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Building industry rep infuses common sense into senseless new codes

November 9, 2022

As noted in our news release, the Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC) recently voted 9-5 to pass a statewide heat pump mandate, ignoring concerns that the costly mandate will further aggravate the state’s housing crisis.

While Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders in Washington claim they care about the cost of housing, their irrational energy policies increase the cost of constructing and heating homes for Washington families.

As we know, any increase in the construction of new housing units hurts the entire housing market. Likewise goes for the energy sector, adding more demand on an already fragile electrical grid will force utilities to make expensive upgrades funded by ratepayers.

While the residential building industry representative on the council, Daimon Doyle, offered several amendments to improve these latest proposals, the end result is the same: a de facto ban on natural gas in new homes which will only make problems worse.

Heat pump mandate eliminates energy choice, adds costs

The building code proposals approved Friday require builders to install heat pumps for space and water heating in all new homes built after July 1, 2023. This removes the incentive for natural gas companies to run natural gas into new homes, which essentially eliminates the ability for homeowners to have natural gas ranges and fireplaces as well.

BIAW surveyed its members to estimate the cost of these proposals. They told us the heat pump mandate would increase the cost of a newly constructed home by at least $8,300. The mandate allows natural gas heat pumps, but those are not yet commercially available. It also allows natural gas heat as a backup power source, but this redundancy adds another $2,400 to homes where owners choose to supplement heat out of choice or necessity.

Even if homeowners can absorb these added costs, supply chain and other challenges threaten to delay projects. With a current shortage of heat pump units and their components, a change in refrigerant standards for heat pumps, the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and California is imposing a similar mandate for 2023, we predict anything but a seamless transition for the upcoming code implementation.

But it could have been even worse.

Builder representation infuses common sense

Doyle introduced multiple amendments to the code proposal, and the board adopted three of them.

The original proposal required air handlers to be installed in a conditioned space like a utility room inside the house. Doyle’s amendment allows air handler installation in attics and garages.

“It makes little sense to require all air handlers be installed in conditioned space,” he pointed out.  “More than 90% of the system is the supply and return ductwork that is typically in the attic or crawl.  Moving the air handler into conditioned space removes design flexibility with little improvement in efficiency.”

Doyle retained the U factor at 0.30 for windows in new homes. The U factor measures heat transmission through a door or window from the interior to the exterior.

“This is important as the supply chain recovers from the long-lasting effects of the pandemic,” he said. “The window industry has particularly struggled with lead times exceeding 3 months, and there’s not a huge amount of energy savings in going from 0.30 to 0.28 as the u-factor.”

Finally, he was able to secure a compromise to allow four air changes per hour in new homes as opposed to three as the maximum amount of air leakage that buildings are allowed to have.

“It’s difficult to get to 3 ACH and below, often requiring the hiring of companies like AeroBarrier to ensure compliance,” Doyle said. “ Cost for AeroBarrier is about $3,500-$5,000 for 2,200 sq. ft. home.”

BIAW and others are reviewing all options to protect future homeowners and promote housing affordability, including potential litigation.

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