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Co-op Board Ups Energy Efficiency by “Streamlining” Systems

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on February 1, 2023

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Energy efficiency, reducing waste, software, Local Law 97, carbon emissions.

The new control panel (left) sends data to the cloud (center) that's collected by sensors (right) (images courtesy of Parity).

Feb. 1, 2023

After completing a staggering list of improvements, the  board at the 20-story, 168-unit co-op at 201 E. 79th St. in Manhattan asked itself the same question it has been asking for years.

“The question we always have is, ‘Where can we save money?’” says Stefan Unger, former president and current member of the co-op board. “This is a very unique board,” he adds. “Everyone checks their ego at the door, and we look at this building as a $350 million corporation. For us, it’s not about going to a board meeting once a month.”

To prove his point, Unger ticks off the board’s recent achievements. Adding LED lights and dimmers throughout the common areas. Removing the building’s failing white-brick skin, waterproofing the exterior, adding insulation and then cladding the building with porcelain tiles — at a cost of $28 million. Redoing the hallways and lobby. Replacing all three elevators. Installing a new chiller to run the central heating and air conditioning system. This last improvement, completed in 2016, recently became the focus of the board’s ongoing quest to save money. “We realized the next step,” Unger says, “was to make the heating and cooling more efficient.”

The board got in touch with James Hannah, the managing director at Parity, a company dedicated to maximizing the efficiency of HVAC systems in multifamily buildings. “There’s frequently an opportunity to increase efficiency in this type of ‘fan coil’ building,” Hannah says, meaning postwar buildings with a chiller and cooling tower that provide central heating and cooling. “You have a lot of water that’s being heated or cooled, then circulated to apartments. You’re also drawing in or exhausting air. These buildings almost always use more energy than they need to.”

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Parity’s preferred path to saving money is not to replace these buildings’ under-performing systems but rather to cut waste and boost efficiency. To this end, Hannah recommended installing 20 temperature sensors inside apartments that fed information to Parity’s software.

“That way,” he says, “we can get real-time knowledge of the building’s heating, cooling and ventilation needs. Then we can make adjustments 24/7 to the settings for the building’s systems — the Con Ed steam valve, the chiller, the cooling tower, pumps and fans. We get everything to work in harmony to reduce waste.”

A key player in this process is the resident manager, Anthony Maldonado. “Guys like Anthony know their buildings,” Hannah says. “If there’s an issue with a piece of equipment or a complaint from a resident, the super can make a manual adjustment or give us a call.”

Maldonado adds: “The system has made my life extremely easy. The main thing is preventive maintenance — it tells me something’s wrong before residents even realize it. Since we went live last summer we’ve been able to balance our systems so there’s no more over- or under-heating. And now we turn our fans and pumps down in off-peak hours. Instant savings.”

Parity’s business model is to guarantee a certain level of energy savings. If those goals are not met, Parity cuts the building a check to cover the shortfall. This co-op’s hardware and software programming cost $50,000 after incentives from Con Edison and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Parity’s fee for this building is fixed during a five-year contract. The upside is that the building will save an estimated $33,000 on its annual Con Edison electricity and steam bills, meaning the investment will pay for itself in less than two years. Those savings will increase over time as utility rates continue to rise.

“This was a no-brainer for the board because it’s going to make the building more efficient,” Unger says. “The savings are guaranteed, and Parity’s fees come out of our savings. I think of this project as a streamlining of our building’s existing systems.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — SOFTWARE COMPANY: Parity. ARCHITECT: Rawlings Architects. CONTRACTOR: A+ Electric.  PROPERTY MANAGER: FirstService Residential.

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