Energy, Envisioning Low-Carbon Cities, Green Codes

New DEP Rules Will Reduce Air Pollution

No Comments Posted on 09 April 2014 by Cecil Scheib

Emissions from the burning of Numbers 4 and 6 heating oils. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund / Isabelle Silverman

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.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Green Codes, Greening Codes, Removing Barriers, NYC Local Laws

Get Your Scorecard Here

No Comments Posted on 07 February 2014 by Cecil Scheib

OK, it’s not exactly the Olympics. But for those of you keeping score at home, the New York League of Conservation Voters recently released a scorecard that tracks the votes of NYC Council members on 17 environmental bills from 2012-2013.

Five of those bills* were recommendations of the NYC Green Codes and Building Resiliency Task Forces. While of course I’m incredibly proud of the work of the hundreds of experts and community members who worked on giving strong legislative proposals to the Mayor and Speaker, let’s also give credit where credit is due: all five were enacted unanimously by the Council, a performance worthy of a gold medal.

It’s an encouraging reminder of the widespread support enjoyed by green building and resiliency. And there’s more good news – many of the bills’ sponsors and supporters remain on the Council. We look forward to helping them run up the score.

* Called Recycling, Biodiversity, Green Zoning, Emergency Plans, and Toxic Materials.

Construction, Green Codes, Greening Codes, Removing Barriers, Products & Materials

It’s Time for Green Concrete, says NYC’s New Building Code

No Comments Posted on 06 January 2014 by Cecil Scheib

Long in the making, New York City’s updated building code was enacted just before the final buzzer on December 30, 2013. While the bill was over 2,400 pages long, there’s an easily overlooked provision (literally, a footnote) that will help NYC reduce its carbon emissions from concrete.

Cement, a key ingredient of concrete, produces its own weight in CO2 and is a giant contributor to global warming. It helps if concrete incorporates recycled ingredients in place of new cement, but there’s a limit set by the building code. The new code will increase by 40% the amount of fly ash or other recycled materials allowed in concrete exposed to de-icing chemicals (like sidewalks). This was recommended by the Green Codes Task Force as “Reduce CO2 Emissions From Specialized Concrete”.

This means concrete with the same strength but less carbon pollution. The next step: getting the 50,000 cubic yards of concrete used each year subject to this law to increase their recycled content.

Congrats to the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and Department of Buildings for completing this triennial building code update. We look forward to more sustainable sidewalks along with the many other benefits of the new code!

Building Resiliency Task Force, Green Codes, Membership, Resiliency

A Round of Applause for our 2013 Service Award Winners!

No Comments Posted on 15 October 2013 by Cecil Scheib

2013 Service Award Winners

When someone asks how many people work at Urban Green, the stock answer is “fifteen…and about 500.” That’s because our full-time staff are just the tip of the iceberg of an incredible team of volunteers that incalculably boosts our impact on green building in New York.

And actually, we can calculate some of the effect, because we know that in the last year  volunteers working on the Building Resiliency Task Force and Green Codes contributed pro bono time worth  over $1.1 million. On October 9, Urban Green honored those individuals who went well beyond the call of duty at our 2013 Service Awards.

Marianna Vaidman Stone, who kept the dream of Green Codes alive after Hurricane Sandy threatened to snatch it away, said, “It’s an honor to work with such a great group of like-minded wonks.” We’re going to choose to take that as a compliment!

It was particularly gratifying to hear Jack Bailey, representing the Electrical and IT Working Group of the Building Resiliency Task Force, tell the crowd that “I help on these task forces because I know my work will have a real impact. When I talk to my friends in other cities about green building policy, they are green with envy about what we get done in NYC.”

Scott Frank, on behalf of the HVACR, Plumbing, and Fire Protection Working Group, commented that “many people in the industry were surprised when we were tasked with convening the Task Force; I think it’s safe to say we wowed them.” That’s a real compliment for everyone who helped improve our city’s resiliency by serving on the Task Force! And the Structure, Facades, and Interiors’ Aine Brazil liked the process as well as the product, noting that “During a normal code cycle, it takes years to get things done – very deliberately. The hallmark of the Building Resiliency Task Force is that it was fast.”

Les Bluestone explained how the Homes Committee met the Task Force deadlines Aine mentioned, thanking everyone for “putting up with the endless emails and requests for additional help.” He also apologized for sometimes having to “play the bad guy” to get things done, but no need to say you’re sorry, Les. Now that it’s over, we only have happy memories of the Task Force!

We were thrilled to have a packed house on hand to pay due respect to all the Service Award recipients. If you missed the event, you can see photos here.

