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A Co-op’s Backup Generator Goes From Back-Breaker to Life-Saver

Paula Chin in Green Ideas on October 21, 2020

Westchester County

Aerial view of Hudson House.

An aerial view of Hudson House (image courtesy Google).

Oct. 21, 2020

Hudson House was in need of some serious backup. The seven-story, 82-unit co-op in the leafy Westchester County enclave of Ardsley-on-Hudson, suffered frequent electrical outages in the wake of windstorms that took down trees and power lines. While installing a backup generator was the obvious – and seemingly straightforward – solution, the process turned out to be a long and complicated journey. This co-op board had its work cut out.

“We brought in two firms – Current Solutions and O’dea, Lynch and Abbattista – back in 2018 to actively look for a location for the generator and determine the size we needed for the load of the building,” says board member George Schieferdecker, an architect. “We also used them to help us with ventilation requirements, which are substantial with large generators. We wanted to put ours inside, but that was too daunting a project.”

Once it was determined the installation would be outdoors, the next challenge was finding the optimum spot. “We have three buildings and a lot of property, but the objective was to put the generator as close to the electrical room as possible to avoid a voltage drop and power loss,” explains Schieferdecker, noting that the consultants recommended a maximum distance of 50 to 100 feet.

“So we found a location in a little gully, not prone to flooding and visually shielded, although technically in the front yard,” he says. Schieferdecker, who heads the co-op’s capital improvement committee, helped lead the search for the right machine for the job. “We wanted a generator that would run for at least a week on a single tank of diesel,” he adds, “because refueling is often impossible when trees are down and blocking the roads to our property.”

The committee presented its recommendations to the board, which, after considerable back and forth, signed off on the $280,000 project. “Once they approved it for the 2018 budget, we motored ahead,” Schieferdecker says. The co-op’s managing agent, Joann DiBono of the Ferrara Management Group, assembled the bids. “We relied on the electrical contractor to determine the work required for the connections,” Schieferdecker says, “but Joann handled everything else, including putting in a concrete base slab and making arrangements for hoisting the generator into place.”

DiBono also worked with Hudson House’s architect, Andrew Whitelaw of Whitelaw Architects, to produce plans and specifications and submit them to the Department of Buildings in Irvington, N.Y., along with permit applications and the required fees.

But after the voluminous paperwork was finally filed last August, the board got some bad news: the building inspector refused to issue a permit because the generator was in the front yard, and the town’s zoning regulations required a certain setback. Undeterred, the board promptly appealed.

“The zoning commission meets once a month, and we got on the docket right away in September,” says Schieferdecker, who came thoroughly prepared. “This was right after a huge storm knocked out our power for four days. We explained our case, took photos, and even built a mockup of the actual unit in situ so they could come by and take a look.” The commission granted Hudson House a variance then and there, allowing the installation to proceed.

DiBono and the co-op’s super are overseeing installation of the generator, a 180-kilowatt, diesel-powered Generac, which they hope to have completed before winter frosts set in.

“Looking back,” Schieferdecker says, “what took the longest was getting consensus within the co-op and getting every i dotted and t crossed.” But paying attention to detail is critical, he adds. “With backup generators, you have to be sure you’ve covered items you may not have thought of, like electrical components of a heating system or sump pumps. And you have to understand that ventilation requirements will be onerous and may well preclude putting one inside your building. You have to get professional help.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEERS: Current Solutions; O’dea, Lynch, Abbattista (OLA); Nick’s Electrical Service. ARCHITECT: Whitelaw Architects. PROPERTY MANAGER: Ferrara Management Group

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