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Gas heating in new restricted commercial buildings in WA


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — After efforts to restrict the use of natural gas in future commercial building heating systems in Washington were blocked by the Legislature, the state Building Code Council passed state energy code revisions that require new businesses and apartments to primarily use heat pumps to heat air and water starting next year.

Spokesperson-Review reported that the board approved the changes in an 11-3 vote on Friday. The new rules come into effect on July 1, 2023.

Under the revised code, new commercial buildings should 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 electrical resistance, like baseboard heaters, wall heaters, radiant heating systems and electric furnaces. Some exceptions allow the use of electrical resistance in specific situations approved by a code official and some exceptions would also be allowed for space heating using a fossil fuel.

For water heating, 50% of the water must be heated by a heat pump system, while the rest can be heated by an additional source such as electric resistance or fossil fuels.

In her vote to approve the code revisions, Katy Sheehan, board member and executive director of the Spokane’s Community Building Foundation, cited the need to address climate change and a state-mandated goal of improve energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Taking a small step forward in reducing our natural gas consumption is one way to achieve our goal that we are mandated to achieve,” she said.

Al French, a board member and Spokane County Commissioner, voted no, saying it would ultimately be up to the Legislature to set the code.

Associations representing builders opposed the limitations, citing the challenges they would impose on construction and the power grid, while environmental advocates saw the changes as necessary to tackle climate change.

Similar heat pump proposals are underway for the residential section of the state’s energy code and will be considered by the board over the next few months.