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Luxury Condo Towers Are Bad for Planet Earth

New York City

Energy Hogs

432 Park Avenue is one of the city's worst energy hogs.

May 16, 2018

The city's highest-end condominium towers have been blamed for casting shadows over Central Park, exacerbating the affordability crisis, harboring property tax cheats, and helping foreigners hide dirty money through faceless LLCs. Now, Crain’s reports, you can add “hastening climate change” to their list of sins.

As city government has begun collecting and publicly disclosing energy and water consumption in buildings through a process known as benchmarking, the most luxurious residential projects are being exposed as the most conspicuous energy hogs. While sustainability features have become ubiquitous in the city’s commercial office space and in many mid-level co-ops and condos, they have been largely absent from the city's luxury condo market. Even as green technology has become more sophisticated, cost-efficient and available, high-profile builders such as Extell Development, Vornado Realty Trust, and Zeckendorf Development have blithely ignored these tools. Instead of using available green technology, they install such energy-guzzling amenities as heated pools, saunas, and chilled wine cellars

The 1,400-foot-tall needle at 432 Park Avenue provides a snapshot of these practices. There, developer Harry Macklowe and the real estate investment firm CIM have eschewed high-efficiency natural-gas boilers – which have become commonplace in new developments and retrofitted older buildings. Instead, they use a system driven by steam from Con Edison – among the least efficient sources of heat and hot water. The building’s energy use per square foot is 73 percent more than the median figure for residential buildings in the city. Its Energy Star score, a measure devised by the Environmental Protection Agency to reflect energy use, was a dismal 4 out of 100. Most multifamily buildings in the city – even if decades old – score above 50. 

"For the city to meet its climate goals, almost every building needs to drastically reduce its energy usage," says Lindsay Robbins, a senior adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council who studies energy consumption in the city. "It's shocking that these high-end buildings are performing this poorly."

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