Defending Washington’s Innovative Building Code

A federal appeals court upheld an innovative and progressive building code adopted by the state of Washington.

Case Overview

In February 2011, a federal court upheld Washington’s 2009 building energy code in a victory for conservation and energy groups. Buildings are responsible for 40% of our nation’s total energy use, and constructing energy-efficient new buildings helps reduce energy use and homeowners’ energy bills.

Washington’s new code sets strong energy efficiency requirements for new home construction that will reduce energy use for decades to come, saving residents millions of dollars and reducing harmful global warming pollution. The Building Industry Association of Washington had challenged Washington’s code, alleging that it conflicted with federal law, despite the fact that the code gives builders the flexibility to pick from a large range of energy efficient options. NW Energy Coalition, Washington Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club (represented by Earthjustice) and the Natural Resources Defense Council intervened in the case to support Washington’s code.

Ruling in favor of Washington state and conservation and energy groups, the federal district court in Tacoma found that federal law did not take precedence over Washington’s 2009 energy code because the energy efficient design options in the code were fairly weighted based on scientific modeling and the code did not mandate the use of major appliances that exceed federal energy efficiency standards. The decision establishes that Washington’s code does not conflict with federal law and can be applied to new construction throughout the state; it also paves the way for other states to adopt similar codes. The Building Industry Association of Washington appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision and affirmed the energy efficiency code.

The Washington State Building Code Council revised the Washington energy code in 2009, following two years of work by the public, stakeholders and the Council’s Technical Advisory Group to develop an innovative, cost effective and flexible building energy code. That time and expertise led to the 2009 revision to the code, a revision that went into effect on January 1, 2011. The new code allows home-builders to choose from a list of practical and accessible energy-saving options for new homes, like installation of high-efficiency, money-saving furnaces or water heaters, or super-efficient insulation and windows.

Washington’s new code sets strong energy efficiency requirements for new home construction.
Washington’s new code sets strong energy efficiency requirements for new home construction. (Department of Energy Photo)

Case Updates

A heat pump system outside a home in Juneau, Alaska.
March 8, 2024 Press Release: Victory

Judge Denies Industry Challenge to Delay Implementation of Washington’s New Climate and Health-Friendly Building Codes

New statewide building codes incentivizing heat pumps will take effect in mid-March

Rooftop heat pumps on an apartment building, with rooftop solar panels in the foreground.
August 7, 2023 Press Release: Victory

Industry Plaintiffs Drop Lawsuit Challenging Washington State’s Climate-Friendly Building Codes

The industry request to drop the legal challenge in federal court is a win for climate and health advocates and marks the second Northwest electrification legal victory in a week

June 25, 2012 Press Release: Victory

Federal Appellate Court Upholds Washington Energy Efficiency Rules

Court of Appeals preserves consumers’ ability to save millions, State’s ability to reduce global warming pollution