Dec 4, 2023 - News

New Washington state rules promoting heat pumps face pushback

An electric heat pump mounted to the side of a home. Photo: Tristan Spinski/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Washington's newly approved building codes no longer mandate electric heat pumps in most new commercial and residential buildings, as was once proposed.

Yet they still face pushback from the building industry, which says the rules discriminate against natural gas appliances and threaten to increase the cost of new housing.

Why it matters: State officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee, have been promoting heat pumps as a way to cut emissions from the building sector, which contributes more than a quarter of the state's carbon emissions.

  • Only transportation is responsible for a higher share of greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, per state estimates.

Catch up quick: The codes approved by the state Building Code Council last week will require new buildings to meet higher efficiency standards than before, without explicitly mandating heat pumps.

  • A previous plan to require them in most new buildings was shelved after a federal court struck down a ban on natural gas appliances in Berkeley, California, saying it violated federal regulations.

Be smart: Washington's new energy efficiency mandates could be hard to meet if builders install furnaces that burn natural gas or other fossil fuels.

  • Under the new rules, if a builder installs a fossil fuel appliance in a new building, they need to add other energy efficiency improvements to compensate.

What they're saying: The new building codes, which are set to take effect in March, are "among the most climate- and health-friendly in the nation," Shift Zero, a Washington-based coalition of groups that supported the regulations, said in a news release.

  • Gas furnaces and water heaters emit harmful pollutants and cost more to operate than electric heat pumps, the group added.

The other side: The Building Industry Association of Washington criticized the new codes as "an assault on energy security."

  • In a release, the group's executive vice president, Greg Lane, called them "a de facto ban on natural gas in new homes" and argued they don't pass legal muster.
  • Builders and other critics also argued the code changes will raise the cost of home construction, worsening the state's housing affordability crisis.

What we're watching: A lawsuit in Thurston County that challenged the earlier heat pump mandate has been on hold, but may move forward now that the new rules are finalized.

  • Opponents may also choose to file a federal lawsuit to try to block the new rules from taking effect.
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