Benchmarking gives owners and buyers a better understanding of a building’s energy and water consumption, which helps the real estate industry increase efficiency. But there’s a stumbling block to using the benchmarking data effectively, and everybody knows it . It makes intuitive sense that simply comparing total energy use per square foot between different buildings omits important context, because it’s obvious that a data center uses more energy than a yoga studio, and an investment bank working three shifts will use more energy than an office only open 9 am – 5 pm. In “Money Vs. Power”, Steven Baumgartner (Buro Happold) wondered, “wouldn’t thinking about what the building is used for be a good part of the discussion?”
In theory, that’s the purpose of ENERGY STAR ratings: to make apple-to-apples comparisons by taking into account what the building is used for, how many people work there, how many computers there are, its hours of operation, and so on. But ENERGY STAR doesn’t cover every kind of building in New York, so many benchmarked buildings aren’t eligible for this more contextual rating. Baumgartner decided one way to help benchmark those missing buildings more accurately would be to compare building energy usage to another important metric: contribution to the economy.
Baumgartner used federal standard industry classifications to determine how each tenant in a benchmarked building contributes to GDP, adjusted by New York State indirect and induced benefits for each business sector. The result is an indication of each tenant’s contribution to the economy, without using any private financial data from individual businesses. After weighting each tenant’s economic impact relative to its floor area, the overall building economic impact can be compared to its total energy use per square foot.
This result is called the Building Economic Energy Coefficient, or BEEC. In this system, a building with tenants that have a larger contribution to the economy will have a higher BEEC than another building with the same energy use per square foot but with tenants whose business types provide fewer economic benefits.
So in the absence of universal ENERGY STAR ratings, what would it mean to use BEEC to fill the gap? Well, it would accurately represent the real world in at least one fundamental way: money talks. For a city where economic development is a constant focus, it’s not enough to look at the energy use of a building without considering its economic benefits. As one audience member put it, while we all want buildings to save energy, “it’s a dangerous world to be in where NYC is pushing against bank headquarters.”
However, some say BEEC only tells part of the story. In the federal and state databases, a bank makes more contributions to the economy than a school, and a trading floor has greater economic impact than a nonprofit. These critics wonder whether we shouldn’t consider some other contributions to the city when benchmarking building energy use. What if we made the same type of calculation using a database that defines how each type of business contributes to education, or happiness, or future job creation? It sounds like a great idea, but that database doesn’t exist. For now, our tax dollars pay for federal and state government to measure how different business types contribute to the dollar economy. They don’t tell us how happy, healthy, or safe different businesses might make us.
From an engineering standpoint, BEEC presents a couple of challenges. While building energy usage is measured directly with meters, economic activity is calculated using only tenant business types, not actual financial data. Since the real-life density and productivity of tenants can’t be included in the calculation, a BEEC number is a general indicator, not a precise measure.
In addition, while attempting to solve the problem of comparing buildings of different use types, BEEC adds a layer of complexity that can obscure differences between buildings of similar uses. A building could improve its BEEC score by lowering its energy use; it could get the same result if during tenant turnover, low-contributing tenants move out and high-contributing tenants move in, whether intentionally or not. Is that the desired result, or is there some basic standard of efficiency we hope all buildings should reach, regardless of their tenants?
Can BEEC help NYC lower its carbon footprint? Baumgartner says that “BEEC hasn’t been put on the table to drive policy. It’s been put on the table to spark discussion.” But, since NYC’s interest is not for these high-contributing tenants to leave for other areas and instead to make buildings more efficient, the attempt to make benchmarking more useful is a worthy goal. Because ENERGY STAR doesn’t fully take other variables (economic or otherwise) into account, there’s a gap to be filled.
Until there is some way of comparing apples to apples, simply lining one building’s energy use per square foot against another will be difficult for even experts to interpret, and downright misleading for the general public. While tenant economic contribution seems like one important variable, it may not be enough on its own. What would you use?
Hats off to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection for passing new, more stringent rules for boilers efficiency. These changes will really make a difference, since boilers are responsible for much of the city’s air pollution. Yet some related recommendations of the Green Codes Task Force proposal remain unimplemented.
