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New Clean-Oil Law: Co-ops & Condos Need to Comply Sooner Than You Think

Ian MacFarland in Board Operations

New York City

The new rules, part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC environmental initiative, require all boilers to run on cleaner-burning but more expensive No. 2 or No. 4 oil or on natural gas by July 2015, with No. 4 oil then banned as of 2030.

But here's the rub: The New York City Department of Environmental Protection will stop issuing triennial certificates of operation for No. 6 oil burners on July 1, 2012 – three years before the target date.

"[Boards are] thinking July 1, 2015, is their date," said Carl Borenstein, president of Veritas Management. "They might be in for a rude awakening as of July 1, 2012."

To be sure, the vast majority of co-ops and condos will be unaffected by the new rule, because only one percent, or about 10,000, of the city's buildings, are still burning No. 4 or No. 6 oil, according to the DEP. But those that are could be looking at a major expenditure to comply, and less time than they expected to get it done.

The Cost of Compliance

Under DEP's phase-out plan, boards in buildings that are burning No. 6 oil have a few options. By 2015 they can either convert their boilers to No. 2 oil, natural gas or applicable biofuel, or convert to No. 4 oil temporarily. Depending on the nature and condition of the existing equipment, this can either be a major undertaking or a fairly routine job.

Todd Wymbs, vice president and boiler salesman at Hev-E-Oil Burner Distributors in The Bronx, says that for many boards, the work may be less onerous than they fear.

Hev-E-Oil is the city's only authorized dealer of Industrial Combustion burners – by far the most prevalent brand, according to energy consultant Tom Sahagian – and Wymbs says that most of its thousands of oil burners operating in the five boroughs today will burn any oil or natural gas without modification.

"Viscosity" – No. 6 is the most viscous, No. 2 the least – "is not an issue," he says. "You don't have to do anything to that burner. All you have to do is turn the heater off."

DEP estimates that converting a non-compliant burner to cleaner fuel or natural gas would cost a building $10,000. "That's a fallacy," Wymbs said. For buildings with a DEG burner and an oil delivery system in good shape, the cost could very well be much less.

But engineer Neal Rudikoff, of New York Engineering Associates, warns that a lot of hidden costs could crop up in buildings with old or poorly maintained equipment. "It's not a simple as just making all these changes in the equipment and the grade of oil," he says. Rudikoff says he's seen the city Buildings Department step up its inspection regimen for oil burners and delivery systems in recent years.

"They're requiring that buildings bring a lot of items up to more current codes than they were installed at," he says.

Whatever you choose, make sure you look now at your inspection date, and choose in time.

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