A glance at the New York City skyline tells an instant story: glass is in. More windows translate into higher rents for both commercial and residential buildings, say owners and brokers. But looking up at all-glass buildings, it often seems that a lot of the blinds are closed, blocking out the beautiful cityscape.
Seduced by the View observed how people who live and work in all-glass buildings use their windows after move-in day. With help from volunteers, we took pictures of dozens of buildings and found that on average, blinds or shades covered about 59 percent of the window area. And over 75 percent of buildings had more than half of their window area covered. As the study puts it, “Tenants are moving into these rooms with a view, but more often than not, can’t see out the window.” (Read coverage of the study in today’s Daily News.)
Our results were unambiguous, but the reasons for this widespread behavior are far less obvious. My first assumption would have been that shades are pulled to stop glare. To check this, we specifically compared how much blinds were pulled on windows facing east (towards the rising sun) in the morning, and facing west (toward the setting sun) in the afternoon.
I expected that more blinds would be shut in the side of the building facing the sun’s bright rays, but that wasn’t the case. Results didn’t change based on this factor. In fact, none of the factors we observed changed the results. Window coverage was about the same regardless of the time of day, direction the window faced, and whether the building was commercial or residential.
So glare can’t be the only reason blinds are pulled. Because the study observations are so consistent, I suspect that blinds aren’t getting moved up and down much at all. My guess is that that they get pulled due to glare, for privacy, or other factors, and then just left down most of the time.
But answering the why wouldn’t change reality: for whatever reason, New Yorkers are paying for more glass and then pulling down the shades. Of course, that’s their choice. But along with whatever loss of privacy, increased noise, and uncomfortable temperatures tenants experience, the city suffers too. Because they insulate poorly compared to walls, windows waste energy and cause carbon pollution. They have lower resiliency during power outages, since the glass doesn’t hold heat in winter or keep it out in summer. And it’s not easy to harden your heart against what glass buildings do to birds, killing 90,000 annually just in NYC.
All-glass facades are a long-term problem. Twenty, thirty, or even fifty years from now, when the equipment in the building is more efficient due to replacements, the same glass windows will be there, putting a hard limit on how much the building can improve its resiliency and sustainability. Tenants have to decide if it’s worth paying this price for the views. But if the shades are down, it just doesn’t seem worth it. With good design, buildings can have great views and save energy, too. We can, and should, do better.
With up to 20% energy savings in each building – the numbers are clear. Green building operations and maintenance is helping residents, property owners, and the environment, but what about the agents of change themselves?
Victor, Resident Manager at The Whitney (311 East 38th Street), says that the training critically changed his view on buildings and health. Becoming a Green Super gave him “renewed passion to learn more” about the repetitive tasks he performs in his daily work, and turned his job into a legacy for his family and future generations. His attitude of “If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?” is much needed to address climate change mitigation and adaptation here and around the world.
Marat, Resident Manager at The Future Condominiums (200 East 32nd Street), inherited a building from another Green Super who had already made a huge impact by upgrading boilers and heat-pumps in his building. Marat completed his own projects from “no-brainer” solutions like insulating steam-pipes in boiler rooms to large-scale installation of efficient lighting, water fixtures, and PTAC (packaged terminal air conditioner) insulation in residents’ apartments. This training helped Marat find a more advanced and secure job with a larger company.
Another Green Super said, “It’s good to get likeminded people in one room, to bring awareness. It becomes a cultural change, a practical way of thinking. It’s all about taking ownership of your building.”
Green training programs are quickly improving perspective and practice in the building industry. With this fundamental drive, building operators can use GPRO Operations & Maintenance Essentials training to sharpen their technical and entrepreneurial skills, by learning how to choose and install appropriate technologies. Successfully transitioning to a more sustainable building also requires communication skills to educate property owners and residents on new practices.
The skills taught by the Green Supers training reaches beyond the superintendents to their team members and the decision-makers investing in the Supers’ proposed energy efficiency projects.
Training programs like Green Supers have unprecedented financial and environmental value – the personal and social investment are what make green building training a critical step towards a more sustainable New York.
A recent New York Times piece by Maria Konnikova regarding the psychology of self-control got me thinking about why we as a society have so much difficulty finding the “discipline” to address climate change.
