Seattle council approves ban on gas heating in new apartments, commercial buildings

Feb 1, 2021, 3:59 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2021, 7:24 am
Natural gas ban, Seattle...
A building under construction in Seattle in 2019. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Seattle City Council has approved a ban on natural gas space and water heating in new construction on apartments, hotels, and commercial buildings.

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The council voted unanimously to approve the ban, which was passed in addition to a separate vote to bring the city into alignment with other Washington state building codes. The citywide ban on natural gas space heating will take effect for qualifying new buildings on June 1, 2021, with the gas water heating ban going into effect in 2022 to “allow time for the market to adapt.”

Councilmember Dan Strauss — who sponsored the bill — pointed to an 8.3% in carbon emissions from buildings in the city between 2016 and 2018 as one of the driving reasons for getting the bill passed. It’s estimated that the ban will reduce building emissions by “at least 12%” by 2050.

“With this update, Seattle will have one of the most forward-thinking energy codes in the country, and would be setting an example the rest of the state can follow,” Strauss said Monday.

A 2019 iteration of this proposal was presented by then-Councilmember Mike O’Brien, and would have broadly banned the implementation of natural gas in all new single-family home construction in Seattle starting in July 2020. That would have included gas ranges, in addition to natural gas space and water heating.

That bill failed to even make it to a vote before the council, after sparking a wave of outrage from local construction companies, Puget Sound Energy, unions, and various other businesses that provide services related to natural gas.

This new proposal from Councilmember Strauss wasn’t met with nearly the same resistance, with a vast majority of public commenters on Monday voicing their support.

“These codes could save lives by reducing greenhouse gases outside and improving the air quality inside,” one commenter said.

“Climate change is hurting working people right now — this is a win for good paying family wage jobs right here in our community,” said another.

Also among Monday’s commenters was architectural designer Nathaniel Gunderson, who noted that his colleagues in the industry “strongly support these code updates,” both for environmental and financial reasons.

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“Buildings are one of the largest and fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and climate pollution in Seattle,” he pointed out. “Each generation of new buildings is a long-term investment that will last for decades, and the cost of future building retrofits is significantly more expensive.”

Voicing opposition to the ban during public comments was Steve Tate, a worker for Fireside Home Solutions, who argued that the bill could actually increase carbon emissions.

“Restricting or removing the ability of our clients to choose natural gas creates more need for propane and wood-burning appliances, which have a higher carbon emissions level than natural gas,” he said. “We’d be moving backwards.”

Those on the council expressed across-the-board support for the ban, although with some caveats, noting that it’s still a smaller piece of a larger mission to combat climate change.

“It is a substantive step forward, although it is obviously limited,” Councilmember Sawant said, pointing out that it still fails to address natural gas use in older buildings, or in new construction of single-family homes.

“This is one important part moving forward, but there’s a lot to be done in order to reach the goal of significantly reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold agreed.

Mayor Jenny Durkan previously expressed support for the bill in its early stages, and appears likely to sign it into law in the days ahead.

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Seattle council approves ban on gas heating in new apartments, commercial buildings