Washington State Sued over Expensive New Building Codes

Published June 13, 2010

The Building Industry Association of Washington is suing the state over expensive new energy efficiency standards that will raise the price of a new home by anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Extensive New Rules
Rules set to go into effect July 1 impose stringent energy efficiency mandates on all new homes. According to the new rules, 50 percent of all lighting must be generated from high-efficiency fixtures; higher insulation ratings are required for walls, windows, and ceilings; heat and air conditioning ducts must be leak-tested and conform to more stringent leakage standards; doors must be blower-tested for air leakage; and builders will have to accrue a mandatory number of efficiency credits by implementing additional efficiency measures from a list of state-provided options.

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) filed suit on May 25 claiming federal law preempts states from enacting energy efficiency rules that exceed federal standards.

The Washington State Building Code Council, which approved the new standards last fall, claims the rules will add between $4,000 and $5,000 to the price of a new home. BIAW reports the new rules will add $10,000 or more to the price of a new home.

Stringent Existing Rules
Todd Myers, environmental policy director for the Washington Policy Center, says Washington state already has some of the most prohibitive residence-building rules in the nation. These rules, Myers observed, have driven up the price of housing in Washington dramatically.

“Washington state has some of the most restrictive growth management laws in the country. The University of Washington did a study and found that of a typical $480,000 home in Washington approximately $200,000 of the cost of that home was the result of state government regulation,” Myers explains.

Gregoire Ignores Legislature
BIAW public relations director Erin Shannon says Washington governor Chris Gregoire (D) ignored the legislature’s expressed will in supporting the new rules.

“Gov. Gregoire has a lot of ‘ideas’ in her desire to become the ‘greenest governor’ in Washington. She tried to implement these new home energy efficiency regulations in 2009, but the state legislature decided to phase them in starting in 2013,” said Shannon. “However, Gov. Gregoire then went to the State Building Code Council, which is filled with her political appointees, and got them to approve these new energy efficiency amendments to the Washington State Energy Code, and now they are coming into effect this year.”

Construction Industry Suffering
Homebuilding is crucial to Washington’s economy, Shannon says. Making new homes more expensive will further weaken the industry, she notes, which is already suffering from the twin impacts of the subprime meltdown and the Great Recession.

“Construction is the backbone of the state, and these regulations will further hurt the economy and destroy jobs,” she said. “Contractors are [already] laying people off because they know that once July arrives and these regulations kick in, costs will go up. Lower- and middle-class home purchases will slow because costs will be too high,” she explained.

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.