Psychologists have long known that positive rewards influence behavior. However, Konnikova reports new research that the more uncertain the time frame of the expected reward, the less likely we are to act in pursuit of that reward. The classic “marshmallow study” determined the level of kids’ self control by measuring how long each 4-year-old would wait to eat one marshmallow for a reward of two marshmallows later on. It turns out that the study didn’t account for the uncertainty about how long each kid expected to wait because this “temporal uncertainty” can make the reward seem much less important.
Or, to put it in terms of sustainability, if we knew the exact schedule of the coming effects of climate change, we would actively prepare for them and then rejoice in our preparedness when the storm hit. However, given the uncertainty of when effects of climate change will directly affect us, we are much less motivated to prepare, or more importantly, to mitigate the effects of climate change that the scientific consensus says will occur within 25-40 years.
The effects of climate change are already happening. While we saw people rushing to contribute to Sandy relief last year and Heiyan relief now, why don’t we see similar public urgency towards the adoption of mitigation strategies or even towards overarching disaster preparation?
New York City is to be applauded for the work it’s doing to both prepare for the coming effects of climate change and to mitigate its intensity, despite the uncertainty of when it may occur. Factoring in “temporal uncertainty,” how can we more effectively persuade individual citizens to take action now? Another Superstorm will occur, or maybe it will be a catastrophic heat wave next time – just because we don’t know exactly when or where doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action now.
On a bright and warm November morning, 100 people turned up at a pop-up tent in Tribeca to give advice to Mayor-Elect de Blasio. Urban Green and 16 (you read that right!) partner organizations led a 90-minute workshop to discuss the challenges to making homes more energy efficient, healthy, and resilient. After spirited cross-pollination, small groups of 6-8 presented their suggestions for how the new mayor can better engage homeowners and apartment-dwellers on these issues. These suggestions will be officially presented to the new mayor soon. But de Blasio transition team co-chairs Jennifer Jones Austin and Carl Weisbrod showed up just as the event was concluding, perhaps picking up a bit of a buzz from all the green building discussions.
There were a lot of common threads throughout the different tables’ conversations. Some were familiar, though still worthy of repetition: better education can reduce barriers to people taking action; more financing opportunities can help further energy retrofits and resiliency improvements; and as pointed out by Elizabeth Yeampierre of Uprose, many New Yorkers who may not own their homes or have access to high-tech retrofits still need healthy places to live with affordable lower energy bills. In some ways, it’s “A Tale of Two Cities” in terms of green building, a message that should resonate with the de Blasio platform.
There was an intriguing debate about regulation, where participants’ feelings were mixed but ultimately compatible. Some called for more laws as a necessary tool to ensure action to fight climate change and clean the air. Others pointed to the incredible complexity of permitting construction, seeing them as unnecessary burdens on both citizens and businesses. Combining those threads together, there’s a need for tougher laws to protect New Yorkers’ health and the fate of our grandkids – but we must streamline the permitting process so bureaucracy doesn’t interfere with economic growth and job creation.
Some contributors pointed out that Mayor-Elect de Blasio distinguished himself during the campaign as being more of an “average” New Yorker than some other well-known mayors or mayoral hopefuls. Now elected, this presents him with some exciting opportunities. Living in a Brooklyn brownstone, perhaps a Passive House retrofit of his own home (on his own dime, of course) is in order. That would truly be leading by example.
If you missed the event, you can watch the archived live stream here. Table reports with proposals start in at about the 44 minute mark.
Many thanks to our event co-hosts, the volunteer moderators, and to Talking Transition for providing the opportunity and the location.
As New York City’s boilers begin to work longer hours, so do the superheroes of our buildings – cleaning equipment, repairing leaky windows, and responding to heating complaints as the temperatures drop.
Over 1,000 of New York City’s buildings are run by superintendents capable of answering these calls of duty, while also saving energy and money for property owners and improving the comfort of our homes. These supers are graduates of 32BJ’s 1,000 Green Supers training program, a 40-hour course provided by the Thomas Shortman Training Fund that engages technical knowledge of energy and water efficient practices and products, and context for why these practices help build a better future for our city. Graduates of the program earn both BPI’s Energy Efficient Building Operator Certification and Urban Green’s GPRO Certificate in Operations and Maintenance Essentials.
How does this training translate into real change in our buildings? A collaborative study by 32BJ and Steven Winter Associates investigated the impacts of the 1,000 Supers program via interviews with 38 Green Supers and energy audits of 43 buildings.