The new rules will help cut overall carbon pollution, as well as the particulates that cause childhood asthma. Oil boilers have had their efficiency standard raised from 80% to 83%, an improvement that could save tens of thousands of dollars each year in a big building. And for the first time, natural gas boilers must be tested instead of just fuel oil ones.
Testing quality control will be improved now that it must be performed by a qualified technician using a calibrated, up-to-date device. And in accordance with the Green Codes Task Force recommendation, tests will be conducted annually instead of every three years, which is in line with best industry practices for clean boiler operation. Together, these changes mean we should see fewer black clouds belching from city chimneys next winter.
The rules also remove barriers to more efficient boilers and make it easier for owners to do the right thing. Some boiler applications can be filed online instead of on paper, a welcome improvement. And it will be easier to install condensing boilers, which are super-efficient but require different types of venting than the original permitting process was designed for. These are great strides in making the new rules more user-friendly while boosting efficiency.
However, the rules do miss a few low-cost opportunities for owners to cut pollution. One is specific to gas boilers, which have two main types: small “atmospheric” boilers, and all others, including the large ones in buildings over 50,000 square feet that are responsible for about half of all energy use in the city. The Green Codes Task Force recommended specific efficiency standards relevant for each type of gas boiler: 79% for the small atmospheric ones, and 81% for the big ones. But the new DEP rules don’t distinguish between the types, holding all gas boilers to the same 80% standard. By choosing not to use a customized standard, the rules make it harder for atmospheric boilers to pass the test, while not holding the larger boilers to a high enough standard. One percent may not sound like a big difference – but since these boilers are so big, it adds up.
Other quibbles: owners would save time if they were allowed to submit test results electronically, instead of transferring results onto a city form. And inexplicably, the city actually increased the amount of smoke boilers may legally produce. These issues may be dealt with when the city updates its Air Code, which according to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd will be later this year.
These are big changes that will make a real difference to NYC, so kudos to DEP, and we look forward to further improvements. And if you’re keeping score at home, this brings the total number of green codes proposals implemented to 48. You can read the full details about this and all the other proposals on our Green Codes Proposal Tracker.
It’s become part of New York civic pride to boast that each of us creates just one-third the carbon pollution of the average American. But the subway deserves a lot of the credit, and those of us who work with buildings know there’s a long way to go until we’ve taken advantage of all the cost-effective efficiency gains we can.
Released in December 2013 as part of PlaNYC, New York City’s Pathways to Deep Carbon Reductions describes how New York can reach the 80 percent carbon reduction necessary to stave off a 2°C global temperature increase. Urban Green’s 90 by 50 report envisioned a 2050 scenario in which New York makes these reductions, showing they are possible, but took only a brief look at how to get there from here. During 80X50: Mapping Pathways to a Low Carbon City, we learned more about the path to a nearly carbon-free New York.
According to Steven Caputo, who helped craft the report when he was with the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, we have already reduced emissions by 19% since the baseline year of 2005. He noted that those reductions have been primarily driven by a switch away from dirty fuel oil and coal to natural gas for electricity generation.
For an 80% reduction by 2050, Caputo says we must adopt all strategies in the report immediately. The panelists agreed that although the challenge was intimidating, reducing emissions 80% by 2050 was a goal that could and must be reached using technology that’s available today. The real issue will be summoning the political will and economic resources to get there.
Jeff Perlman (Bright Power) made the point that according to both this report and Urban Green Council’s 90 by 50, “if you just switch over to natural gas, we are not getting there. What comes after natural gas?” Richard Leigh (Urban Green Council) agreed. “The reality is that we can’t get to 80 by 50 or even 90 by 50 on natural gas. It’s a cleaner fuel today, but if we shift to more natural gas in the next few years, in the long run we will have to turn around, shift away from it, and end up with everything electrified.”
The report includes a valuable yet somewhat intimidating chart called the 2050 Marginal Abatement Cost Curve for Buildings Sector produced by McKinsey and Co. It includes measures that are technically feasible along with how much they would benefit or cost the economy. In the chart, the horizontal axis shows how effective each measure would be in reducing emissions (wider is better), and the vertical axis indicates the cost. The bulk of the measures have negative cost, meaning that they will pay for themselves in energy savings. The data says that there is enough low-hanging fruit to make the next few years easy, if we can only get focused.
