New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Measure for Measure

A new city law requires that many owners track their buildings’ energy and water usage – and post the results for all to see.


Last December, New York City passed Local Law 84/09, part of the new “Energy Conservation Code.” It mandates that large buildings start recording and keeping track of their energy and water use. Building owners must then enter this information into a database that tells where their building’s energy efficiency stands in relation to other buildings’; a benchmark, as it were.

“Benchmarking helps building owners learn their own energy use relative to similar buildings,” explains Jason Post, spokesman for the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, which administers the program. “Every building is different, and without benchmarking, you can’t keep score,”

Indeed, according to Evan Mills, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, benchmarking is important in order for co-op and condo boards to make a case for energy-efficient investments, track ongoing projects that are expected to save money and energy, set targets for improvements, and assess a building’s performance for potential lenders and apartment buyers, among other things.

In addition, starting no later than September 1, 2011, your benchmark results become part of a public database being developed and maintained by the Department of Finance. The publicly available information will include the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 1 to 100 “energy utilization index” number for your building; your water use per gross square foot; where available, a rating that compares your building’s energy and water use to that of similar buildings; and a comparison of data across calendar years. For the 2010 and 2011 calendar years, however, benchmarking information for covered residential buildings won’t be disclosed – presumably to give you time to get your energy-reduction up to speed.

The new law only applies to buildings of over 50,000 square feet (or, technically, two or more on the same tax lot together exceeding 100,000 square feet, or two or more condo buildings governed by the same board and together exceeding 100,000 square feet). It’s also important to note that even though the law refers repeatedly to getting information for each “tenant’s” energy use, and specifically says the city “may require that [an] owner provide such tenant with a form … to report such information,” a tucked-away phrase in the law says this only applies to commercial tenants, such as a ground-floor retail stores. And water benchmarking is only required if your building has been equipped with automatic meter-reading equipment by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the full previous year.

Assuming your co-op or condo is 50,000 square feet or more, by May 1, 2011, you must keep a record of energy and water usage, as measured by a benchmarking tool. The “tool” is simply an internet database system that compiles such water and energy data. In fact, the city even specifies what benchmarking tool you have to use – the one “developed by the [EPA], and any complementary interface designated by the [city’s]Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.”

You’ll probably hire a company to measure your energy and water use. While companies around the country have provided benchmarking for commercial and institutional buildings for years now, they’re relatively rare in the New York City area, where such energy-consultancy firms as Manhattan’s Bright Power and Fresh Meadows’ U.S. Energy Group are now helping fill the local void.

What such a company does, says Bright Power president and founder Jeff Perlman, is examine a building’s water use and four components of energy use: electricity, heating oil, natural gas, and municipal steam heat, and then enters it into an online database. They also generally provide you with a detailed analysis for your own use.

When you enter a residential building’s information into the EPA benchmarking tool, “you get a number saying you use this many kilo-BTUs per square foot per year,” says Perlman, which he finds less useful than the 1 to 100 score that the tool gives to non-residential (commercial, industrial, and institutional) buildings. “The nice thing about the 1 to 100 score is that if you get a 75 that tells you you’re in the 75th percentile [of energy efficiency] of buildings of your type.”

The new city law specifically “mandates the use of the EPA tool,” says sustainability-office spokesperson Post, “because a mayor’s-office review of benchmarking tools has found it to the best.” Moreover, he says, “We have been working with the EPA to customize their tool so it can accurately measure the energy used in the many different building types found in New York City.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t use energy-consulting companies’ tools in addition to that. Bright Power, for example, has what it calls its “EnergyScoreCards,” online benchmarking software, which “interfaces with that [EPA tool] in terms of compliance,” according Perlman, who says that once you get your ScoreCards results on the his company’s website, “you can click on the ‘submit’ link for automatic submission from our site to the Energy Star Portfolio Manager.”

This particular example of such proprietary tools “looks not just at your overall energy usage but analyzes your utility bills and can split out seasonal versus non-seasonal usages,” Perlman says. “So, we can see peaks and valleys and use mathematical regression analysis to determine what portions of your energy are used for [seasonal] heating and cooling versus what are used for year-round, non-seasonally related use.”

Your natural gas usage for heat and hot water, for example, may flatten out during the summer, “so we can use the flatline level to determine how much gas is used for water heating, which is a non-seasonal use. Then, [you can see that] bumps in energy during winter represent heating use. So now we can drill down and say your systems for heating are efficient or inefficient, your systems for water heating are efficient or inefficient.”

The numbers come primarily from your building’s overall bills. You don’t need to collect a resident’s individual data. “It doesn’t give a complete picture without the residential information,” Perlman notes, “but individual tenants use energy in different ways, and you can’t necessarily penalize the building for the way a resident uses energy.”

One method involves giving companies you hire to collect and monitor your data –which only has to be submitted to the EPA once a year – access to your online account at your energy-provider’s website. (Water usage is simply billed quarterly in New York City, either based on actual usage or on the size of your building’s “frontage,” the façade facing the street.)

Information is power, they say, and in this case, the opposite is also true: power, electrical or otherwise, is information. Armed with that data, you not only can comply with a new city law, but you can also inform yourself of how your building uses and possibly wastes energy – and where you can save. Concludes Post: “As Mayor Bloomberg says, ‘If you don’t measure, it you can’t manage it.’”

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