Every argument in favor of co-ops and condos becoming more energy efficient has probably been made – it’s good for the environment, it’ll raise the value of your building, it’ll save you money in the long run. But for boards struggling with the upfront cost of boiler conversions or window replacements, there’s one more argument to be made: lowering building emissions improves the city’s air quality, and in turn, improves public health. The bulk of New York’s air pollution – a staggering 70 percent – is caused by building emissions. But that’s changing. According to a new report from the nonprofit Urban Green Council (see related story on page 50), the city’s Clean Heat program was a major contributor to a 14 percent reduction in building emissions between 2010 and 2015.
“We analyzed data [as] No. 5 and 6 oils had phased out over these years,” says Sean Brennan, an engineer at the council. The mayor’s office, which tracks the energy use of all big buildings in a process known as benchmarking, announced that the elimination of heavy fuel oil use was preventing 210 premature deaths and 540 hospitalizations annually.
The New York City Community Air Survey, released in early 2017, tracked changes in the city’s air quality from 2008 to 2015. The report said that there were a number of declines in harmful airborne elements – such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and black carbon – that can lead to lung diseases, asthma, and other health problems. The most significant reduction, however, was in sulfur dioxide, a byproduct of the burning of oils with a high sulfur content, which declined by 84 percent. The report attributed the sharp sulfur dioxide decline directly to heating oil regulations.
New York City has become a leader in green initiatives, including the most extensive air-quality monitoring program of any U.S. city. “We’re innovating a lot of things that other cities are watching,” a spokesperson for the Urban Green Council says. “The number of big buildings we collect data on every year is almost as much data as the rest of the country collects combined. Citizens are more concerned about climate change.”