There’s a lot to be said for living in New York in the winter time: taking the subway to go ice-skating in Central Park, strolling along Fifth Avenue to window-shop during the holidays, buying hot chestnuts from mittened vendors who appear at the first signs of frost and stay through the end of February.
Then there’s the down side to living in the city in winter: dealing with the issue of whether there’s enough heat when you get home. For any shareholder who has ever served on the board of a co-op, there’s nothing quite like fielding late-night calls from residents complaining about the lack of heat or walking outside and noticing open windows in apartments on the coldest day of the year.
Under New York City’s administrative code, residential building owners, including co-op boards, are required to provide heat from October 1 to May 31 of each year. If the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees between the hours of 6 A.M. and 10 P.M., the building’s inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees. If the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M., the apartment temperature must be kept at a minimum of 55 degrees. But no matter how much fine-tuning goes on once the weather turns cold, it seems that it’s impossible to please all the shareholders all the time when it comes to balancing heat in the building.
Determined to take the guesswork out of how to keep their building well-heated, the board members of the 640-unit Schwab House on Riverside Drive took the plunge four years ago, and invested $125,000 in a climate control system to balance their heat distribution. Though the initial outlay was steep, the board’s treasurer, Mitchel Levine, estimates that the co-op has shaved at least 40 percent off its fuel consumption (he declines to say how much the property has saved on fuel bills).
The climate control system, known as Energuard, relies on wireless sensors that track the heat in individual apartments, and then send that information to a control panel in the superintendent’s office, where it is compared with the building-wide temperature set by the super. If the sensors report ambient temperatures that are below or above the set ones, the panel will send a signal to the nearest riser to increase or decrease the heat to that part of the building.
Prior to the board upgrading its boiler and burner system, which dated back to the 1940s, “we were using about 400,000 gallons of fuel a year,” says Levine. Today, the building uses about 250,000, which the treasurer attributes to the new boiler and the new climate control system.
The 17-story, H-shaped building, takes up one full city block, stretching from West 73rd Street to West 74th Street, and from West End Avenue to Riverside Drive. To control the heating in such a huge structure, the board installed 108 wireless sensors among the 640 units to track the ambient temperature in the apartments. The sensors in turn are all connected to a computer in the super’s office, who raises and lowers the heat by adjusting the valves on the building’s risers to let more or less heat through as the computer indicates is needed. “We maintain a really good heat level for 90 percent of the apartments. We have about 10 percent of apartments that are either too hot or too cold. Given the size of our building, the system allows the super a great deal of individual control,” says Levine.
One of the best elements of the system is that the sensors are wireless and can be easily installed, which the treasurer says is a plus: “A lot of people had renovated their apartments and didn’t want an invasive wire.” And, as different residents of the building report different problems with heat, the sensors can be easily removed and reinstalled.
Testing the ambient temperature in selected apartments around the building is more effective than most heating systems because it allows the super and the co-op board to have a more distinct picture of the building’s distribution system, says Allan Richman, director of marketing and sales for Peconic, the Long Island-based company that makes and installs Energuard.
One last thing, says Levine. If you are going to draw the maximum benefits from the climate control system, you need a good super who knows how to make the adjustments. “If it’s just going to run and never be adjusted, it’s not going maximize its value. You need a computer-savvy superintendent who can make the system function.”