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What Washington's New Energy Code Means for Solar Power in Homes

On February 1, 2021, the new Washington Energy Code went into effect. Its effects are just now beginning to hit the marketplace. The new code increases the number of energy credits a new home will need in order to pass code. This means that new residential construction requires a minimum of six credits.

Three of those credits can come from solar power solutions that are increasingly becoming integrated into today’s homes. At Northwest Renewables, we’ve seen how opting for the maximum number of solar energy credits rather than investing in other options results in a more sustainable and lasting return on your investment.

Here’s what you need to know about how the new Washington Energy Code will affect your new home’s construction and why it’s vital to incorporate a solar energy system into your plans.

Creating Value

The new Washington Energy Code means that homebuilders must adjust the way they’ve been building homes. And many may opt for the path of least resistance and opt to gain the new credits through things like newer model water heaters, new heat pumps, or efficient lighting systems.

Northwest Renewables owner and manager Gavin Tenold says that those options may satisfy the credit requirements, but don’t deliver the lasting value that adding solar can.

“None of those other options really create value for the home,” says Tenold. “Things like water heaters, walls, or lighting will become obsolete in a matter of years and stop contributing much added value.”

But by adding a solar energy system, including a solar water heater, homeowners immediately receive the value that comes with independence from rising energy costs, which is something that will benefit them for a decade or more, not just a few years. Additionally, solar energy systems add immediate value to the home’s sale price – something that’s important to keep in mind considering our region’s surging real estate market.

Additionally, solar power gives the homebuyer a 30 percent federal tax credit, as well as solar equipment being sales tax-free to purchase.

“Solar power is a great solution for builders who are either speculatively building or building custom homes. They are adding that value immediately,” says Tenold.

Investing in Energy Independence

The summer of 2021 demonstrated how uncertain our electric power systems can be in this part of the country. As a record heatwave struck the Inland Northwest, areas of the region were suddenly victim to rolling blackouts as energy consumption during triple-digit temperatures overstressed the electrical grid.

No longer is energy independence only something for rural homes where electric service is either regularly interrupted or unavailable all together. We saw the need for solar across our region. We also saw how individuals can help prevent future energy crises.

“We know that homebuyers want to be part of the carbon solution. They know that solar is going to help them achieve resiliency in the grid and that adding solar helps your neighborhood become more resistant to natural disasters,” says Tenold.

When you add a battery system to your solar energy array, you have autonomy when the grid goes down, as we have seen happen now not just from the regular windstorms, but now heat. When building a new home in this area and considering which energy credits to purse, this makes solar a no-brainer.

Getting Ahead of the Curve

Whether it’s a homebuilder laying out a spec home or a family getting ready to build their dream house, when it comes to determining a plan to achieve these six credits to meet the Washington Energy Code, they need to keep a view toward the future.

There is no indication that the state of Washington is going to reverse course when it comes to making the state’s homes more sustainable. In fact, building codes are likely to become increasingly stringent when it comes to these codes with the intention of decarbonizing construction by 70 percent by the year 2030.

Today’s solar energy systems can last between 20 and 25 years, and your investment in solar today will likely put you ahead of the curve of what’s required in the years to come. When you choose solar to meet the energy credits of today, you’re building the sustainable home of the future.

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