New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



For the Love of Light, Heat, and a Toilet Flush

A long with climate change and bicycle lanes, disasters have become the new normal. To prepare for the next catastrophe, the city has adopted several local laws that deal with the issues.

Keep the Power Running

Local Law 111 addresses the arcane and complicated rules that govern backup power generators that can be used in condos and co-ops in the event of an emergency. “This law removes barriers,” says Cecil Scheib, chief program officer for the Urban Green Council.

Previously, if a condo or co-op wanted to install a backup generator, the machinery had to power a list containing such items as emergency and safety lighting and an elevator for each building. One of the most crucial changes in the new law is that existing buildings that voluntarily decide to install generators do not have to power elevators if they are 125 feet or lower (about 10 to 12 stories).

“It means you can buy a smaller generator, which costs less and can fit into a smaller space,” says Scheib. “If you are using fuel oil to power the generator, you need to store less fuel with a smaller generator. All sorts of options open up.” (But some close down: residents will have to walk up and down the stairs because they don’t have an elevator.)

The experts say it is difficult to ballpark how much this could reduce costs, but Jon Weiskopf, senior engineer for Steven Winter Associates, says it could be about 30 percent cheaper to install a generator that doesn’t need to carry an elevator on the load.

Another big change deals with fuel type. Previously, condos and co-ops could use only generators designated as “emergency.” Now they can use those called “standby.” One of the key differences? Standbys are permitted to have a longer time to start up (about 60 seconds compared with about 10 seconds), and natural gas generators are more likely to need those additional seconds to start. So the change in designation makes it easier to use natural gas, which would be the preferred option for many owners.

One change that could add to the cost of generators is that if they run on fuel oil, owners must keep at least six hours of fuel on site compared to the old standard of two, says Doug Lane, principal of Lane Engineering, which does generator work in New York City. While many building owners would want to have larger tanks anyway, those cost more.

Local Law 111 also specifically allows condos and co-ops to use fuel cell generators for backup power – a practice that was previously not permitted. This type of generator uses natural gas to create power and heat through a chemical process; residential buildings typically use them to power part of their load during normal operations. “Not a lot of people have fuel cells,” says Scheib, “but this might make it more attractive because it will also count as your backup generator.”

Keep the Water Flowing

One of the major problems after Hurricane Sandy was a lack of drinking water and water to flush toilets – because of a problem not with supply, but with powering pumps that provided water to upper floors.

Local Law 110, passed in November 2013, requires any condo or co-op over five stories to have an emergency drinking water station accessible by all residents. There must be one fixture for every 100 occupants, and the stations must be installed in existing buildings by 2021. “It is a big change for existing buildings,” says Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council. “We felt that it was important to give buildings a long timeline for compliance.”

The law requires the building to install the drinking water station by creating a separate draw off the main water line, says Unger. The law also requires a floor drain. David Talalovsky, vice president of Smart Plumbing and Heating, says the cost to install the emergency water stations will vary widely based on the location of the main. Need to break up a lot of concrete to install a drain? That will cost more. “If you’re talking about a situation where the main is close to where you want to put it, you could be looking at as little as $1,500,” Talalovsky says.

Many condos and co-ops could already be in compliance with the law if they have, say, a slop sink in a laundry area on each of the first few floors, says Dennis DePaola, executive vice president of Orsid Realty, a management firm. The law requires only enough water spigots to account for the one-for-every-100-residents rule.

“We think the majority of buildings already comply with this,” says Angela Pinsky, senior vice president for management services at the Real Estate Board of New York.

So does that mean residents on the 20th floor would have to walk down 20 flights of stairs to a spigot, fill up a bucket, and take it back upstairs to flush a toilet? Unger says the law is designed to assist in an emergency, and emergencies are not always easy. “Everyone is going to be in great shape at the end of a blackout,” he jokes.

All kidding aside, Unger says that while a match for Hurricane Sandy will probably not be seen soon, the region has a history of other power-related problems. “If you look at the area since the mid-1960s, we’ve had four major blackouts that were multi-day affairs,” he says. “If you were on an upper floor, you had one flush and no drinking water.”

Another plumbing-related regulation is Local Law 79, which deals with toilets and sinks that operate electrically (the ones with motion sensors). With those types of fixtures, the law requires that one toilet and one sink in each bathroom have either a manual switch that allows them to operate without power or a battery backup that lasts two weeks.

“This does not affect a lot of apartments,” because they rarely have plumbing with motion sensors, says Leon Geoxavier, an architect and project manager for Walker Restoration Consultants. “It’s more of an issue for communal spaces like an office room or a gym.”

Keep the Flood From Rising

Local Law 109 will make it easier for buildings that wish to install flood barriers, says Urban Green’s Unger. Many flood barriers work like this: footings – essentially holes for posts – are drilled deep into the ground. In case of a flood, posts are installed in the footings and barrier panels are inserted to make a temporary wall.

But in many parts of New York City, the only place those footings could be installed would be on the sidewalk, and that previously was not allowed. The new law permits footings, which are flush with the ground, to be embedded in the sidewalk, up to 12 inches away from the property line.

Buildings that want to purchase flood barriers need permission from the city to install the footings, and they also need permission to deploy them, Unger says. But the law will make it easier for more buildings to have the option. Orsid’s DePaola says one of his clients, 200 East End Avenue, is contemplating flood barriers after massive damage from Sandy. The primary consideration is not the ability to place footings into the sidewalk but the cost of drilling into bedrock for the footings. The law is helpful for many reasons, including psychological ones. Notes DePaola: “It’s opened up eyes for a lot of our clients that maybe we should consider this again.”



Lowdown on Local Laws


Drinking Water, Toilets,
and Sinks

Flood Barriers



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