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Size Matters

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 2, 2023

New York City

Building measurement, square footage, Local Law 97, carbon caps, co-op and condo boards.
Aug. 2, 2023

Size matters, and with carbon cap allowances based (in part) on a building’s square footage, it matters even more. “When that law goes into effect, every square foot of your building will matter to your carbon allowance,” says Sean Stettin, the senior energy analyst at Aurora Energy Advisors. “The way the Department of Buildings determines who has to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act is by data from the Department of Finance. It’s up to the building owner to verify the exact square footage.” 

To that end, dozens of Aurora’s clients have asked the consultancy to conduct a precise measurement of their building. That computation, conducted by an architect, engineer or other licensed design professional, consists of measuring “net area,” which is the space used as residences, and “gross floor area,” which includes everything inside the exteriors of the exterior walls (excluding unenclosed balconies and terraces). The DOB has classified some 60 usages types of interior spaces, which further complicates the computation of the building’s carbon allowance.

“Of the thousands of buildings that we’ve benchmarked for energy and water usage under Local Law 84, we’ve been asked to measure fewer than 100,” Stettin says. “In almost every case, the DOF’s square footage is too small.” Which means the building’s carbon cap is artificially low. Which means the board could be spending money unnecessarily to comply with an inaccurate carbon cap.

“Measuring the building’s precise square footage should be every board’s first step when they set out to comply with Local Law 97,” Stettin says. “We’re in the infancy stage of measuring buildings, but we’re making a big push because of this law.”

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One of the vendors Aurora Energy Advisors uses to measure buildings is the energy consultancy En-Power Group. Michael Scorrano, En-Power’s founder and managing director, echoes Stettin’s stress on the importance of accurate building measurement.

“This could be the most cost-efficient investment a co-op or condo board makes toward complying with Local Law 97,” Scorrano says, noting that measurements cost about $6,000 on average but can go as high as $15,000. “The amount a board could save through fine avoidance would more than pay for the cost of the measurement.”

Scorrano describes the process: “We have a licensed design professional look at the architectural plans, then visit the building to look at the various uses of space” — if it’s residential, a laundry room, a supermarket, a nail salon, basement storage space — “and measure all of them. Our professionals use lasers and sometimes even tape measures. We’re making a big push to get the most accurate representation of square footage.”

It’s all about removing the guesswork from a major challenge confronting co-op and condo boards in buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. “If you know the exact size of your building,” Stettin says, “you’ll know exactly what your carbon allowance is and what you need to do to meet it. The most important thing is to avoid the fines for failing to meet your carbon caps.”

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