Green Buildings For Washington (HB 1257): What You Need To Know To Start Optimizing Energy Efficiency

Green Buildings for Washington calls for compliance starting in 2026 — not complying costs more than understanding how to minimize energy consumption in Seattle.

Buildings are the biggest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions across the globe and are responsible for 39% of all global energy-related CO2 production. That's why major cities across the world and in the United States are making an effort to sign climate-related legislation into place. As climate change continues to impact the planet, we must work together to meet green building goals.

In Washington state, House Bill 1257, or the Green Buildings for Washington law is leading the charge in this area, setting ambitious targets for energy efficiency and sustainable construction practices. In this blog, we'll explore the details of HB 1257, why it's important, and how you can start optimizing energy efficiency to comply with the law.

What is the Clean Buildings Act (HB 1257)?

The Clean Buildings bill in Washington state, also known as the Green Buildings for Washington law, is a piece of legislation that sets targets for energy efficiency and sustainable construction projects. 

As a result of the bill, Washington state created a Clean Buildings Energy Performance Standard, adopted from ASHRAE Standard 100-2018, and established energy use intensity targets (EUIt) specific to different building types. These standards are set to be implemented by the Washington State Department of Commerce on all Tier 1 commercial buildings. The law was expanded in 2022 to include Tier 2 buildings. 

The EUI is measured in annual energy use per square foot of building area = kBtu/SF/year

Tier 1 buildings are buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, including the parking garage, and Tier 2 buildings are 20,000 to 50,000 square feet in size. Starting in 2026, Tier 1 buildings larger than 220,000 square feet must begin reporting for compliance. 

Tier 1 vs Tier 2 Building Comparison via the Washington State Department of Commerce

How To Comply With the Green Buildings for Washington Law

The green buildings law requires Tier 1 buildings to comply with four steps outlined by the department of commerce and show that their building meets the EUIt. Here's what a building owner must to do comply:

1. Benchmark and have a qualified individual—such as a professional engineer,  registered architect, certified commissioning professional, or qualified energy auditor—calculate the building's EUit.

2. Designate an individual as an Energy Manager for the building. 

3. Develop and implement an Energy Management Plan.

4. Develop and implement an operation and maintenance (O&M) program.

5. Meet EUit if not already meeting it by following the Investment Criteria process to identify and implement cost-effective energy efficiency measures. 

The Washington Office of Sustainability and Environment (EOS) estimates that nearly 1,000 Seattle buildings will need to comply with HB 1257 and 1/3 will need energy efficiency improvement to meet the State EUit.

The state has presented various ways to comply with the law which include: 

  • Compliance through exemption
  • Compliance through meeting the EUit
  • Compliance through investment criteria
  • Conditional compliance granted by the compliance date*

*Conditional compliance is granted when a building meets part of the criteria for compliance but needs more time for additional investments. If building owners wish to seek conditional compliance, they must submit an application no later than 180 days before the building's compliance date. Even if conditional compliance is granted, building owners will still need to follow the standard's steps and report annually to Commerce to demonstrate that they have taken action to reduce the building's energy use.

The Washington State Department of Commerce outlined the compliance paths in the following flow chart: 

HB 1257 Compliance Paths via the Washington State Department of Commerce

Learn more about paths to compliance for the Green Buildings Act at the Washington State Department of Commerce website. 

Green Buildings for Washington Timeline 

Even though HB 1257 doesn't require reports submitted until 2026, the law requires that the building's weather-normalized EUI is less than or equal to the building's EUIt for a minimum of 12 months before the compliance dates. 

The green buildings bill timeline staggers compliance dates from 2026-2028. 

Number of Buildings in Seattle, WA, via the Washington State OSE

How To Prepare for HB 1257: the Green Buildings for Washington Law

In Washington, the buildings sector is the second-biggest CO2 contributor, producing 27% of total statewide emissions. Working toward a more energy-efficient building requires the efforts of many and an understanding of what to start doing and how to prepare to meet EUI targets.   

Hire a "Qualified Person" for Benchmarking

The first step to compliance with the Green Buildings for Washington law requires building owners in Washington to hire a qualified person to start benchmarking energy consumption in their buildings. 

A qualified person is defined as, "a person having training, expertise, and three years professional experience in building energy use analysis, and being any of the following:

  • Licensed professional architect or engineer in the jurisdiction of the project
  • Building Operator Certification (BOC) Level II by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council
  • Certified commissioning professional
  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM) in current standing, certified by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)
  • Energy Management Professional (EMP) certified by the Energy Management Association” 

This individual will be able to benchmark and calculate the building's Energy Use Intensity target. 

Know What Resources Are Available for HB 1257

With the goals of improving energy consumption and carbon production, the OSE projects HB 1257 to result in a 4% reduction in carbon production with the potential for Seattle-specific GHG emissions to drop by 27%. In order to help meet this decrease, Washington state has presented various incentives and resources for building owners. 

The state-funded Early Adopter Incentive program provides $0.85 per square foot for early adopters whose buildings are currently 15 EUI points above EUI targets, and who make improvements to achieve targets before compliance deadlines. Washington state has provided $75 million in incentive dollars to support early compliance. 

The state is also providing an Equitable and Inclusive Early Adopter Incentive Plan that reserves some of the incentives for buildings that are high energy users, located in rural communities, are multifamily affordable housing, or in an area with significant environmental health disparities.

Additional resources can also be found on the State of Washington Clean Buildings website

Understand Which Systems Need Optimization

In order to help improve energy efficiency and comply with the Clean Buildings Act, it's important to understand the energy usage of the various systems in a commercial building. According to the US Department of Energy,  HVAC systems account for approximately 40% of a commercial building's energy consumption. This is followed by lighting which consumed roughly 17%, leaving commercial buildings opportunities to optimize lighting, cooling, heating, and more. 

By comprehending the energy usage of these systems, building managers can identify areas for improvement and optimize energy efficiency. This includes regularly maintaining system equipment, making updates as necessary, and implementing strategies such as improving data collection for machine learning uses. 

Machine learning is revolutionizing cooling systems in commercial buildings by providing recommendations that improve energy consumption. By analyzing large amounts of data, ML tools can identify patterns, provide recommendations, and make predictions that help reduce pollution and minimize operating and maintenance costs. 

Optimize Energy Efficiency With Tech

As the use of emerging technology, such as AI and ML-powered software, grows in the commercial buildings sector, the opportunities and use cases for improving energy efficiency also increase. This growth in tech can help building owners in cities that are adopting methods for carbon drawdown, especially in Washington state. The OSE predicts that roughly 300 buildings will need to make energy improvements in the city of Seattle to meet their EUIt and ML technology could be the solution

Ruth Favela
Ruth Favela
March 6, 2023