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Code changes add to housing costs, industry spokesman says

Staff Writer | April 19, 2024 1:30 AM

MOSES LAKE — There have been some changes to the Washington State Building Code that stand to add to the cost of building homes, a spokesman for the Building Industry Association of Washington said.

Washington state has followed the International Building Code since about 2006, Jim Breidenbach, a retired contractor, now an educator for the BIAW, told a group of about a dozen people at a class arranged by the Spokane Home Builders on April 10 in Moses Lake. The IBC has regional modifiers for different jurisdictions in the U.S. and outside, he explained, so that code enforcement officials can adjust to local conditions with a minimum of fuss.

“However, Washington state, due to political meanderings, has put forth a whole book of amendments to the code because they felt that what Washington state wants to do is completely different to everything else,” Breidenbach said. “And so the Washington State Building Codes Council, which was originally tasked just to review the code and make sure it was applicable to Washington state, has chosen to jump in with both feet and start tweaking it.”

Many of the amendments that will affect home costs are energy-related, Breidenbach said. One such regulation, to encourage electric vehicle use, requires that every home with an attached garage have a 40-amp 208/240-volt electrical circuit junction box that can accommodate a vehicle charger.

“What does that mean?” Breidenbach said. “Depending on how big a house you’ve got and what kind of panel you’ve got, et cetera, to add a dedicated 40-amp breaker may require a larger panel or a dedicated panel. So thank you, Washington state.”

Natural gas looms large this year, and may become a bigger issue still, according to Breidenbach. House Bill 1589, which Inslee signed March 28, stops short of a natural gas ban, but does require large-scale utilities that offer both electricity and natural gas to stop offering gas to most new construction and take steps to phase out natural gas use for existing residences, as well as consolidate rates for electric and gas so that. Neither the Grant PUD nor Avista, which serves Adams County, has a large enough customer base to be affected directly by HB 1589, but the restrictions in it are harbingers of tighter rules to come, Breidenbach said.

“Puget Sound Energy (which supplies power to most of western Washington and is the only utility affected) was issued a mandate to develop a plan to end the use of natural gas and include targeted electrification,” Breidenbach said. “Think on that for a bit. If Puget Sound Energy is tasked with that, how long before your local co-ops are required to as well?”

Some other utilities have stopped providing gas infrastructure to new developments, he said, and instead require the developer to pay for it.

“Because they don't know when they're going to be required to yank them out and stop servicing,” he said. “So they require the developer to pay for bringing in the trunk lines and the distribution lines. Check with your local utility if you’re doing developments, if you want to bring in natural gas.”

There are several ballot initiatives in the works to try to repeal the law, Breidenbach added.

“They added an emergency clause,” said Grant County Development Services Director Chris Young, “So it can’t be fixed by voter referendum.”

The industry has turned to litigation for relief on the issue.

“There are quite a number of lawsuits pending, but nothing has enough traction to change anything probably for the next year or so,” Breidenbach said. “So this is the world we're in right now.”

Lights and light switches aren’t immune to the new regulations either. The new code requires dimmers or occupancy sensors in all rooms except bathrooms and halls.

“If you've got (occupancy sensors) all over the place, and people are just sitting there watching TV, the light’s gonna turn off because they're not moving,” Breidenbach said.

Outside light fixtures will be required to have a daylight sensor, he said, and all light fixtures must be high-efficiency. This applies to both new construction and large-scale remodels, he added.

These code changes will add a minimum of $30,000 to the cost of a new home, Breidenbach said. 

The new regulations are hard on builders, Breidenbach said, but also on the local building officials who are tasked with enforcing them.

“They're in just as much of a challenge as you are,” he said. “They're trying to get up to speed and doing their best. They and their team are learning along the way. Have a conversation with them. They are part of your team. Don't just sit there and yell at them; try and find a solution and work together.”

Joel Martin may be reached via email at

    New homes in Washington will have to be wired for electric vehicle charging similar to that shown here under new building regulations.