Panelist Anish Melwani (McKinsey) also emphasized the impact of behavior on carbon reduction. “Our research found that the largest likelihood of change in the household to save energy occurred when there were school age children in the home. As it turns out, you are most likely to listen to your seven-year-old than your energy consultant.”
Commenters and the panel recounted sad stories of contractors convincing customers to install inefficient equipment because it was what they knew and felt comfortable with. While change isn’t easy, spreading best practices more widely among contractors and tradespeople is necessary.
Flashback: 1973. Just as Miller Lite is being introduced to an unsuspecting American public, the finishing touches are being put on Roosevelt Landings’ 10 buildings and 1,000 apartments on Roosevelt Island in NYC. Designed just before the oil crisis, there’s nothing “lite” about the buildings’ energy use, as they’re master metered and served by electric baseboard heat. It’s hard to believe, but that’s how we did it 40 years ago. In 2012, its energy bill was upwards of $3 million.
Now flash forward: NYC in 2050, with an extra million people but only 10% of the carbon emissions we have today. It sounds farfetched, but 90 by 50 shows it’s possible. To get there, buildings must cut their energy use by close to 60% so they can run entirely on electricity, with a small enough demand to be supplied by a carbon-free grid.
They couldn’t have known it in 1973, but Roosevelt Landings may be leading the way towards our low-carbon future. The irony is obvious, but at Roosevelt Landings: NYC’s Largest Envelope Retrofit, we heard why this actually makes sense.
90 by 50 describes how energy use can be cut dramatically with better insulation and air sealing. According to Grant Salmon (Steven Winter Associates), blower door tests showed that before its 2013 retrofit, Roosevelt Landings had cracks and gaps in the façade of the entire complex that added up to a 200-square-foot hole. That’s about 30 square inches for each unit, so picture a hole the size of three iPhones side-by-side in the wall of your apartment! When these holes were sealed and windows were weather-stripped to stop drafts, energy use plummeted. While effective, the process wasn’t always easy to schedule and manage: “when you’re working in an occupied apartment squirting caulk and foam everywhere, you’ve got to be really careful.” The project also added insulation and fixed leaky air conditioning sleeves, and is enjoying a 26% cut in energy costs so far this year. And the project hasn’t yet captured all the savings possible.
Once loads have been downsized, 90 by 50 says it’s time to focus on the right equipment. To cut greenhouse gas emissions, buildings must go all-electric, since any fossil-fuel burning equipment emits carbon regardless of its efficiency. Uncommonly, Roosevelt Landings is already heated electrically, so no conversion is necessary. David Davenport (Urban Greenfit), who managed the project, considered removing baseboard heaters and replacing them with energy-saving heat pumps, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, he added smart thermostats throughout the building. Previously, controls were located on the baseboard heater itself; with controls often inaccessible behind furniture, the heaters would run nonstop. When apartments inevitably overheated, residents would just open the windows. Now, all units have digital thermostats on the wall, which know when a window is open and cut back the heat accordingly.
This big energy reduction from air sealing, combined with all-electric energy usage, means the complex is prepared for a low-carbon future. But there were challenges. Adding sub-meters to apartments meant Davenport had to negotiate a regulatory and political gauntlet. Meeting air sealing requirements required constant supervision of work crews, including dismissing some who weren’t up to snuff. And despite the handsome 15% return private equity investors can expect on the project, the financing scheme for the project is a spaghetti chart of interlocking funding sources, including meager amounts from some public incentive programs because the giant complex falls somewhere in between a “commercial” and a “residential” building. To expand on these successes, we’re going to have to get financing right.
Nevertheless, Davenport (who manages a large portfolio) is pushing on. “In NYC, what can be done small can be done big,” he says, and undeterred by the challenges of megaprojects, “my next one’s going to be bigger.”
