Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on March 28, 2018
Most co-op and condo boards watch every penny, frowning on any expense that will require an assessment or an increase in monthly charges. They believe that taking the short view is their fiduciary duty.
And then there are boards that take the long view. At the Fairview, a 424-unit co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, the nine-member board has tackled a staggering litany of capital projects – most of which were supported by grants and will reduce the co-op’s energy expenses and its carbon footprint. As an added bonus, the projects will largely pay for themselves over time – without maintenance increases or assessments. These include installing solar panels, switching to dual-fuel boilers, upgrading the air-conditioning system, repairing all six elevators, installing LED lights in all common areas, and installing a Combined Heat and Power, or cogen, system that reduces the energy bill and provides backup power in the event of a blackout.
“This board had a vision,” says Greg Carlson, president of Carlson Realty, who has managed the three-winged, 14-story brick building since 1995. “They said, ‘Let’s not talk about today, let’s talk about the future.’”
The conversation began a decade ago, when the city was moving to ban heavy No. 6 oil. “At the time,” Carlson recalls, “we burned more oil during the summer than we did during the winter – to heat water and run the air-conditioner chiller, which had a 27 percent efficiency rate.”
After hiring an energy consultant to perform an audit of the building’s systems, the board secured a $1.5 million low-interest loan from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which allowed the board to install new burners and convert the two boilers to dual-fuel (No. 2 oil and natural gas). The cost of firing the boilers was cut by a third, and some of the savings went toward replacing the mechanicals and the cab interiors of the co-op’s six balky elevators.
The board hired the energy services company En-Power Group to oversee its future projects. Mike Scorrano, the company’s managing director, was immediately impressed by the board’s vision. “The good thing about this board is that two people were very gung-ho about energy projects,” Scorrano says. “Greg Carlson wants to help shareholders save energy and money. And board president Hank Moskowitz took the long-term view, convincing other people on the board that these investments were money well spent. A lot of boards just want to maintain the status quo.”
Next up was replacement of the aging, inefficient chiller-absorption unit that powered the central air conditioning. Still thinking long-term, the board refinanced its underlying mortgage in 2015 for $17 million, securing a $2 million line of credit. With money in hand, it was time for a major energy upgrade.
“There were skeptics on the board,” Carlson says, “one person in particular who hated spending money. I told the board we had to move ahead.”
And they listened. A Con Ed rebate helped defray the cost of converting to LED lighting in common areas. When doing mandated Local Law 11 facade repairs, the board decided to replace the roof, which had been in place since the building opened in 1965. An array of solar panels was installed and is generating 105,000 kilowatt hours per year, about 4 percent of the building’s electricity needs. A $1.1 million cogen system, installed and awaiting Con Ed approval, will generate 50 percent of the building’s annual electricity needs, and reduce the boilers’ gas consumption by a third. The payback period for these last two upgrades is, respectively, seven years and four years.
“Some boards think spending money is bad, but it’s foolish not to do these things, in our view,” says board president Moskowitz. “Now there’s a feeling of accomplishment – that we’ve done something for this building.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – MANAGEMENT: Carlson Realty. ELEVATOR: Century Elevator. COGEN EQUIPMENT: Tecogen. SOLAR INSTALLER: En-Power Group. ROOFING AND FACADE: McFar Contractors.
Thinking of buying a co-op or condo? Already bought, and not sure how co-op/condo life and rules work? Learn all about purchasing a place and living in your new community. It's not like renting, and its not like owning a house. What's it like?