Advocacy nets significant victory for energy efficiency, EV readiness at Washington’s Building Code Council

Washington state will have some of the nation’s strongest energy code provisions following key votes last November by the state Building Code Council. The NW Energy Coalition congratulates the many Northwest energy efficiency leaders who developed and supported strong changes to the energy code, especially Duane Jonlin for his tireless leadership in getting them approved.

The major advances include amendments in the following areas:

Ductless heat pumps – Sponsored by Bruce Carter at Tacoma Power, this energy code amendment requires houses with electric resistance heat to use a ductless mini-split heat pump for the main living area. An extensive study by Tacoma Power and the Washington State University energy office projects that a $2,500 installation will reduce annual energy use in a typical 1,300-square-foot home by about 2,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh), cutting the homeowner’s power bill by about $240 per year and resulting in $3,700 in net savings.

Residential efficiency measures – Sponsored by Chuck Murray of the Commerce Dept., this energy code amendment increases the required efficiency points to 2.5 from 1.5 for a medium-sized home, and, for the first time, applies this requirement to low-rise multi-family buildings. It was supported by extensive cost-benefit analysis and will most likely result in deployment of a combination of high-efficiency water heaters, high-efficiency space heating and building envelope improvement credits. The ductless heat pump measure described above also qualifies. Savings across the menu of options range from 100-3,400 kWh per year for a 2,200-square-foot home and 70-1,200 kWh per year for a multifamily building.

Commercial efficiency measures – Sponsored by Jim Edelson of the New Buildings Institute, this energy code amendment requires commercial projects to implement two high-efficiency options from a menu, which may include high-efficiency HVAC systems, lighting, lighting controls, renewable energy, water heating, envelope U-values or air tightness. Average energy savings are projected at about 1 kWh per square foot per year.

Dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) – Sponsored by Jonathan Heller and Morgan Heater of Ecotope, this cluster of four energy code amendments will change the way HVAC systems are controlled in several common building types. Together, they eliminate simultaneous heating and cooling of the same space, separate the air supply for ventilation from the heating and cooling function, regulate the intake of outside air and require heating and cooling systems to turn off when not being actively used. Under pressure from industry and building designers, additional flexibility for variable air volume (VAV) systems was granted, and the effective date was pushed back one year. Additional thanks to SBCC council member Eric Vander Mey for skillfully pulling this one across the line.

Outlet controls – Sponsored by Mike Kennedy on behalf of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), this energy code amendment requires half of the electrical outlets in offices and classrooms to be controlled by occupancy sensors or automatic time clocks, making sure that devices such as monitors, personal sound systems or desk lamps shut all the way off when no one is there. Average annual energy savings are projected at 0.5-0.6 kWh per square foot.

Lighting requirements – Sponsored by Mike Kennedy on behalf of NEEA, this energy code amendment reduces the power allowed for lighting by about 20%, which will require deployment of highly efficient LED lighting. This type of lighting is already quite cost effective and rapidly becoming more so; LED quality is improving even as prices continue to fall rapidly. Average annual energy savings are projected at 1.2-6.0 kWh per square foot, depending on the fixtures and hours of use.

Electric vehicle readiness – Sponsored by State Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island) and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Basset, this building code amendment requires that new apartments, condominiums and some commercial buildings with more than 20 parking spaces are ready to provide vehicle charging at 5% of the spaces. Readiness is defined as having electrical capacity and conduit (or in some cases, a pathway for conduit) in place on the front end, which allows for easier installation of charging later and avoids tens of thousands of dollars in retrofit costs. This amendment puts Washington in line with California’s strong statewide code, which recently doubled to 6% from 3% of spaces, with some localities requiring more. Congratulations to Chuck Murray and Ross Freeman from Mercer Island’s sustainability office for their technical work putting this proposal together.

Amendments not adopted – With ferocious lobbying resulting in an almost evenly split vote, the concrete masonry wall industry defeated a proposal to end their exemption from wall insulation requirements. This marks one of the very few areas in which Washington lags behind national standards. Opponents alleged loss of jobs and apprenticeships if their masonry walls were required to conform to insulation performance common to other wall types. The City of Seattle continues to require better insulation of masonry walls.

These proposals go into effect July 1, 2016, except for the DOAS measures, which take effect July 1, 2017.

Many thanks to NW Energy Coalition members and supporters, including Climate Solutions and the King County Cities Climate Collaborative (K4C), who submitted written testimony and ventured to Olympia for key hearings. The Building Code Council received an unprecedented volume of testimony this cycle, and the backing of energy efficiency and transportation electrification really helped solidify Code Council support for these proposals.

We are working with state officials to determine the 2015 energy code changes’ combined effect on energy use in new buildings and will distribute that information when it is finalized.

The Building Code Council – still under serious assault from the business lobby and now facing a severe funding crisis — will need our help again during the 2016 legislative session. Last session we helped defeat an industry-backed bill to add process hurdles to the energy code amendment cycle, and we expect that issue to resurface in 2016. Plus, the building permit fees on which the Council operates have not been adjusted (for inflation or otherwise) since 1989, and the Council needs additional funding just to keep the doors open in the second half of the current biennium.

We will call for your help and involvement as the session unfolds.

JJ McCoy, NW Energy Coalition senior policy associate