Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 20, 2022
Electrification is the buzzword of the day. As co-op and condo boards struggle to reduce their buildings’ carbon emissions enough to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act, they’re being urged to abandon fossil fuels and embrace heat pumps, induction ovens and other appliances that are powered by electricity. As the electric grid becomes greener through a switch to renewable energy sources, the thinking goes, electrification will be a key to slowing climate change.
The gas-vs.-electricity debate comes into sharp relief from the tale of two New York City co-ops.
When a shareholder in an eight-unit co-op in Chelsea began gut-renovating his apartment in 2018, a pressure test of the cooking-gas line revealed a potential for leaks. With tightened gas line inspections looming, the co-op board faced a decision.
“We decided to invest in installing a new gas line through a single master meter in the basement,” says Henry Davis, secretary of the co-op board, noting that the co-op’s two buildings were built before World War I, and since their total square footage is less than 25,000, they don’t fall under the Climate Mobilization Act.
“We were able to run a single riser just outside the elevator, then run a pipe from the riser to each cooking device,” Davis adds. “Everyone unanimously agreed they wanted to keep their cooking gas. If you cook and bake a lot, there’s a certain instinct to use gas.”
The job cost about $150,000 for plumbers, contractors, engineers and architects, which was paid for with cash set aside when the board refinanced its underlying mortgage. “We don’t spend foolishly,” Davis says. “It was a capital investment.”
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Meanwhile, a 40-unit pre-World War II co-op on the Upper West Side was taking a very different approach. “When the city tested the cooking-gas lines, we were told that if we wanted to keep our natural gas stoves, we would have to replace all the gas lines — which would have been a nightmarish and expensive ordeal — or we could switch to electric,” says Brian Scott McFadden, president of the seven-member co-op board. “It was not a difficult choice. The board voted unanimously to go the electric route.”
There was pushback. “It was minor,” McFadden says. “One or two people did not wish to change because they said flame heat is better for cooking.”
The changeover cost about $50,000, which was drawn from the co-op’s reserve fund. “It required a minor upgrade to the building’s electrical wiring,” McFadden says, adding that the board bought induction ovens for the two apartments the co-op owns, and he bought a Frigidaire induction oven for his own apartment. “It’s magical,” he says. “It boils water in eight seconds. How is that even remotely possible?”
Marc Weber of Weber Realty Management manages both co-ops, and he makes no secret about which of the two solutions he prefers. “At the Chelsea co-op, they had to re-engineer the entire building,” Weber says, “upgrading and reconfiguring the gas lines. Then a contractor had to build a meter room in the basement. Scheduling access for contractors was an absolute nightmare. I never want to go through that again.”
There are additional considerations. “I would prefer to have cooking gas in my own apartment,” Weber says. “But from a property management perspective, I prefer electric. It’s more cost-efficient, considering the gas line inspection regulations. And the city is making it more difficult for buildings to continue to use gas. The City Council just passed a law that will ban gas in newly constructed buildings. If there’s a book about how New York City went green, that law will be chapter one.”
And the Climate Mobilization Act will be the introduction.
At the Upper West Side co-op, the savings of money and aggravation are outweighing any misgivings about the loss of gas stoves. “We have not had any complaints,” McFadden says. “We dodged a bullet in an inexpensive way. People are giddy.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — PROPERTY MANAGER: Weber Realty Management. ARCHITECT: Berzak Associates Architects. PLUMBER: Henry Myers Plumbing & Heating. ELECTRICIAN: Integrated Electric.
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