Frank Lovece in Building Operations on April 17, 2020
Most of the 1,200 apartments in the Clinton Hill Co-op have three radiators. To attack the chronic problem of imbalanced heat, the co-op board decided to install a Radiator Cozy on each radiator. The Cozy, the invention of Brooklyn-based Radiator Labs, uses insulation, a small fan and computer-regulated controls to keep too much steam out of hot apartments while sending more to cold ones. Each one has to be custom-made and installed, at a cost of $650 to $850. So the Clinton Hill board was looking at an outlay of about $3 million.
“But there are some NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] grants and rebates that we're dealing with," says the co-op’s property manager, Steve Greenbaum of Charles H. Greenthal. “We're also doing an RTEM [Real-Time Energy Management] program, which should get us back about close to $900,000.”
The RTEM incentive is obviously a key piece of this puzzle. What is it? It means that a system – in this case, Clinton Hill's steam-heat system – feeds continuous performance data from sensors and meters into a cloud-based or onsite computer program. That data can be analyzed to optimize a building's energy usage. So real-time energy management is being able to “see” your building’s operations and react quickly to any problems.
By sharing data wirelessly via a "dashboard" that’s viewable on a computer or smartphone screen, all the Cozys “talk” to each other," says Timo Lipping, who was board president during the project. "You can tell the temperature of each radiator in each unit in the complex. That's incredibly powerful data that allows us to tweak the infrastructure. You can tell if maybe you have structural issues, like a completely clogged pipe. Or you can tweak your boiler-plant operation: 'This line is getting nice and warm, this one isn't. Let's adjust that.’”
The system can also issue alerts to the person monitoring the dashboard – the super, building manager, board members. Radiator Labs charges a subscription for this, $50 per apartment per year.
"NYSERDA sets the standards for the frequency of which the vendor must collect data," says Samantha Pearce, director of energy management service for Bright Power, the co-op’s energy consultant. "They require us to submit, every six months, the raw data." During this yearlong monitoring phase, she adds, "NYSERDA's role is strictly data collection to prove that the work took place and the points are being monitored."
In terms of installation, there were the usual logistics of scheduling workers to enter apartments. In addition, Lipping says, the Clinton Hill board insisted that the crews installing the covers were certified to inspect for asbestos and lead. Neither of those toxic compounds was found.
Lipping doesn’t expect maintenance of the units to pose any problems. "The body of it is just metal and insulation,” he says. “The only part that might change is the [control] panel in the middle. They put all the guts into this one panel that's really easy to take out. I understand it's going to be no problem training our maintenance people to do any replacements." The built-in fan needs to be plugged into an outlet, but it’s low-amperage and will have negligible impact on an apartment's electrical bill.
Installation, which began last spring, is “going pretty well," says Greenbaum, the property manager, and by the turn of the year the job was about 40 percent complete. Residents were told the project would take less than two years, and it now appears it might be complete within a year and a half.
Lipping warns that Radiator Cozys need to be part of a holistic approach to a building's heating system. "You can't just install them on a system that's broken,” he says. “It's like a final adjustment. You still have to make sure the boiler is working right, your vacuum pumps are working right, all your valves and steam traps are working right, that your controls are working right. If you just slap on the Radiator Cozy, it's like putting a Band-Aid on it."
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