Our 2013 Service Award Winners are:

Jack Bailey
, OneLux
Greg Bauso, Monadnock Construction
Les Bluestone, Blue Sea Development Co.
Daniel Bower, Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Aine M. Brazil, Thornton Tomasetti
James Colgate, New York City Department of Buildings
Susanne DesRoches, Port Authority of NY & NJ
Dan Eschenasy, New York City Department of Buildings
Scott Frank, Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Chris Garvin, Terrapin Bright Green, COOKFOX Architects
Ramon Gilsanz, Gilsanz Murray Steficek LLP
Patricia Harris, Zetlin & De Chiara LLP
Nico Kienzl, Atelier Ten
Arthur Klock, UA Local 1
Richard A. Leentjes, FM Global – New York Operations
Maureen McGeary Mahle, Steven Winter Associates
Walter J. Mehl, Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Gita Nandan, Thread Collective, LLC
Signe Nielsen, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Philip F. Parisi, Jr., Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Stephen Rizzo, RizzoGroup
Grant Salmon, Steven Winter Associates
Jon Weiskopf, Steven Winter Associates
Phillip White, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC
Marc Zuluaga, Steven Winter Associates

Marianna Vaidman Stone
, Green Codes Fellow, Urban Green Council

Green Codes

A Small Space for Storage, a Giant Leap for Recycling!

No Comments Posted on 09 January 2013 by Marianna Vaidman Stone

On December 20, 2012, NYC enacted Local Law 60 of 2012 that requires new residential buildings to provide adequate space to store and segregate refuse and recyclables, implementing the Green Codes Task Force proposal Resource Conservation 2: Provide Recycling Areas in Apartment Buildings. We are hopeful that this measure will help NYC get closer to its peer cities in rates of recycling waste.

In New York, space is always at a premium. Many buildings don’t have enough space to separate the various categories of recyclables, and to keep them separate from general trash. This makes it challenging for building residents and supers to manage the flow of recyclables, so the recyclables tend to get mixed in with the trash. Under the new law, buildings that go up after January 1, 2014 will have to make room to handle recycling properly.

Making something more convenient often means that it will be done better and more often. With space, recycling efforts become more convenient. Currently, New York recycles about 33% of its waste, while Los Angeles recycles over 60% of its total waste and Chicago over 55%. San Francisco, an unsurprising champion in this field, recycles almost 70% of its waste. Making recycling easier in New York’s residential buildings should improve our rates!

For more details about the new requirements, check out the Legislation at a Glance.

Green Codes

A Note from Urban Green Council on Sandy, NYC, and Climate Change

No Comments Posted on 05 November 2012 by Russell Unger

Dear Friends,

The Staff and Board of Directors at Urban Green Council wish you and your families the best during this trying time in the tri-state area. We know many of you have been without power in your homes and offices since the storm hit, and some have suffered far worse.

Among other things, this storm has left us at Urban Green thinking about how personally buildings affect our lives. We have also been considering, from the range of issues we tackle as an organization, what the right emphasis is to place on maintaining the habitability of buildings during a major infrastructure failure. The NYC Green Codes Task Force struggled with this question back in 2008 when it was somewhat in the realm of the hypothetical. The consensus on the Task Force at that time was that it didn’t make sense to impose any major requirements on buildings to improve their resilience.

We recommended fairly limited code changes like requiring toilets and sinks to be able to operate in a blackout, water tanks to be retained in buildings that already had them, and that protective measures be taken for hazardous materials stored in flood zones. One significant exception is that we proposed flood maps be based on projected future flooding that takes into account climate change instead of historical flooding. In an article published in the Gotham Gazette on Monday, advocacy director Cecil Scheib and I discuss the challenge of addressing building resilience through public and private efforts, but it’s an uphill battle.

It’s breathtaking to witness the destructive scenario now unfolding in lower Manhattan. Countless high-rise buildings have been rendered inoperable due to the power outage now in its fourth day. For most of these buildings, especially public housing, this means there has been no water to flush toilets unless it was carried upstairs by hand, no water to wash dishes, and no water for showers. And it’s dark. New buildings are required to include backup generators for elevators and water. In light of Sandy, we (and many others) will be thinking hard about potential new requirements for existing building stock.

Was Sandy climate change in action? The technical answer is that no particular weather event can be ascribed to climate change, but the increased frequency of extreme weather events has been predicted by climate scientists for years. Governor Cuomo nailed the general sentiment with his comment this week: “We have a 100-year flood every two years now.” About the only good thing that can be said about Sandy is that it may prompt more serious discussion about climate change.

