OLYMPIA, Wash. - After efforts to restrict the use of natural gas in future commercial building heating systems in Washington stalled in the Legislature, the state’s Building Code Council adopted revisions to the state’s energy code that require new businesses and apartments to mostly use heat pumps to warm air and water starting next year.
Under the revised code, new commercial buildings would have to use heat pumps for space heating. The plan would effectively ban HVAC systems that use fossil fuels like natural gas – including most standard furnaces – or systems that use electric resistance, such as baseboard heaters, wall heaters, radiant heat systems and electric furnaces. Certain exceptions allow electric resistance to be used in specific situations as approved by a code official and some exceptions also would be allowed for space heating using a fossil fuel.
For water heating, 50% of water must be warmed by a heat pump system, while the rest can be heated by an additional source like electric resistance or fossil fuels.
In her vote to approve the code revisions, board member and executive director of Spokane’s Community Building Foundation Katy Sheehan voted cited the need to address climate change and a state-mandated goal of improving energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"Taking a small step forward in reducing our natural gas usage is one way to reach our goal that we’re mandated to get to," she said.
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Board member and Spokane County Commissioner Al French voted no, saying it should ultimately be up to the Legislature to set the code.
Associations representing builders opposed the limitations, citing challenges it would impose on construction and the electrical grid, while environmental advocates saw the changes as necessary to combat climate change.
Similar heat pump proposals are being made for the residential section of the state energy code, and will be considered by the council over the next few months.