(The Center Square) – A group of building industry associations have filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Building Code Council's recently adopted codes for residential and commercial buildings that critics warn will increase the price of housing that is already unaffordable for 84 percent of state residents.
In a petition filed Tuesday in the Thurston County Superior Court, the group of plaintiffs argue that the council illegally enacted the policies after Gov. Jay Inslee repeatedly failed to get similar proposals passed in the Legislature.
Starting in July, it will be illegal for builders to place natural gas or propane in new construction as a primary source of energy. Instead, they are required to install a heat pump for both space and water heating. The code regulation allows natural gas as a backup energy source, but according to the Building Industry Association of Washington, or BIAW, that will add $2,400 to the price of a new home.
Additionally, the heat pump requirement is estimated to add $9,200 to a new home price. Although heat pumps consume less energy than electric resistance heating, the upfront costs are much greater.
As of 2020, 34% of Washington homes use natural gas for heating, while 56% rely on electricity. According to Center Point Energy, “historically and currently, natural gas costs are well below” that of electricity.
Prior to the new energy code regulation, cities such as Seattle, Shoreline, and Bellingham adopted bans on the use of natural gas and propane in new residential and commercial buildings. The lawsuit notes that Inslee introduced similar proposals during the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions. However those bills failed to clear both chambers.
In August, the State Energy Code Council introduced WSR 22-17-149, ultimately voting 9-5 in favor of it in November. Code council members are appointed by the governor, though a 2021 BIAW lawsuit alleges that Inslee illegally appointed two members.
Responding to the November vote, BIAW Executive Vice President Greg Lane said in a statement, “at a time when only roughly 15 percent of households in Washington can afford to purchase a median-priced home, this additional tax on energy only makes things worse.”
Tuesday's lawsuit argues the rule “exceeds the statutory authority of the Council" and is “an unconstitutional delegation of authority by the Legislature.”
“The State Building Code Council also arbitrarily and capriciously adopted the rules in contravention of the agency’s mandated requirements to consider and impose Codes that are consistent with accepted standards, permit use of modern technical methods and devices, and eliminate restrictive and unnecessary regulations that increase construction costs or retard the use of new materials,” the lawsuit further states.
Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the the Washington State Association of UA Plumbers, Pipefitters and HVAC/R Service Technicians. Its government Affairs Director Neil Hartmen said in a statement that “the State Building Code Council approved these rules despite the fact the legislature rejected them. We joined this lawsuit to hold them accountable. We opposed these new rules on building energy use when they were before the legislature because they will increase energy costs for homes and businesses, eliminate family-wage jobs, restrict energy choice and put electric reliability at risk.”
The state has up to 20 days to file a response.