Require new buildings to heat with clean energy

Background

New buildings, and buildings under extensive renovation, should use electricity in place of gas for heating. Gas heating equipment has a lifetime of around 15 years, and our goal is to be substantially fossil free by 2030, in less than 10 years. Switching from gas to electric can be costly, and buildings should constructed so they do not need extensive modification in their first decade.

Beyond the savings of GHG emissions, using electricity has other advantages as well. Recent studies have shown that pollutants released in kitchens with gas stoves often exceeds EPA limits. And many people find that electric heat pumps, which can be set to either cool or heat, make their homes substantially more comfortable.

Seattle is poised to adopt new building codes that would phase out gas in new commercial and larger multi-family buildings. The proposed 2018 Seattle Energy Code would ban fossil fuel for space heating in commercial buildings (this includes multi-family dwellings with 4 or more units) and for water heating in multi-family buildings and hotels. The code only applies to new buildings and major renovations and still allows for gas cooking. We would like the energy code to require electricity for water heating for all buildings, and eventually also to require electricity for cooking.

At the state level in 2021 a bill, the Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act , is being introduced. It would require that the State Energy Code require clean energy for space and water heating by 2027. This same bill requires transition plans for eliminating gas in buildings to help meet the state GHG emission reduction goals.

The residential energy code needs to move in same direction but in Washington cities and counties are not allowed to modify the state's Residential Energy Code. The Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act, if passed, would allow cities to have their own stricter residential building codes. This would allow the city to require clean energy in homes without waiting for the state. We need to follow and support this bill and the Seattle Energy Code.

Embodied Carbon

Another concern is the amount of GHG emissions caused in the building process itself. We would like the building codes to introduce new standards around embodied carbon that will reduce the emissions required for constructing the building.

What Other Cities Have Done

Gas bans have been passed in San Francisco and Berkeley, CA; in Brookline, MA; and in Cambridge, MA. A similar resolution was brought forward in Seattle in 2019 but was shelved due to opposition, from the Seattle Plumbers & Pipefitters union and from businesses.

The Bellingham City Council is also considering a ban on new gas hooks, and also going further and placing a ban on replacement of existing gas furnaces and water heaters with gas appliances; these would have to be replaced with electric or other clean energy source. The Northwest Gas Association says it will spend $1 million in the region to promote natural gas benefits.