Building Cleaner: Executive Constantine unveils stronger building codes for unincorporated King County to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve indoor air quality for all residents
The proposed updates for new commercial and larger, multi-family construction will spur the electrification of buildings, incent construction of more efficient facilities, and accelerate the use of renewable energy. These codes will reduce reliance on fossil fuels for traditional space and water heating systems, supporting countywide greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
Executive Constantine announced today proposed updates for stronger building and energy codes for unincorporated King County. This proposal, if adopted by council, will support countywide greenhouse gas emission reduction goals through a reduction of gas consumption for traditional heating systems, and encouraging use of renewable energy. Members of both the development community and groups committed to fighting climate change joined Executive Constantine at Yesler Terrace Park, adjacent from Sawara, a future high-performance affordable housing community developed by the Seattle Housing Authority designed to meet similar code that the City of Seattle adopted earlier this year.
“The built environment is responsible for nearly a quarter of emissions in King County,” Executive Constantine said. “Strong building and energy codes are a key component of the County’s comprehensive climate strategy. These codes will ensure that new buildings where we live, work, and gather will be more efficient, saving money and energy. High-performance buildings create jobs and provide for comfortable and economical indoor spaces, protecting the health of residents at all income levels.”
Natural gas combustion in commercial and residential buildings accounts for 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions countywide. The proposed building and energy code amendments – the first such strengthening of construction code in unincorporated King County – will require more efficient building construction, accelerate the adoption of solar energy, and reduce natural gas consumption in commercial buildings and multi-family construction more than four stories tall. The proposed amendments offer other ambitious-but-necessary steps to address the climate crisis and prepare for a more renewable future:
- Improve energy efficiency to help conserve energy and maintain low utility bills for residents.
- Disallow fossil fuels in new commercial and large multi-family buildings for space and most water heating, reducing significant greenhouse gas emissions and outdoor air pollution from our building sector.
- Add renewable energy generation, to help us prepare for the future of electrification and growth of electric vehicles.
- Create more opportunities for homeowners to install solar power.
- Enable affordable housing facilities to access solar power on affordable housing, at no cost to the affordable housing developers or operators.
King County’s proposed building and fire code are part of a coordinated, multi-level strategy to address the climate crisis, laid out by the County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan. The plan calls for actions and investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, lead with climate equity, and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
The transition to electric systems will also improve the quality of life for residents, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. The County worked with groups such as the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County to assure these measures are applied equitably to all commercial and large, multi-family development, including affordable housing.
The King County Council is considering the proposed building and fire code amendments for adoption.
- Proposed building and energy code amendments (September 21, 2021)
- 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan (SCAP)
The built environment is responsible for nearly a quarter of emissions in King County. Strong building and energy codes are a key component of the County’s comprehensive climate strategy. These codes will ensure that new buildings where we live, work, and gather will be more efficient, saving money and energy. High performance buildings create jobs and provide for comfortable and economical indoor spaces, protecting the health of residents at all income levels.
These new codes will largely align with what we have been hearing from the community, and I believe will be helpful to achieving our climate action goals. Permitting Division will work with builders and developers as the new codes come into fruition.
The proposed building and energy codes for unincorporated King County to end the use of fossil-fuel space heating and fossil-fuel hot water circulation system heating for commercial and multifamily buildings is a needed first step in addressing the climate crisis. Before we can begin to address reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we must first ensure that we are not making the problem worse. The energy code updates put us on a path toward ensuring we are not making the problem worse.
Energy codes are the best method we have of curbing carbon emissions from buildings. Architects stand fully behind King County’s proposed code amendments because we know that buildings built to this code will need to last 50 years or more. By strengthening our energy codes today, we're locking in critical changes that will provide cleaner, healthier buildings for decades to come.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) was released in August 2021, which the United Nations Secretary-General described as “code red for humanity” and instituting deep cuts in methane emissions was called out as the most critical first step. Eliminating gas from the building sector in King County is essential to addressing the climate crises and King County Council is taking a good first step by moving forward with these new energy codes.
Vashon cares about the climate. Hundreds of us signed a petition to close Puget Sound Energy's Colstrip coal-fired power plant in 2017, including more than 100 business owners. Since buildings represent the No. 2 source of climate pollution in Washington State, the leaders of the Vashon Climate Action Group fully support building codes that create structures built to address the climate crisis.
We are battling concurrent crises of climate, equity, and housing during an unprecedented pandemic. Instead of retreating at such a time we must not relent in our pursuit to reverse the damage to our planet. This incremental step in code change gives us a chance to achieve our 2030 targets. While this step does come with some sacrifice, it is attainable with ingenuity and resolve, and can provide inspiration for our focus on equity and housing. While its no longer possible to legitimately deny that we have an affordable housing crisis, it becomes hard to address this challenge if we don’t have healthy communities within which to make those homes real. Simply stated, we have to care about our planet and this action on energy code is one more step in our journey to get us to achieving stewardship of our collective home for future generations. HDC’s Exemplary Buildings Program brings together some of our region’s best and brightest thinkers and designers to create the tools and resources essential for helping the affordable housing development sector adapt to and beyond code requirements and to lead the way in the building industry in producing truly exemplary buildings addressing our wicked challenges, of equity, climate and access to housing.
For more information, contact:
Chase Gallagher, Executive Office, 206-263-8537