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Changes Coming to the City's Energy Conservation Code

Jennifer V. Hughes in Bricks & Bucks

New York City

Conservation Code

The city council recently approved changes to the New York City Energy Conservation Code, which will go into effect on Oct. 3 and are projected to result in 9 percent in energy savings for commercial buildings and 32 percent for residential structures. The new code will mostly affect new construction. but some renovation work falls under it, so boards need to take heed.

The biggest changes have to do with building envelope, or how well the building is sealed, says Cecil Scheib, chief program officer at Urban Green, the New York City chapter of the United States Green Building Council.

A roof replacement (not a patch job) would require compliance with new standards, says Ted Klingensmith, senior architect with RAND Engineering & Architecture. Under the new code, “you’d need to almost double the amount of insulation,” he says. That can change the height of the roof, so it might mean your parapets are too low and they too would have to be altered.

Lobby renovations will also be affected. Under the old code, if you had an entry into a common space of at least 3,000 square feet, you needed a vestibule, says Jason Collins, code and zoning analyst for Milrose Consultants. The new code permits use of an air curtain, which takes up less space and is easier to make handicapped accessible. The new code does, however, add the vestibule or air-curtain requirement for buildings 75 feet and taller for any door opening into a space 1,000-square-feet or greater.

There are tougher new standards for lighting – now 75 percent must be high-efficiency, instead of 50 percent. But if a co-op or condo is undergoing a retrofit lighting project, Klingensmith says, it’s almost certain they’re already intending to match or surpass that benchmark.

Another part of the lighting code pertains to the number of fixtures. “It used to be if you were re-doing less than 50 percent of the lighting in an area, you didn’t have to meet the energy code,” Collins says. “That’s been reduced to 20 percent, so if you have 100 lights and you fix 21 of them, you have to be fully in compliance.”

The new code also deals with so-called commissioning requirements for lighting controls.“Commissioning requirements are just making sure that the [controls] are functioning properly, that the motion and daylight sensors are in the right places,” says Christa Waring, principal at CPA Architects. “It’s not going to be onerous.”

The meatiest change in the code deals with the “blower door test,” which must be performed to ensure that seals are tight between windows and walls, walls and doors, walls and roofs. Urban Green outlines the process in a short video.

But experts are hard pressed to envision a scenario where the test would apply to a building undergoing a renovation, even if, for example. you’re replacing a large percentage of your windows. Urban Green’s Scheib says as long as you’re filing under the “alterations” permit, the blower door test and its standards about building envelope don’t apply.

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