On April 22, 2022, Washington’s State Building Code Council (SBCC) passed a revised commercial building energy code that included a first-of-its-kind statewide provision requiring high-efficiency electric heat pumps to curb natural gas use in all new commercial buildings. This code revision is designed to help Washington meet its legislative target of 70 percent reductions in energy consumed by nonresidential buildings by 2031.
For building owners, replacing conventional heating and cooling appliances with heat pumps reduces energy use, saves energy costs, reduces air quality-related health risks, and averts local greenhouse gas emissions. Thousands of public comments submitted to SBCC advocated for the code amendment, highlighting the merits of meeting efficiency targets, saving on energy bills, and turning to cleaner fuel sources. The code proposal was also met with opposition from stakeholders who expressed concern about the code’s potential impacts on housing affordability, and that its sudden and mandated implementation would lead to increased electricity demand that the grid is not currently equipped to meet.
The code will go into effect in July 2023, with new mid- and high-rise multifamily residential buildings subject to compliance. Exceptions are available for hospitals and other energy-intensive building types that cannot be adequately serviced by a heat pump. The stage has also been set for future hearings on applying these new codes to Washington’s residential building stock.