This terrible storm is a good reminder of the critical importance of the work of the green building movement and Urban Green Council. We are hoping to minimize the number of storms like Sandy through our efforts to reduce carbon pollution, but we nevertheless need to prepare and adapt for more of them in the future. If you are interested in volunteer opportunities to help in the aftermath of this storm please visit NYC Service.

Please note that our office in lower Manhattan remains closed until power and access is restored but most of the staff remain available via email. Again, we hope this message finds you safe, and we look forward to working with you on the many lessons to be learned from Sandy.


Construction, Green Codes

Energy Code Course Keeps Students Charged Up!

No Comments Posted on 07 August 2012 by Jessica Cooper

“Cracking the Energy Code training was excellent. The departure from the ‘bullet point slideshow with code clauses’ was refreshing…. the course manual is an extremely well thought out, graphically clear product, which I have already referenced a dozen times since the training.”

This is quite a statement for a course outlining code material!  We’re happy to say it’s consistent with other feedback from students who have taken Cracking the Energy Code, which Urban Green developed with the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  Data compiled from the 44 courses delivered since last September show that 85% of students feel that the course has met or exceeded their expectations.

The Course was funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and gives an overview of the 2010 Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State (ECCCNYS-2010), including compliance methods.  It also covers some of the fundamentals of low energy design.

Wanting some insight from an insider, I asked instructor Paul Reale to share his thoughts on why Cracking the Energy Code is keeping students revved up and excited to learn.

Jessica Cooper: How long have you been teaching Cracking the Energy Code?

Paul Reale: The first time I ‘cracked it’ was March 6th and I’ve taught another five since.

JC: Who is your primary audience for the course?

PR: The main target audience is architects, building engineers, lighting designers and code officials, but I believe the course helps lots of people working in or with the building industry: sustainability service providers, policy makers, building inspectors and even to some degree environmentalists. Thus far, the vast majority of students have been architects, but so many more can benefit from it.

JC: How does this course compare  to similar courses?

PR: Umm, have you ever read any energy conservation construction codes?  Let’s put it this way – it’s good material for your nightstand if you’re an insomniac.  Yet the vast majority of students that have taken this course find it excellent.

JC: What are the biggest areas of concern for students?

PR: Roughly speaking, the level of code requirements, administration, and scrutiny by code officials has increased by an order of magnitude.  This is definitely a “wow, I’m glad I learned this” kind of class!

JC: Any personal favorites in the curriculum?

PR: I particularly like the practical parts about thermal bridging in a building envelope as well as techniques for energy efficient lighting.  And the heat wheel slide? I’ve gotten some pretty good reactions from that one.  It’s like a 2-minute rock concert to an engineer.

JC: So where do you see this code having the biggest impact?

PR: There are three main areas addressed: building envelope, mechanicals (like HVAC equipment) and lighting.  It’s hard to pick one of the three because they’re all addressed to a great degree, though perhaps the longest-term impact is on the envelope, because an envelope retrofit is not easy.  You really need to try to get it right from the very beginning, and the effects last for the life of the building.

JC: Do you have any insights on future policy in energy conservation and/or sustainable building? 

PR: Ok, serious question so let’s close on a serious note.  As much as the new code will tighten energy consumption (and greenhouse gas emissions, for that matter) resulting from buildings, it’s still a far cry from a sustainable energy and emissions budget.  In the not-so-distant future, our buildings will have to be much more efficient, and you can’t get there without an incredibly tight, well-insulated envelope.  That’s fundamentally incompatible with a glass tower.  There – I said it.  But if you come take the class, I’ll tell you how it’s possible to use a lot of glass yet still comply with the current code!
Cracking the Energy Code sessions are being scheduled in New York City and throughout New York State through November 13, 2012.  Register on NYSERDA’s website (more Course dates coming soon) or e-mail us if you want Cracking the Energy Code offered near you. 

Paul is teaching his next session is Thursday, August 9 at the Center for Architecture.  Sign up today!

Construction, Green Codes, LEED, Planning

A Tribute To Deborah Taylor

No Comments Posted on 08 February 2012 by Russell Unger

A little over 10 years ago, I began a four-year stint as a legislative attorney at the New York City Council. Back in those pre-PlaNYC and pre-Green Codes Task Force days, it was no easy feat to get the Mayor’s Office to concentrate on environmental legislation and we had a big one cooking at the City Council: Local Law 86, which required all city owned and funded construction over $2 million to be built to LEED Silver.