“To a certain extent, the results of this study are obvious. If all you have to protect you from the elements is the building envelope, of course a better envelope will protect you more than a poor envelope. What’s startling is the huge difference between what existing buildings provide and what a high performance building is capable of.” – Nico Kienzl
Nico Kienzl (Atelier Ten) got a chuckle from a full house at this special event with a computer-generated image of a frozen New York from The Day After Tomorrow. But it’s not just science fiction – his computer models used in Urban Green’s report Baby It’s Cold Inside show how the “massive holes” in the walls of NYC homes will put residents at risk if the next power outage comes during severe weather.
Developers like Paul Freitag (Rose Development) are responding by putting up safer buildings that incorporate both green and active design elements. Via Verde uses cross ventilation to reduce the need for air conditioning, cutting energy bills for residents and helping prevent overheating during a summer power outage. The community’s daylit, bright, colorful stairwells encourage everyday use, enhancing residents’ health – and are also usable when the power for stairwell lighting fails.
After hearing Via Verde’s virtues, moderator Bomee Jung (Enterprise Community Partners) asked:
Who doesn’t want to go hug Via Verde right now…but what about all of our old buildings in New York?
The most important improvement in existing buildings is to reduce infiltration, said Nico. “We’re talking about massive holes, not cracks.” High air change rates mean major heat loss, so closing holes makes a big impact and does not cost a lot of money. Increased resiliency doesn’t have to mean expensive window replacement – good news for NYC’s massive number of single-family homes. Basic weatherization does make a difference.
Romulus Petre (Urban Glass House) pointed out that we can’t count on multiple days’ evacuation notice before every power outage. So with all the competing demands to improve building resiliency – floodproofing, raising equipment, adding backup generators – where do improved envelopes fall in the priority list?
Nico thought the emphasis on a strong envelope was key. To prevent widespread evacuation during a blackout, buildings need to provide heat and cooling in some way, either by relying on complex mechanical systems or by having a better envelope that can maintain indoor temperatures. The latter has two advantages: it saves energy all the time, so there is a much better payback because benefits accrue dependably over a long-term period, not just during emergencies. And, better insulation and air sealing keep expensive conditioned air from leaking out of the building. That means the building saves space and money, since it requires smaller generators and fuel tanks. Nico commented that “during the Building Resiliency Task Force, we discovered that some issues are purely about emergency management. But some have clear crossover into operational efficiency, and the façade is one of them.”
Speaking of operational issues, Romulus said as a superintendent he’s at the “lowest end of the food chain,” keeping people safe no matter what. He agreed with Nico:
I would give everything to have a better envelope.
He would prefer a better envelope to better mechanical equipment, both for resident energy savings and for ensuring resiliency. “You can play around with the equipment over time, but an envelope is built-in and saves you in an emergency. As a super you deal with what’s given to you, and I would love a better envelope.”
So if designers, developers and operators agree that improved envelopes are a no-brainer, what can the city do to help them become the new normal? Heather Roiter Damiano (NYC Office of Emergency Management) believes the city’s approach to emergency management may grow to include this issue over time. Within the OEM hazard mitigation unit, “the focus has moved from response, to preparedness, and now to mitigation and recovery. The code changes after Sandy are driving awareness of the nuance” of building resiliency. Perhaps in the future, OEM will take a similar role fostering and improving building resiliency codes as FDNY has taken with the Fire Code.
The code changes Heather refers to will aid resiliency. And Paul is working on innovative design solutions like community centers that double as “resiliency centers” during a crisis. But Nico pointed out a fundamental flaw built into the construction process. While complying with the energy code during design, buildings can escape envelope requirements by substituting better mechanical equipment. It’s a tradeoff of HVAC against insulation, but as Nico said: “that tradeoff doesn’t work when you have no power.” He left the audience pondering a hard question: “Should we start thinking more rigorously about building envelope tradeoffs, so we have a safe blanket when it gets cold outside?” Let’s not wait until the next disaster to answer.
Matilda Curley lived 95 years and survived Superstorm Sandy’s destruction of her house in Breezy Point. She passed away earlier this year, with her home and many others yet to be rebuilt. But her grandchildren were at Urban Green’s Spring Member Reception, where the finalist projects of the R3build Design Competition were on display. Australian duo Rayne Fouche and Larissa Searle were announced as First Place winners in front of an overflowing crowd. Read more about the winning design in the NY Daily News.
