New York City and Energy Code Changes


Photo by Andrew H. Walker
Energy Code sounds like a dull topic, but if you're hope is to see things like energy use or carbon emissions reduced - energy codes are at the heart and soul of your desires. Considering the fact that energy codes are only about 40 years old in the United States (and only 20 years older in Europe), the fields that determine how regulations govern the way buildings actively consume energy is a young and fertile. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg created a task force made up of local green building organizations and more than 170 professionals to address what's the best way to improve the efficiency of the megacity. Starting this week at the Center for Architecture, a series of lectures by experts involved with task force are beginning to explain exactly how these changes will affect clients, buildings, code, permitting and your pocketbooks. I had a change to do a Q&A; with Chris Garvin, the first speaker of the series, to get his insider's perspective on what this all means.Chris Garvin serves on the Advisory Board for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. He is a seasoned green architect, a partner at Terrapin Bright Green and a senior associate at Cook+Fox Architects. He serves on the Board of Directors for the US Green Building Council - New York Chapter. When he's not spreading the gospel of energy code changes, Garvin dedicates his time to other things like zero energy communities, biomimicry, and water conservation. This is what he had to say about the mayor's efforts to make NYC greater and greener.

Treehugger: Who and how long has the energy code changes taken to get to the final version?
Chirs Garvin: Clarification, the energy code hasn't changed yet. This is about enforcing the code which is a whole other matter. States are required to adopt an energy code and local municipalities are charged with enforcing it (same with the building code, although NYC used to have its own construction code until recently). Very few to no municipalities actually enforce the energy code due to lack of manpower and education. Therefore, engineers, contractors and others have slowly yielded to rules-of-thumb and other measures which tend to not actually meet code. The energy code has been updated every 3-5 years since the late 80s. Most plan reviewers were educated in the 1970s, before the energy code even existed. The energy code came into existence after the Energy Crisis in 1973/74. In parallel with this effort, NYC City Council is reviewing proposed legislation which will affect how buildings achieve energy efficiency. Also, the Urban Green Council, at the behest of the Mayor's office identified opportunities to remove barriers and improve performance within the building code. This report will be released at a later date.


Graphic from PLANYC 2030
TH: What will the energy code changes affect the most? Retrofits, new construction, renovations?
GV: This enforcement will be for all buildings. If the local laws are enacted, existing buildings will be drastically affected. The tasks force has focused on the entire building stock of NYC.

TH: When are the changes taking affect?
GV: The enforcement began this month. They've been reviewing permit sets for the past two years to educate the Department of Building (DOB) staff and identify procedures within DOB. Applications will be formally audited and those that do not meet the energy code will receive a Notice of Objection. If these are not remedied in a timely manner, the permit can be revoked.


Photo by Tyrone Turner/National Geographic - infrared showing heat loss from NYC buildings
TH: What are the goals of the changes? For the next 5, 10 and 20 years?
GV: Goals include improving the City's building stock and reduce overall energy consumption. Accomplishing these goals will reduce the costs for power plant construction/maintenance, improve grid reliability, reduce the potential for brown/black outs, improve air quality, and improve the economics of doing business in NYC.


Graphic source: Con Edison
TH: What's the role of designers and architects with implementing these changes?
GV: The design teams have to better understand the energy codes and how they impact the design of such things as the building skin and lighting design. Other design aspects that will be affected are how a designer deals with such things as building massing, orientation, glazing area, and solar shading. As for inspection, there will be no revolution. But it is possible to predict energy consumption. Of course this is ONLY a prediction. This is why the legislation is important since it will require buildings to provide annual performance data. I believe over time the City will implement "carrots and sticks" to move existing buildings toward greater energy efficiency. We also have to keep this in perspective - less than 40 years ago the energy code DIDN'T exist. It'll take time and we finally have the technological tools to monitor, measure, report, and respond without a major financial burden to the system (both owners and government agencies).

The series on the energy code changes is scheduled for three separate sessions at the Center for Architecture - the first in October, then December and the last one in January.

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Tags: Architects | Architecture | Energy Efficiency | New York City