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Heat-Balancing Act at the Normandy

Bill Morris in Building Operations on October 7, 2016

Upper West Side

Normandy Hot and Cold

Bennett Lincoff, former co-op board president, atop The Normandy (photo by Jennifer Wu)

Oct. 7, 2016

The Normandy, an Emery Roth-designed Art Deco gem on Riverside Drive between 86th and 87th Streets, opened in the late 1930s and became a co-op in 1979. When Bennett Lincoff joined the co-op board in 2009, he got an earful. “Immediately when I got on the board,” Lincoff says, “I heard people complaining, ‘I’m too cold,’ ‘I’m too hot.’”

The problem was two-fold: construction and location. The 235-unit Normandy was built with single-pane casement windows; and when icy winter winds skate off the nearby Hudson River, the west-facing apartments were frequently too cold, while apartments on the sunny southern or the leeward eastern side were frequently too hot. To unbalance things even more, some shareholders installed energy-efficient windows, but more than half did not. Many installed window and through-the-wall air conditioners, which leaked cold air in the winter. Radiator valves were wearing out or no longer functioning. The Normandy needed help.

Lincoff, a copyright attorney, hit on a simple idea: why not survey the entire building – and then attack the problem based on hard data, as well as anecdotal evidence from the shareholders?

“After I created the survey, I badgered people until they answered,” Lincoff says. “I got a 92 percent response [rate]. Then I created a database and analyzed what was going on.”

The results were not entirely surprising. Two of the most problematic apartment lines were the overly cold H line, at Riverside Drive and 87th Street facing the river, and the overly hot L line, facing the sheltered inner courtyard. To refine the data, Lincoff teamed up with the resident manager, Halit Mehmetaj, who was hired in 2012, shortly after the board had contracted with Orsid Realty. Together Lincoff and Mehmetaj visited every apartment on the H and L lines, noting types of windows, presence and types of air conditioners, and the number of functioning and malfunctioning radiators and valves. Based on all the accumulated data and anecdotal evidence, the board and management started casting about for solutions to the problem. Some of the initial cost estimates went higher than $500,000.

Lewis Kwit, president of Energy Investment Systems, was hired in 2012 to perform the required sustainability audit for the building, and he was soon involved in the project to balance the Normandy’s heat.

A two-pronged attack was developed. The first was low-tech: weatherstripping the original windows, putting thermal sleeves on air conditioners, and inspecting all radiators and valves. The second step was to divide the building into four zones, based on prevailing interior temperatures, and then find a high-tech way to distribute heat based on each zone’s needs.

“We found a zone valve system that would heat each of the four zones separately,” says Kwit. As an experiment, the contractor Leonard-Powers installed three motorized steam valves in the too-hot L line in 2013. Sensors were placed in eight apartments and linked to a computer, which could regulate the flow of steam to the entire line based on temperature fluctuations in those eight apartments. It worked. Four valves were then installed in each of the horizontal steam pipes in the basement that feed all of the building’s risers.

The cost turned out to be about half the original estimates – $150,000 for the heat-balancing system, plus $100,000 for asbestos abatement.

Bob Kheel, who joined the board in 2010 and succeeded Lincoff as president in 2013, says the board imposed a $2 million assessment over two years to cover balancing the heat, replacing the mechanicals on all six elevators, converting to gas, and switching to electrical submetering.

“The number of complaints about heat has dropped dramatically,” Kheel says. “That’s the best indication that it’s been a success. We’re very pleased with what happened.”

So is Lincoff. “I ran for the board because I thought it was a way to protect and enhance my investment – and make a positive contribution to the shareholder community,” he says. “The heat-balancing project had to be pushed from the inside. This was a quality-of-life issue. In the end, I learned that any board that wants to get something done has to do it themselves.”

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