Almost all of the supers interviewed (95%) successfully implemented energy efficiency measures within a year of graduation, mainly for new lighting (71%), but also for more costly investments such as HVAC (45%) and envelope (34%) system upgrades. The majority (80%) made changes in practices within a year, especially operation of HVAC (47%) and lighting systems (32%), and building envelope maintenance (32%). Results from the buildings’ energy audits indicate that these new measures are working, with 35% of the buildings qualifying as energy-efficient according to industry standards and 41% showing at least of average performance.
Green Supers training is not only making great improvements in buildings, but in the lives and careers of superintendents. Last week, at a panel discussion hosted by 32BJ SEIU and Urban Green, Green Supers: The Critical Role Of Energy Efficiency Training, we heard directly from two Resident Managers on the panel, Victor Nazario, (The Whitney, 311 East 38th Street) and Marat Olfir (The Future Condominiums, 200 East 32nd Street).
For Victor, the course changed his perspective on his job and made him aware of how our health is connected to our buildings. “It was no longer just a job but part of an overarching goal to make things better and part of my personal legacy” he said.
Marat had a similar experience, beginning to see the potential in each building. It also helped his career, “Being a Green Super helped me get better jobs in good buildings.”
Bottom line: Building efficiency training provides supers with practical skills that can cut building energy use by up to 20%, while reinforcing the value of their work.
Can you imagine how much greener our buildings could be if all building operations and maintenance teams received this training?
Stay tuned for more good news now that GPRO O&M is available for managers!
The video recording of last week’s “Green Supers” event is now available here.
If you could only bring one survival tool into the wilderness, what would it be?
Whether you thought of a canteen or a solar-powered water purifier, you likely came up with a solution to a fundamental problem – access to water. We can survive up to a month without food, but not more than a week without water.
Back in the urban jungle, if toilets can’t flush, buildings will quickly become uninhabitable.
That’s why a bill passed minutes ago by the City Council is so important. Introduction 1094-A requires that within six years, every multi-family residential building in NYC that uses an electric pump for its water supply must install emergency drinking water fixtures. There must be one fixture per 100 building occupants and they must be located in a common area, supplied only by water pressure from the public water main (meaning no pumps or electricity are required). The City Council also passed three other bills that implement recommendations of the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force, which Urban Green convened and managed for the city:
You can see the latest status on the Task Force recommendations and read summaries of new laws on our tracker.
Many New Yorkers lived through the reality of downed water pumps in the aftermath of Sandy, whether it was the absence of drinking water or toilets that couldn’t be flushed. That’s why Supply Drinking Water Without Power was one of the central recommendations of the Task Force.
New York is blessed with a gravity-fed distribution system that brings water from reservoirs in Upstate New York down to the city, and up to the fourth or fifthfloors of buildings just from pressure in the water mains. But the electric water pumps needed to send water higher can’t run without power, and during blackouts, some pumps can even block water from being available on lower floors.
The Task Force was very reluctant to recommend retroactive requirements for existing buildings. We made an exception for this proposal because of how much is at stake. With a working water supply, people can stay in their buildings much more safely. The proposal attempts to mitigate costs by allowing a six-year lead time for installation and by permitting faucets to be divided with splitters.
Within the next two decades, it’s near certain there will be another big power failure. If that happens, New Yorkers will turn en masse to these emergency water stations. When water starts flowing from some near-forgotten corner of the building, those of us who lived here during Superstorm Sandy will remember what we learned and how we adapted in its aftermath.
Headed to Greenbuild next week? Sign up to hear Urban Green staff, board members, Task Force members, and supporters speak at educational sessions throughout the week.
Developing Resilience Action Plans for Cities
Russell Unger, Urban Green Council
November 19, 2:30-3:30pm
“Green Regs & Ham” – A Greenbuild Policy Breakfast
Russell Unger, Urban Green Council
November 20, 7:00-10:00am
Bring the Outside Inside: Using the Outdoors to Create Indoor Comfort
Daniel Nall, Thornton Tomasetti
November 22, 8:00-9:00am
Creating Resilient Communities: Building (and Rebuilding) Affordable Housing Projects to Endure the Impact of Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events
Pat Sapinsley, Build Efficiently, LLC
November 19, 4:00-5:30pm
EBOMing Your Portfolio: Process Mastery to Inspire Innovation
Yetsuh Frank, Green Light New York
November 22, 9:30-10:30am
Evaluating New York City’s Energy Benchmarking Policy
John Lee, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability
Jonathon Flaherty, Tishman Speyer
November 21, 3:30-5:30pm
Highrise Residential Trends and Strategies for Success
Adrian Tuluca, Vidaris Inc
November 21, 9:30-10:30pm
Insights on Multifamily Benchmarking from EPA & Fannie Mae
Michael Zatz, US Environmental Protection Agency
November 20, 2:00-3:00pm
International Summit Opening Plenary – Collaboration and Commerce: Environmental Architecture of the Future
Shanta Tucker, Atelier Ten
November 19, 9:00-10:00am
LEED v4 Tools: Finding Products (and your Footing) in LEED v4
Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen, Inc.
