News release: Labor, business and homeowners file lawsuit to challenge costly new codes
February 28, 2023
OLYMPIA…A coalition of trade associations, union representatives, businesses and homeowners has banded together to file a lawsuit to challenge the State Building Code Council’s costly new codes restricting the use of natural gas and propane in new residential and commercial construction.
New rules essentially eliminate natural gas and propane choice
The lawsuit challenges three rules passed by the State Building Code Council late last year amending the state commercial and residential building codes, the energy code, and the wildland urban interface code. The changes require builders to install heat pumps for space and water heating in all new buildings built after July 1, 2023.
These changes remove the incentive for natural gas companies to run natural gas into new homes, which essentially eliminates the ability for home and property owners to have natural gas for ranges, fireplaces or other uses.
The council also passed a new wildland urban interface code with real impacts on building new homes affordably. They also adopted a rule requiring builders to equip all new homes with carports and garages with 40-amp, 208/240-volt branch circuits for electric vehicles.
The lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court attracted a broad coalition of more than 20 plaintiffs representing union tradespeople, home builders, remodelers, HVAC installers, potential new homeowners, energy companies and others.
Unique coalition comes together
“These overreaching rules were approved by an unelected body with no legislative authority,” said BIAW General Counsel Jackson Maynard. “This suit has united folks impacted by the costly and illegal rules across traditional political, economic, and geographic boundaries. We are proud to challenge these decisions on behalf of union workers, families seeking affordable housing opportunities, builders, remodelers and more from all over our state.”
“The construction trades unions that make up the NW National Construction Alliance represent tens of thousands of hardworking women and men across the state,” said Neil Hartman, government affairs director for the Washington State Association of UA Plumbers, Pipefitters and HVAC/R Service Technicians.
“We opposed these new rules on building energy use when they were before the legislature because they will increase energy costs for homes and businesses, eliminate family-wage jobs, restrict energy choice, and put electric reliability at risk,” he said. “The State Building Code Council approved these rules despite the fact the legislature rejected them. We joined this lawsuit to hold them accountable.”
The suit alleges the State Building Code Council approved the rules without legislative authority and in direct violation of the state’s Administrative Procedure Act. It further alleges the council ignored cost studies and feasibility reports in making its decisions. The state will have 20 days to file a response.
Costly new codes have widespread impacts
The costly new codes have widespread impacts across many trades and industries. The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) surveyed its members to estimate the cost of these rules. Members reported the heat pump mandate would increase the cost of a newly constructed home by a minimum of $9,200, assuming builders take the lowest cost path to WSEC-R compliance and receive the tax rebate from the Inflation Reduction Act. While the mandate allows natural gas heat pumps, none are commercially available for residential customers.
The codes will hit Eastern Washington residents, who frequently lose power during frigid winter months, particularly hard hit. The rule allows homeowners to use natural gas and propane for backup heating. However, installing both natural gas/propane and electrical appliances adds another $2,400 to homes where owners choose to supplement heat out of choice or necessity. That’s assuming a natural gas line is readily available for a new hookup.
Other challenges threaten projects
Even if homeowners can absorb these added costs, supply chain, labor and various other challenges threaten to delay projects. Washington faces:
- A shortage of compliant heat pump units and their components
- Changes in refrigerant standards for heat pumps
- A similar mandate for California in 2023, increasing demand for heat pump units
Coupled with a lack of skilled workers experienced in installing both required electrical appliances and the necessary energy infrastructure, the upcoming code implementation will be challenging, if not impossible.
Northwest Regional Council of the National Construction Alliance (NCA) is an umbrella labor organization representing four construction unions with a membership exceeding 40,000 across the state.
The Building Industry Association of Washington is the voice of the housing industry. The state’s largest trade association with nearly 8,000 member companies, BIAW promotes and protects the vitality of the building industry so more Washington families can enjoy the American Dream of owning a home. Learn more at: www.biaw.com