Building Codes

The Battle Over Energy-Efficient Housing is Heating Up Across the U.S.

Though energy efficiency is essential for meeting climate goals and studies show that they will save consumers money on heating and electric bills in the long run, the industry is experiencing pushback on builder code updates and even reversals of the bills put into place.

For example, in Seattle, Washington, Mayor Bruce Harrell is proposing that Seattle not implement a planned update to its multifamily and commercial building energy code in attempt to reduce construction costs – the main concern amongst builders. The update was set to take effect later this year. In an attempt to break past practices, Seattle has adopted a more stringent energy code than the statewide standard, which sets a trend of increased energy efficiency that pushed statewide standards even further. Seattle would only go so far as the 2021 Washington State Energy Code under this proposal, which took effect earlier this year elsewhere in the state with some Seattle-specific changes.

According to The Urbanist, This move, which could advance as soon as next month, comes after strong signals from leaders in the executive branch that they are interested in reducing hurdles to construction in areas of the city that currently allow apartment buildings. A move towards a more pro-housing approach, which so far has mostly manifested itself in the form of small, targeted upzones around Downtown and Belltown, comes as the Harrell Administration faces considerable pushback stemming from a reluctance to open up new areas of the city for denser growth, as part of the major update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The standards for new buildings could come on the heels of an ambitious plan for emissions reductions in Seattle’s existing buildings, signed by Mayor Harrell late last year.

To read more about this specific energy code battle, please read here.

Also in Washington, Backers of an initiative to halt the state’s push to end natural gas use in homes and other buildings began gathering signatures. This was after a Thurston County judge settled a dispute on how the measure would be described on ballots.

According to Missoula Current, Initiative 2066, sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Washington, repeals provisions of a new state law meant to hasten Puget Sound Energy’s transition away from natural gas. It also bars cities and counties from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging “the use of gas for any form of heating, or for uses related to any appliance or equipment, in any building.”

And the measure would effectively nullify recent changes to Washington’s energy code designed to get more electric heat pumps installed in newly built houses, apartments and commercial buildings. It specifically says the state code “may not in any way prohibit, penalize, or discourage the use of gas for any form of heating, or for uses related to any appliance or equipment, in any building.”

To read more about Washington, please read here.

In addition to this Seattle incident, the International Code Council (ICC) announced the results of the appeals process for changes to the 2024 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which sets energy efficiency standards for residential and commercial buildings.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, Based on this interpretation, the Board resolved that several challenged provisions viewed as concerning greenhouse gas reduction and not building energy conservation be removed from within the base of the 2024 IECC codes and placed in appendices to accompany the codes.

The affected provisions moved to an appendix include:

  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure in both residential and commercial buildings (Sections C405.14, R404.7, and N1104.7)
  • Solar readiness provisions in residential buildings (Sections R404.6 and N1104.6)
  • Electric readiness provisions for electric cooking, clothes drying and water heating (Sections R404.5 and N1104.5)
  • Penalty for using natural gas for space or water heating in commercial buildings (Sections C406.1.1.1 and C502.3.7.1)
  • Electrical energy storage system readiness in commercial buildings (Section C405.16)
Read more from NAHB here.