November 21, 11:30-12:30pm
Let There Be Daylight: Deploying Advanced Daylight Controls
Richard Yancey, Green Light New York
November 22, 8:00-9:00am
Linking NYC Energy Database to Tenant Contribution to Economy
Steven Baumgartner, Buro Happold
November 20, 3:30-4:30pm
Midcentury (Un)Modern: The1958-73 Office Building
Bob Fox, Terrapin Bright Green
November 22, 8:00-9:00am
Motivating Green Building Around the World
John Mandyck, Carrier Corporation
November 21, 9:30-10:30am
New York City in 2050: Two Views
Marc Zuluaga, Steven Winter Associates
Dick Leigh, Urban Green Council
Laurie Kerr, Natural Resources Defense Council
November 21, 8:00-9:00am
Resiliency in the Eye of the Storm: Lessons from Sandy
Aine Brazil, Thornton Tomasetti
Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute
November 20, 3:30-4:30pm
Stories from the Field: Lend Lease as an Integrated Solutions Partner
James Stawniczy, Lend Lease US Construction LMB Inc.
November 20, 1:00-2:00pm
Transforming Buildings Through Product Innovation
Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen, Inc.
November 21, 9:30-10:30am
Valuing Green: Working with Tenants, Appraisers, and Lenders to Capture the Value of Green Buildings
Charlotte Matthews, Related Companies
November 22, 9:30-10:30am
Ventilate Multifamily Buildings Successfully in Eight Steps!
Maureen Mahle, Steven Winter Associates
November 21, 9:30-10:30am
On November 6th, a capacity crowd gathered at Cushman & Wakefield to hear how sustainability impacts real estate demand. Panelists Eric Duchon and John C. Santora (Cushman & Wakefield) shared new survey data about how the US commercial real estate market perceives the value of sustainability. Judging from the lively attendee conversation throughout the discussion, I was not alone in my surprise at the findings. C&W selected the top 25 property managers in the US to participate in thorough phone interviews. They asked participants:
What is driving demand for sustainable assets?
What is the current momentum behind sustainability in investments?
What is the perceived value in sustainable assets?
What perspective does this provide when compared to a similar study done in Europe?
80% of the survey responders are tuned into some kind of sustainability performance, with 60% of those stating that the pace of demand is increasing (especially from large occupants). The survey also revealed that while 72% of respondants have some sustainability policies at the funder level, the majority are not comprehensive.
The drivers for improved sustainability performance stem from the categories referenced in the chart below:
Eric made a point that momentum in this sector is strong but a little disorganized. Property managers are now responding to tenant and investor demand for sustainable buildings on a case-by-case basis rather than through a cohesive portfolio strategy.
When the property managers were asked if they evaluate sustainability of an investment during the acquisitions phase, 68% said they do. However, 53% of those indicated the methodology is inconsistent. The interesting flip side is that 80% indicated that they do not evaluate sustainability on properties that they currently own. This suggests that that minimum sustainabilty performance standards for current properties are not a priority.
Just over two-thirds of the property managers surveyed pointed to a positive correlation between sustainability and value. However, “value” was not defined consistently. Was value defined as money saved from reduced operating costs or was it a higher rentable cost per square foot? To make things more confusing, 16% of respondents made the comment that sustainability in a building does not mean a higher rent.
Eric shared data about which building sustainability categories property managers thought had the most value. Not surprisingly, energy was the clear leader, with water and waste in second and third place, respectively. Indoor Air Quality was dead last. This reflects what we already know; a sustainability strategy with an instant economic return on investment is often valued higher than those equally important, with less tangible environmental impacts.
How does this US study compare to a similar UK/Europe study one year ago? The numbers are interesting. By 2012, 100% of the UK/Europe market had implemented funder level sustainability policies. This compared to 72% of US respondents in 2013. Eric pointed out that 100% of responders in the UK/Europe market had a consistent sustainability methodology in place versus the 68% in the US. Those in the room suggested that might be simply because buildings in the UK/Europe have tighter energy performance metrics that are very much in the public eye.
