Clean energy homes for Washington: council proposes code improvements

On June 29, Washington’s State Building Code Council moved to bring its code for new residential buildings up to parity with the commercial buildings code — which made headlines earlier this year for becoming the strongest, most climate-friendly building energy code in the country, and driving the transition to clean electricity for space and water heating. The State Building Code Council sent a set of proposals forward to public comment, that include requirements for heat pumps for space and water heating, as well as ventilation improvements for new homes with gas stoves. These proposed codes would cover new single-family homes, townhomes, and low-rise multifamily buildings (three floors and shorter) and be the first statewide action requiring heat pumps in new residential construction.

Also included in the residential energy code proposals are key energy efficiency and electrification measures that would, combined with the commercial code updates, be the strongest climate-aligned energy codes in the nation. 

The proposed building codes are an important continuation of Washington’s efforts to stop emissions from the buildings sector, which is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution in Washington state and a major source of toxic air pollution.  The provisions for increased ventilation for homes with gas stoves would reduce indoor air pollution for Washington families, in the wake of a study published yesterday by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other researchers, finding that the chemical makeup of gas in kitchen stoves contains at least 21 different hazardous air pollutants including benzene that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems.

The residential energy code proposals (WSEC-R) will be open for a 60 day public comment period, dates to be announced. A set of public hearings will take place in the fall of 2022, with the SBCC voting to adopt final code updates before the end of the year. All updates to the commercial and residential energy codes will take effect in July 2023. 

Key Proposed Residential Energy Code Updates: Applies to new construction only

  • Heat pump space heating: Requires that space heating be provided by heat pump equipment. (Gas and electric resistance are permitted to supplement the heat pump heating in very cold weather.)
  • Heat pump water heating: Requires a heat pump system for hot water in one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses. Electric resistance is allowed for small water heaters and for systems integrated into heat pumps. 
  • Increased ventilation for gas stoves: Requires new homes and low rise multifamily buildings to install differentiated ventilation requirements for gas stoves.

The full package of proposals can be viewed here.

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