In a strongly worded letter to the Washington State Building Code Council, Washington REALTORS® are asking for reconsideration of a 2021 Washington Energy Code change that would effectively reclassify many Washington multifamily buildings as Commercial Properties, and not Residential. Among many changes, the effect would immediately add another $2-per square foot construction cost requiring a number of new solar panels for each building.
In it’s letter to the Council, WR called the move “unprecedented”, noting that no International Code Council groups have ever considered such a move. This would essentially treat all residential structures the same as commercial buildings. This “one code” application comes with far less flexibility and housing options, and follows a similar move by the State of California.
Under the current laws, a developer has the option of applying either codes. This way, developers can customize energy plans to be the most efficient. These plans vary depending on things such as building heights, multiple units, or multi-family and mixed use construction. For example, developers may use shared wall construction to allow for greater security with limited access, something that would no be allowed under the “one-size fits all” approach under consideration.
In its letter, WR argues “Our state is in a serious housing crisis. The structures to be transferred to the Commercial Energy Code include Missing Middle housing types which the Legislature passed during the 2023 Session to address this crisis. Washington REALTORS® does not believe there is solid rationale for the change in scope.”
The hope is that low level, three-story buildings, can remain in code as “residential.”
A final vote is expected later this year.