New natural gas restrictions approved, implementation delayed to March 15, 2024
September 18, 2023
At a meeting in Spokane that ended late on Sept. 15, the State Building Code Council (SBCC) approved new natural gas restrictions that fail to follow federal laws recently upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to invalidate the City of Berkeley’s natural gas ban and fail to protect the public’s right to energy choice.
Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) members and thousands of individuals concerned about the high price of homes in Washington have been urging the SBCC to reject high-priced energy code requirements and adopt a more flexible, affordable approach.
Building codes adopted earlier this year explicitly restricted natural gas options, limiting access to natural gas for cooking and heating and resulting in higher prices for new homes in Washington. The approved codes remove the heat pump mandate, but builders say the revised codes still don’t go far enough to preserve access to natural gas in new homes and restaurants.
“Unfortunately, the State Building Code Council continues to ignore federal law and public opinion,” said Greg Lane, EVP for the Building Industry Association of Washington. “Instead, they 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.
“These new codes also fail to reduce federal preemption violations because both are still a de facto ban on natural gas (and propane),” Lane added. “We are working with others to explore our legal options to protect energy choice and help more people in Washington find housing they can afford.”
Council moves forward with natural gas restrictions
The Prescriptive Pathway (035) removes the heat pump mandate but requires more credits for compliance and indirectly 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.
Instead of five credits, this pathway requires eight credits for compliance, which further adds to the cost of building new homes, thereby making it impossible to choose natural gas appliances. It also over-incentivizes heat pumps for water and space heating. These codes still penalize supplemental heating, using natural gas (or propane), meaning Eastern Washington will bear further costs to reach compliance.
The Simulated Performance Pathway (038) provides a pathway to compliance in the energy code in writing only, not in practice.
Code implementation delayed until after legislative session
After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to invalidate the City of Berkeley’s natural gas ban, a coalition of individuals, labor and business industries, and trade associations filed a lawsuit challenging Washington’s codes. Two days later, the council voted to delay implementing the previously adopted codes to Oct. 29, 2023, while they considered revisions to better align with federal laws.
Because the new codes approved on Sept. 15, 2023, must continue through the formal codes process, BIAW and others requested the codes be delayed until July 1, 2024, consistent with when codes traditionally go into effect. The council instead moved to delay the implementation date of all the new 2021 building codes to March 15, 2024.
“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. Ideally, we would have kept the codes on the traditional July 1, 2024 timeline.”
The codes will now move into a public comment period. BIAW and its members will continue to voice concerns.
The association is also reviewing its legal options moving forward. A state challenge remains before Thurston County Superior Court. The coalition on the federal lawsuit has also reserved the right to file a new challenge on the federal preemption issue.