C&W will keep a pulse on this topic, and Eric said they would like to conduct a follow-up survey to their 2012 UK/Europe Sustainability Briefing. We were fortunate to get an overview at the survey results, but the report won’t be publicly released until Greenbuild (week of Nov. 17).
Today we are proud to announce an unprecedented partnership between Urban Green Council and the United Association, the largest union of plumbers, pipefitters, welders and service technicians in the world. Together, Urban Green and the UA will teach thousands of plumbers and pipefitters across the United States the principles of sustainability and how to incorporate green work practices into their trade through GPRO, a national green building training program.
Plumbers and pipefitters are critical to achieving high-performing buildings. Plumbers are responsible for reducing water use in buildings, from installing efficient fixtures and appliances to introducing whole-building wastewater reuse systems. Using less water also means using less energy to pump, heat, dispose of, and treat water – resulting in substantial amounts of energy savings. Plumbers have long considered their mission to “protect the health of the nation.” GPRO training expands that mission to include protection of the environment as well. Pipefitters, along with sheetmetal workers and insulators, are responsible for installing efficient HVAC systems that use as little energy as possible while keeping our buildings comfortable and healthy.
Over seven years ago, Urban Green realized that the only green building education available was geared towards building owners and design professionals. We knew that in order for sustainability to spread throughout the entire industry, quality green building education was needed for the people who build and operate buildings. To make the courses interesting and relevant to the students, we collaborated with a group of experts in the plumbing industry, most notably Arthur Klock and John Sullivan of the UA Local 1 Training Center in New York City. Their deep expertise and passion for sustainability gave us a solid foundation for the course. “The people in our industry have traditionally viewed themselves as stewards of public health. We knew that if we presented it in the right way, they would embrace sustainability as a natural extension of that responsibility, and view it as a technical challenge to get it right.” said Mr. Klock.
This partnership will train exponentially more plumbers and pipefitters in green practices than ever before. GPRO training will benefit the UA members by providing them with the qualifications necessary to work on green and LEED projects. Contractors and Owners can also benefit by receiving a LEED credit for employing GPRO trained workers.
Many people in our industry aren’t aware of the extensive training that union plumbers and pipefitters go through to become journey workers. Each apprentice completes more than one thousand hours of classroom training over the course of five years, while working full time to learn his or her trade. Many also complete additional hours to earn an Associates degree along the way. Now that sustainability will be added to their curriculum, these very qualified workers will take the lead in constructing our green buildings.
Do we know when the next hurricane, flood, or heat wave will occur? No. Do we know that one will happen eventually? Yes. Despite this certainty, it’s all too easy to continue thinking “it can’t happen to me” and remain in a state of blissful denial. Yet, experience has shown that emergency planning is a low-cost way to prevent a natural disaster from turning into a citywide emergency. By having a plan to take quick action before and after an event, the people who operate buildings (as well as the people who live and work in them) can protect the building from wind and flood damage, prevent mold, get the power back on, and even save lives.
Recognizing this need, the City Council passed Introduction 1085-A minutes ago. This bill requires the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate with other agencies (including Department of Buildings, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department) to develop guidelines for residential and commercial buildings to prepare for weather emergencies and extended utility outages. These recommendations can then be used by building owners and residents to get ready for events that are unfortunate but inevitable.
The bill doesn’t stop there. It also directs residential building owners to post temporary signs in common areas with emergency preparedness information, including hurricane zones, important government and building contacts, and what services will be provided during an extended power outage. The signs can follow a template the city will publish, and will be posted before the expected arrival of a storm, or after the owner is informed of a utility outage that is expected to last over 24 hours.
The City Council also passed three other bills that implement recommendations of the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force, which Urban Green convened and managed for the city:
BRTF 3 – Relocate & Protect Building Systems (Int. 1096-A)
BRTF 4 – Remove Barriers to Elevating Buildings & Building Systems (Int. 1089-A)
BRTF 11 – Prevent Wind Damage to Existing Buildings (Int. 1099-A)
During and after Superstorm Sandy, inexpensive preparations like stacking sandbags and removing furniture from rooftops and balconies during high winds kept some buildings operating while others were forced to close. But emergency planning is not hard to do, and so its benefits should be enjoyed by all.
You can read more about Urban Green’s past event on Emergency Operating Procedures on our blog, and see the latest status on the Task Force recommendations and read summaries of new laws on our tracker.
© 2013 Urban Green Blog.