New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Condo Board Moves to Comply With Climate Mobilization Act

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on September 22, 2021

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Climate Mobilization Act, electric heat pumps, carbon emissions, condo board.

Carbon Cutters: (clockwise from left) a heat pump on a balcony, a heat-recovery condenser, and a ceiling cassette (photos courtesy of VRF Solutions).

Sept. 22, 2021

If you want to see how co-op and condo boards will comply with the looming limits on building carbon emissions under the Climate Mobilization Act, take a trip to the condominium tower at 400 Central Park West.

The 19-story, postwar brick building was plagued by an old New York City problem: some areas were so overheated that air-conditioners had to run all winter long. The amount of wasted energy from the two gas-fired boilers was incalculable, but surely immense. Determined to correct the situation, the condo board turned to the HVAC consultancy VRF Solutions.

“In addition to the over-heating, they also had some functionality issues,” says Tom Esposito, the president of VRF Solutions. “For instance, the inner and outer doors in the vestibule opened simultaneously, which allowed cool air to escape in the summer and warm air to escape in the winter.”

The plan called for installing seven electric air-source heat pumps that would heat and cool the lobby and the two hallways leading to the elevator banks. The word electric is key. Compliance with the Climate Mobilization Act will depend largely on what’s known as “electrification” – the switch from fossil-fuels to electricity to power building systems (and many other things, including automobiles), allied with the greening of the electric grid through a switch to energy supplied by renewable sources, including solar, wind and hydroelectric.

That switch is already under way. Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced that the state plans to build two new underground transmission lines that will bring electricity from renewable sources to the city. One line will run 174 miles from upstate’s Delaware County to Queens; the other will run 339 miles from Quebec to Queens. The two lines will power 2.5 million homes by 2025. By tapping into this “green” electricity, co-op and condo boards can take a major stride toward meeting their buildings’ carbon-emission caps set by the Climate Mobilization Act.

“Electric heat pumps are still fairly expensive,” says Joe Novella, VRF’s chief building scientist. “But they’re less expensive than conventional designs – and this is how you convert a building from fossil fuels.”

The project in the 400 CPW lobby cost about $40,000. “They were so happy with the lobby,” Esposito says, “that they started talking with us about the basement.”

Underground, exposed steam pipes in the management office sometimes reached 200 degrees in wintertime, necessitating the use of air-conditioners. Nothing unusual in that. Novella estimates that typical older buildings in New York City have systems designed to deliver two to three times more heating and cooling than is needed.  

The obvious step of insulating the exposed pipes barely dented the problem. The solution was to divide the underground area into 12 zones and install a “heat-recovery” system, which allows some areas to be heated while others nearby are cooled – thus eliminating heat imbalances. It was installed not only in the management office but also in the laundry room, gym, a party room, a play area for kids and the super’s office. The cost was about $70,000.

The maraschino on this sundae was the option for unit-owners with balconies to install outdoor heat pumps that provide heating and cooling for their units. About half a dozen unit-owners have installed the systems so far.

For Esposito, the 400 Central Park West project is sweet vindication. “We were ahead of the curve, and we didn’t know it,” he says. “Long before the Climate Mobilization Act, we were trying to interest people in electric heat pumps. Now people are finally beginning to see that this is the primary way to de-carbonize.”


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