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Alert! New City Law Makes It Easier, Cheaper to Have Backup Generator

Jennifer V. Hughes in Building Operations on March 6, 2014

New York City

Illustration by Jane Sanders
March 6, 2014

The most significant may be Local Law 111 of 2013, which addresses the complicated rules that govern backup power generators that can be used in condos and co-ops in the event of an emergency. "This law removes barriers," says Cecil Scheib, chief program officer for the Urban Green Council.

Lowdown on Elevators

Previously, if a cooperative or a condominium wanted to install a backup generator, the machinery had to power a list containing such items as emergency and safety lighting and an elevator for each building. One of the most crucial changes in the new law is that existing buildings that voluntarily decide to install generators do not have to power elevators if they are 125 feet or lower (about 10 to 12 stories). 

"It means you can buy a smaller generator, which costs less and can fit into a smaller space," says Scheib. "If you are using fuel oil to power the generator, you need to store less fuel with a smaller generator. All sorts of options open up." But some close down: residents will have to walk up and down the stairs because they don't have an elevator.

The experts say it is difficult to ballpark how much this could reduce costs, but Jon Weiskopf, senior engineer for Steven Winter Associates, says it could be about 30 percent cheaper to install a generator that doesn't need to carry an elevator on the load.

Fuel Me Once….

Another big change deals with fuel type. Previously, condos and co-ops could use only generators designated as "emergency." Now they can use those called "standby." One of the key differences? Standbys are permitted to have a longer time to start up (about 60 seconds compared with about 10 seconds), and natural gas generators are more likely to need those additional seconds to start. So the change in designation makes it easier to use natural gas, which would be the preferred option for many owners. 

One change that could add to the cost of generators is that if they run on fuel oil, owners must keep at least six hours of fuel on site compared to the old standard of two, says Doug Lane, principal of Lane Engineering Consulting, which does generator work in New York City. While many building owners would want to have larger tanks anyway, those cost more.

Local Law 111 also specifically allows condos and co-ops to use fuel cell generators for backup power — a practice that was previously not permitted. This type of generator uses natural gas to create power and heat through a chemical process; residential buildings typically use them to power part of their load during normal operations. "Not a lot of people have fuel cells," says Scheib, "but this might make it more attractive because it will also count as your backup generator."

 

Illustration by Jane Sanders

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