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The Impact – Proposed Heat Pump Requirement for New Homes

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

The State Building Code Council is taking public comment on a proposal to reduce fossil fuel emissions at the neighborhood level by requiring heat pumps for new home construction. The change in Washington’s residential energy code would place restrictions on the installation of gas furnaces and electric resistance heaters.

If approved, homebuilders would be required to install heat pumps as the primary means of heating air and water in new homes. The council approved a similar rule for new commercial and large multi-family residential buildings earlier this year.

Although there would be restrictions on gas furnaces in new homes, gas stoves for cooking would still be allowed. Proponents argue that restricting new natural gas hookups is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings which account for nearly a quarter of the state’s total emissions.  They add that mandating heat pumps will also help meet energy efficiency goals set by the state legislature.  Others advocates of the change argue it’s a public health decision. 

“This would greatly discourage the installation of new gas cooking stoves. And we know that gas cooking, cooking with gas appliances, causes high levels of indoor air pollution. It’s toxic. It causes increased rates of asthma, especially with children. It causes higher rates of cardiovascular disease,” said  Gordon Wheat, M.D., Olympia Physicians for Social Responsibility Climate Task Force Chair.

 Supporters also note the energy efficiency savings heat pump systems can provide when heating or cooling homes.

“Electrifying gives us a lot of opportunities that fossil fuel systems do not,” Dan Welch,  Welch, March, CPHC, LEED AP, Bundle Design Studios.

Some opponents say the lack of affordable housing in Washington is the strongest argument against the code change. They contend that a heat pump mandate would add to the price tag of a new home and delay new construction because of a heat pump related supply chain problems.

“These two code change proposals for heat pump space heating and water heating would basically add $8,300 to the cost of a home and that’s the true cost to the consumer,” said Andrea Smith, Policy and Research Manager in Government Affairs for the Building Industry Association of Washington. “And over the lifetime of a mortgage that would equal about $25,000 dollars.”

Critics of the mandate say Eastern Washington temperatures can drop to the point that  heat pumps don’t work as well as other heating options.

There are also opponents who argue the electric grid is not ready for the increased demand from the growing list of state electrification mandates.  

The proposed rule change is available here.

The public comment period for the proposed residential energy code change ends Oct. 14, 2022 at 5:00 p.m.

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