One of the people who would attend meetings at the Mayor’s Office on this legislation was an elegant, soft-spoken woman who seemed to know everything about the building code: Deborah Taylor. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she was one of the principal advocates for this green building legislation within city government. I later discovered she was probably the first person to propose that city agencies meet to develop a broad sustainability agenda – this became the “Mayor’s Task Force on Sustainability,” the precursor to PlaNYC. Without her,  PlaNYC may never have happened. Deborah also recognized that New York City would need to adopt its own version of the state energy code, both to close state loopholes and so the city could make its own amendments. This led to the city finally starting to enforce the energy code for the first time since it was adopted in the 1970s. Another Deborah special. And so on, again and again and again.

Long before Urban Green Council or the U.S. Green Building Council New York, before PlaNYC and the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, before the Office of Long-term Planning & Sustainability, before the Green Codes Task Force, and before Local Law 86 there was Deborah Taylor. Working behind the scenes and without public credit, she nurtured much of the green building revolution we’ve seen in city government and her imprint is on so many policy accomplishments in the last decade.

Last month, Deborah retired from city government after nine years at the Department of Buildings, and eight years at the School Construction Authority before that. A great public servant, she is one of New York City’s unsung green heroes. Let’s all celebrate her enormous achievements and hope that other champions within the Department of Buildings will continue in her footsteps.

Green Codes, Initiatives, Planning, Water

Stormwater Management As Mother Nature Intended

No Comments Posted on 11 January 2012 by Russell Unger

The same day last week the City Council helped us all breathe easier with a new law on chemicals in carpets, the Department of Environmental Protection released its new stormwater rule that encourages natural rainwater detention and retention, along with accompanying design guidelines. “Natural” here is not being used like the labels on cleaning products – here we are talking about honest to goodness mother nature. Rather than send rainwater to concrete tanks, sewers, and treatment plants, the new DEP rule encourages onsite reuse and natural infiltration.

It’s hard to overstate how much of a “180” this rule and the Green Infrastructure Plan represents for DEP, at least in terms of the principles involved. Until very recently, the only stormwater approach that mattered to DEP’s water engineers were those that could be measured in tanks and pipes. While we all know rainwater can be absorbed in the ground, directed into a rain barrel, and retained by a green roof, it wasn’t that easy to measure this capture. So it didn’t count at all for DEP. It does now.

The new rule is not a panacea for those who favor green infrastructure but is still a big step forward. The rule drastically reduces the allowable runoff from new construction and major reconstruction (a 90% reduction from previous limits). DEP will consider a range of approaches to reduce runoff including vegetative cover, green roofs, and permeable pavement. It will also consider open-bottomed detention systems that allow infiltration. Owners are required to provide maintenance for these systems so they work as intended. And finally, new developments next to a waterway must send rainwater into the waterway (rather than the sewer system).

Taken together, this rule implements 4 Task Force recommendations:

  • SW 2: Reduce Stormwater Runoff From New Developments
  • SW 4: Send Rainwater to Waterways
  • SW 5: Encourage Innovative Stormwater Practices
  • SW 6: Maintain Site-Based Stormwater Detention Systems

Another good day for green codes and a great way to kick off the New Year!

Construction, Green Codes, Products & Materials

The End of Carpet Fumes

No Comments Posted on 11 January 2012 by Russell Unger

Green codes continue to fly off the City Council’s legislative shelf like bagels on a NYC morning. We can’t even keep track and we helped draft them!

Last Wednesday, the City Council gave New York a New Year’s present by prohibiting the sale, offer for sale, or installation of carpets and carpet cushions that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in excess of the Green Label Plus standards from the Carpet & Rug Institute. Implementing the Task Force proposal Health & Toxicity 1: Limit Harmful Emissions From Carpets, we believe this law is another first in the nation for a municipality. While many jurisdictions have standards on paints and coatings, carpets haven’t received the same attention.

But they should. For those who aren’t familiar with VOCs, they are a class of carcinogenic chemicals behind “new car smell” that cause a host of health problems ranging from respiratory ailments to major organ damage. While paints and coatings off-gas VOCs very quickly, it takes longer for carpets to release their VOCs thus increasing the likelihood that end users will be impacted. Interestingly, the vast majority of U.S. carpet manufacturers meet the Green Label Plus standards — the problem is with imported carpets. So, in one package we have a new law that improves the health of New Yorkers and also increases the competitiveness of American carpet manufacturers.

For ongoing updates on the status of the GCTF proposals, check out our Codes Status Report.

© 2012 Urban Green Blog.