Through R3build, Urban Green’s Emerging Professionals invited students and young designers from around the world to provide template ideas for homes that are resilient, sustainable, and affordable. These ideas will now be freely available for use in Breezy Point and elsewhere.
Watch a video from Rayne and Larissa on their design here.
The Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability has updated the reporting process for Local Law 84, making it simpler for building owners to comply. For example, building owners can now get energy data directly from their utility provider, eliminating the need to send cumbersome and expensive paper notices to individual tenants. Tenants will like the changes because they will no longer need to spend time answering data collection requests from building owners. Everyone wins.
Check out Urban Green’s updated Compliance Checklist & User’s Guide for complete details on all the improvements.
On February 20, Urban Green Council hosted a salon about the new stormwater rules from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) and innovative design strategies for compliance. NRDC’s Larry Levine recently wrote about the new rules on our blog, which reduce allowable stormwater flow by 90% in some cases.
Deep reductions certainly make sense. According to Riverkeeper “more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewage overflows (CSOs) into New York Harbor alone each year.”
James Garin and Angela Licata (NYC DEP) provided background on the new rules and their goals. In addition to reducing CSO, the DEP is trying to encourage co-beneficial strategies that increase biodiversity, reduce heat island effect, lower energy use, and add value to properties. One way to do this is by increasing green infrastructure (natural processes that filter water such as green roofs and bioswales) and decreasing grey infrastructure (traditional stormwater and waste water treatment like pipes and sewers).
A big topic at the event was how most compliance is being achieved through detention (holding the water back for a little while so the sewer system isn’t overwhelmed, but ultimately still sending it back to the treatment plant or river) as opposed to retention (holding it onsite and either using it or letting it evaporate, putting no strain on the sewer system). Some would argue that the greater benefits of retention mean we should be doing more to encourage it.
Michael Nilson (Langan Engineering) and Jeff Miles (Kiss + Cathcart Architects) shared recent projects on which they’ve of applied a mix of green and grey strategies. At Bushwick Inlet Park, rainwater is collected from paved surfaces on the hill to irrigate the green roof slope. All other rainwater infiltrates into the ground or passes through a tidal wetland landscape at the river’s edge; no stormwater is sent to the city’s combined stormwater system.
Solar 2, a green energy arts and education center, meets the new stormwater requirements and features a high-tech grey strategy, a “smart tank.” These tanks use internet-based predictive weather data, tank level sensors, and other controls to switch a rainwater harvest tank (retention) into a detention tank when needed to manage stormwater, saving both money and space on the site.
The increased cost of installing larger tanks has been one of the primary criticisms of the new stormwater rules. Architect Jeff Miles argues that the cost difference between green and grey strategies is spurring innovation like smart tanks and vegetative systems. “We’re constructing the future so we should be developing new ways to think about old problems like stormwater,” he says. According to Jeff, early collaboration between the client, architects, and engineers is crucial to a project’s success.
There is a lot of potential for these new rules to bring value but we need to hear more success stories where green infrastructure is used. A tax credit for green infrastructure retrofits available from DEP should also aid innovate owners.
This post originally appeared on EDF Blogs.
As New York City gets repeatedly hammered by snow, ice and the evil “wintry mix,” one could almost forget the world is warming at an ever faster clip. But the experts in the room earlier this month at the roundtable discussion on ‘Economics of Energy Retrofits’ at Urban Green Council (New York’s chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council) know the debate is over. Climate change is real and the window for action is closing. That’s why it’s more important than ever to work toward removing barriers to clean energy financing now.
As the de Blasio administration strives to build a more affordable New York City it’s important to note that clean energy building upgrades are central to this mission. By reducing energy use, building owners and their tenants can realize millions of dollars in annual savings while slashing dangerous carbon pollution for cleaner air and water.
Upfront Cost of Retrofits Presents Obstacle
The market barriers to implementing commonsense energy efficiency upgrades that pay for themselves in just a few years are plain. No one wants to dish out a dollar today for a dollar tomorrow. Upfront costs are a roadblock, no matter how short the payback period. Even when building owners decide to do the right thing, conventional lenders are not focusing on energy efficiency as a valuable service to their clients. This leaves building owners without easy access to clean energy financing.
