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This state is phasing out oil and natural gas in favor of money-saving, energy-efficient heat pumps: 'The right choice'

​"From an economic, equity and sustainability perspective, it makes sense to build efficient, electric homes right from the start."

Heat pump

Photo Credit: iStock

As of March 15, every new house or apartment built in the state of Washington will now effectively require the use of money-saving, energy-efficient heat pumps for heating and cooling, or an alternative that is deemed to be equally energy-efficient.

A preceding law came in November 2022, when the Washington State Building Code Council voted in favor of a mandate, making it one of the strongest building codes in the country for energy-efficient heat pumps, but it was then shelved after opposition to what was perceived as unfairly limiting consumers to one type of heating solution. 

The state took another pass at the law in November, though, according to the Seattle Times, and passed new rules that will effectively phase out fossil fuel heating in new construction of homes and businesses in the state, unless the solution is so modern and efficient that it would not actually be a major polluter. As Axios detailed in December, there is still pushback on this latest version of the law and it could fall through, but the progress is promising toward reducing planet-warming gases in the atmosphere.

Electric heat pumps are typically two to four times more energy efficient than gas heaters, which means they can help you cut down your electricity bill dramatically.  

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Another reason they're being lauded is because they don't run on methane, a potent gas that traps heat in our atmosphere and causes our planet to overheat. Methane is also linked to a number of human health issues, including respiratory illness, memory loss, and heart disease.

The Council voted for the heat pumps following a 2021 state law that requires 45% greenhouse gas pollution reductions by 2030 and 95% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. The state is also required to increase energy efficiency in buildings by 70% by 2031. 

"The State Building Code Council made the right choice for Washingtonians," Rachel Koller, managing director of the green-building alliance Shift Zero, said in a statement following the original ban. ​"From an economic, equity and sustainability perspective, it makes sense to build efficient, electric homes right from the start."

An influx of transplants to Washington in recent years has led to a 50% increase in planet-overheating gas pollution from buildings between 1990 and 2015 — the fastest-growing source in the state.

Across the country, lawmakers are making decisions like this to help move their municipalities away from dirty energy-based heating systems. More than 90 cities and counties in the U.S. now have similar measures in place.

"It's an exciting step forward toward meeting our goal to reduce greenhouse gases in our state," Katy Sheehan, a council member who voted in favor of the original heat pump mandate told Spokane's Spokesman-Review back in 2022. "I'm really happy that we did it."

Editor's note: This article has been revised to follow updates to Washington's ongoing efforts to promote the use of heat pumps in place of oil and natural gas heating solutions.

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