until July 1, 2024.

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