Sometimes the barriers are even more basic. Despite years of wonk talk about energy efficiency as “low-hanging fruit,” building owners, contractors, and project developers are still in the dark about options, benefits, and appropriate partners to help put talk into action.
State and City Green Banks Clear the Way for Clean Energy Financing
New York City and state have been lucky enough to have prescient authorities who are aware of the large role of financing in addressing climate change. The city-run New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) and the recently-launched New York state green bank are working to become solution centers for clean energy financing in New York City and state respectively. These institutions are able to leverage expertise and financial muscle to transform inefficient buildings into clean, high-performing investments. By offering custom-built financing at attractive terms, building owners will have no more excuses to leave money on the table.
One project that has taken advantage of the city’s new energy finance offerings is Franklin Plaza, a Mitchell-Lama housing co-op in East Harlem. Franklin Plaza recently closed on the first tranche of its $3.8 million loan through the NYC Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) Program for Energy Retrofit Loans, a program enabled by HDC’s partnership with NYCEEC. The loan for this project will help reduce Franklin Plaza’s energy use by 15%, cut carbon emissions by 30%, and result in energy savings that are equivalent to averting a 10% rent increase. “The development and preservation of affordable housing is the core of our mission at HDC and the salvation of Franklin Plaza epitomizes this work,” said Marc Jahr, former President of HDC.
NYCEEC recently announced $50 million in financing available through a range of products and partnerships, including equipment loans, mortgage lending, credit enhancements and energy services agreements. This new deployment of private capital is a shot in the arm for clean energy financing and supports:
- Energy efficiency improvements, such as smart lighting, heat pumps, energy management systems, boilers, chillers and more.
- Fuel conversions, under the City’s Clean Heat Initiative, from #6 or #4 heating oil to ultra-low sulfur diesel or natural gas.
- Combined heat and power systems.
- Clean distributed generation, including solar and other renewable energy sources.
NYCEEC’s offerings and the example of Franklin Plaza can be part of a strategy for keeping the new Mayor’s promise of increasing affordable housing in NYC. Clean energy improvements can drive costs down for tenants and guarantee a greener, cleaner and more comfortable living experience.
Visit www.NYCEEC.com to learn more about how we are remaking New York City buildings for a cleaner, greener and more affordable tomorrow.
Susan Leeds is the CEO of the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC)
In 2009, the country’s major environmental groups were focused on the Waxman-Markey bill that would have established a carbon emission trading plan. The bill passed in the House, but then lost in the Senate. It followed a now decades-old pattern of hopes raised and dashed for federal climate change legislation.
A different story unfolded that same year in another white-domed building: New York City Hall. In 2009, NYC enacted the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the most ambitious effort to date in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. While perhaps the most important installment of PlaNYC, GGBP was just one of over 30 major energy or climate initiatives advanced by the city.
Last month, NRDC and IMT jointly launched a major new initiative: the City Energy Project. The program’s goal is to dramatically improve building efficiency in 10 major U.S. cities. Participating cities get funding for staff and the expertise of the City Energy Project staff, particularly Laurie Kerr, who drove policy at the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability during the Bloomberg Administration.
The City Energy Project was inspired by New York City and PlaNYC. But beyond a testament to New York’s successes, the project reflects a shift in environmental leadership and philanthropic resources to cities rather than the federal government and statehouses.
The country and world took notice of the work going on in NYC. Countless cities and states from across the U.S. and abroad sent delegations to learn about the sustainability advances taking place here, and half a dozen major cities followed our lead by enacting benchmarking ordinances.
Major environmental organizations and funders saw the potential of cites too. Urban centers tend to be progressive, with powerful executives and legislatures that can take bold action. After years of frustrated federal and state efforts, the environmental community realized major gains were waiting to be had in city halls. Now many major foundations and environmental organizations have new “city” programs.
Since 81% of Americans live in cities, these changes are some of the most important we can make. And they provide the environmental community with beachheads in many red states. Thanks to the City Energy Project, we’re going to see successes replicated across the country. Let’s hope their 10 participating cities are just the first group of many!
© 2014 Urban Green Blog.