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Habitat Magazine October 2020 free digital issue

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BRICKS & BUCKS

BUILDING PROJECTS IN NYC CO-OPS/CONDOS

There Is Such a Thing as a Free Energy Audit

Sue Treiman in Bricks & Bucks on November 4, 2020

Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

Free energy audit, Brooklyn Heights co-op, NYC2030, heat pumps, NYSERDA.

The co-op at 132 Joralemon St. in Brooklyn Heights is an energy pioneer.

Nov. 4, 2020

Some like it hot, some cooler, but nobody enjoys the truly scorching temperatures generated by an aging boiler like the one in the 11-unit co-op at 132 Joralemon St. in Brooklyn Heights. “Especially during transitional seasons, it takes multiple emails and many trips to the cellar to achieve a happy comfort level,” says Becky Vas, an architect who serves on the co-op board.

So when Vas heard about a program offering free energy audits for one- to four-family homes and low-cost audits for commercial and multifamily buildings, she instantly warmed to the idea. Implemented by NYC2030, New York’s chapter of a nationwide climate-action organization, and offered through Heat/Cool Smart Brooklyn, the program brings vetted and accredited contractors to eligible buildings in Brooklyn Community Districts 2 and 6. The Joralemon Street co-op recently became a test case, one of the borough’s first multifamily buildings to be evaluated. 

Experts from Arnica Heating and Air Conditioning and Green Home Logic thoroughly examined the 115-year-old structure’s interior and exterior for temperature inconsistencies, air leaks, insulation problems and building system integrity. Their final report card is expected within days. For shareholders, the benefits were immediate. Residents saved approximately $2,500 on the audit, while accessing new ideas to conserve energy.

“It’s a win-win,” Vas says.

NYC2030 and other sustainable-energy advocates – including the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, the Brooklyn Borough President’s office and Con Edison – are initially focusing the project on a swath of downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan that has an aging building infrastructure with energy efficiency challenges. 

“Most of the city’s heat comes from natural gas, so the perfect candidates for an audit are buildings where the gas boiler has little life left and an (electric) air-source heat pump conversion would create huge natural gas savings,” says Simone Arnica of Arnica Heating and Air Conditioning. 

The Joralemon co-op fits the bill. Its boiler is limping toward a certain demise, and board members realize that replacing it with an air-source heat pump system would produce a hat trick of benefits: eliminate natural gas bills; deliver both heating and cooling; and create cleaner, cheaper and more customized climate control. But converting a single apartment from natural gas to an air-source heat pump can cost from $12,000 to $15,000. Upgrading the whole building seemed unthinkable – until now.

“It’s unlikely that we have all of that money right now,” Vas says, “but we’re happy that some energy programs can apparently still apply, even if you keep the boiler for back-up heat as some sections upgrade.”

During the boiler’s remaining lifespan, the co-op board plans to explore the ever-expanding menu of funding and loan programs that can defray the cost of upgrades. 

“There are substantial incentives for people to switch to electric heating and cooling,” says Haym Gross, an architect who is the founding member of NYC2030. He invites all property owners and co-op and condo boards to bring their questions to his organization, whether they fall within its geographic area or not.

While she awaits her co-op’s energy audit report card, Vas already sees benefits. “This program will allow us to discover ways to make our building envelope and the active heating system more efficient, to learn what’s financially viable, and to research rebates that are being offered,” she says. “We were lucky to find it.” 

More information on energy audits is available at Heat/Cool Smart Brooklyn’s website, heybrooklyn.org. Gross can be reached by email at info@NYC2030.org.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – CONTRACTORS: Green Home Logic; Arnica Heating and Air Conditioning. SPONSORING AGENCIES: NYC2030; Heat/Cool Smart Brooklyn.

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