Washington State will require heat pumps in new buildings

The external fan housing of a geothermal heat pump system on the side of a building.

This unassuming gray box taps into the power of the Earth’s core!
Photo: Silas Stein/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images (PA)

The prophecy is coming true. the the moment is here. Heat pumps are taking over, at least in Washington State.

Washington is now the first state in the nation to mandate energy-efficient (and possibly fossil fuel-free) electric heat pumps, rather than traditional furnaces and water heaters. The rules apply to new commercial and multi-family residential buildings of four or more stories.

On Friday, the Washington State Building Code Council voted 11 to 3 in favor of a new statewide update to the commercial building energy code. the summary of legislation covers over 330 pages and includes many different provisions, including new requirements that air and water heating and cooling systems use electric “heat pumps” (kind of a misnomer , as the pumps heat and cool) in most new buildings.

“We passed one of the most energy-efficient building codes in the United States last Friday,” wrote Kjell Anderson, a member of the Building Code Council and a sustainable design architect in Seattle, in an email to Gizmodo. The code is a win for building decarbonization and could help Washington respond its state goal reduce building energy consumption at 70% 2006 levels by 2031. The change will come into effect in July 2023.

“We need climate action and that [was] an opportunity to do so, Anderson added in a phone call with Gizmodo.

The new rules effectively prohibit certain standard HVAC systems, which typically operate via furnaces that burn natural gas (mostly methane), as well as less efficient heating systems that use electrical resistance (like floor heaters) in most cases. The few exceptions are for auxiliary heating and some supplemental heating systems in some of the colder parts of the State. Additionally, under the updated code, 50% of hot water in new commercial and residential buildings must be heated by heat pumps.

What is a heat pump?

Heat pumps work to cool or heat (depending on the context and the season) a space in move air through temperature gradients. They exchange heat between the interior of a building and the outside air, a body of water or the subsoil.

For example, in geothermal heat pumps, which rely on constant temperatures of 50 degrees below ground, the refrigerant is pumped through pipes in a network, either deep in a single vertical well or through a system of loops. less deep. An electric compressor transfers heat between the ground and the ducted refrigerant, and fans move this newly warmed or cooled air inside a building. The same general configuration can be used to heat water.

Whether it’s a geothermal heat pump or an air or water heat pump, they are all 2 to 4 times more efficient than electric resistance heaters or radiators, Anderson said. by telephone.

The Biden Administration instituted some federal programs for stimulate absorption heat pump systems, and related policies have been attempted in other states. New York State, for example, had a grant program for several years and tried and failed to institute a ban on gas in buildings. And last year California passed incentive codes all-electric construction (i.e. no gas furnace) in all new residential buildings and some businesses, but the Golden State stopped short of a total requirement.

Why are heat pumps better?

burning methane appliances are bad for your health and environment. Heating and Cooling Buildings Using Fossil Fuel Accounts for a huge sum carbon emissions. A UN Analysis 2020 found that buildings (including construction) account for 38% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally. And a 2019 report of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit environmental organization, concluded that about 10% of all carbon emissions in the United States come from heating and cooking in buildings. Switch to heat pumps only could chop 3% emissions from the US carbon budget.

In many cases, however, electric heat pumps are still dependent on the consumption of fossil fuels. Indeed, the electricity that powers the compressors and fans of heat pumps generally comes from an electrical network dependent on the combustion of oil, coil and methane gas. But Washington has one of the cleanest and the greenest energy networks in the country, run largely on hydroelectric power many dams in the state. The dams have their own problemsbut for Washington, that means most of the electricity that will run the newly mandated heat pumps will not come from fossil fuel sources.

The required new shift to electric heat pumps could prevent around 8.1 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2050 (equivalent to almost 1.6 million cars taken off the road for a year), according to a Rocky Mountain Institute Analysis. Additionally, those state-mandated 70% energy reduction targets “would be impossible to achieve without heat pumps in buildings,” Anderson said over the phone.

Similar requirements for residential buildings in Washington are currently awaiting public comment and will be subject to a board vote Later in the year.

Updated 04/26/2022, 4:51 PM ET: This post has been updated with additional commentary from a phone conversation with Kjell Anderson, as well as information clarifying the different types of heat pumps.

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