As part of our Problem Solved series, Habitat spoke with Thomas Morrisson, director of energy management at En-Power Group.
The problem. We’re working with a 70-unit co-op in the heart of the South Bronx that was facing rising energy costs, a low-C letter grade for energy efficiency and looming penalties for carbon emissions under Local Law 97. The board wanted to do something not only to reduce those penalties and improve their letter grade but, more importantly, to reduce operating costs so the building could remain affordable for working families.
They have a very active board president, Derek Jones, who was incredibly motivated to tackle these issues. He really wanted to make his building an example for how existing and older buildings, particularly in the Bronx, could become energy efficient and be seen as green. So, knowing that they had strong motivation to act, we, along with a number of other contractors, worked with the board to identify various measures to help reduce their energy usage and operating costs.
The resistance. We typically find that multi-pronged projects like this are driven by the board, or by individual members within the board. They tend to be our biggest allies and the biggest proponents at the building level because there are always going to be residents who kind of push back. It's really the people at the buildings who have to turn that backlash into optimism for energy-efficiency projects — because there's always some trepidation by the residents over their electric bill, or a loss of heat, or some economic reason why they may not want these projects to move forward.
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The solution. So we made a number of recommendations. At the heart of the project was a conversion from oil to natural gas. That included a boiler upgrade as well as installing a separate domestic hot water heating system, so they could shut down the boiler during non-heating months, which provides significant energy savings. They also installed enhanced boiler controls with indoor temperature sensors throughout the building, and they upgraded the common-area lighting to LEDs. On the in-unit level, residents were able to swap out their light bulbs for LEDs and install replacement shower heads and aerators. They did a number of other projects, including installing a rooftop solar array and electricity submeters. Now residents are paying for their electricity consumption, which drives conservation by individual residents who want to reduce their own energy bills. Meanwhile, the board refinanced the mortgage, which freed up some money to invest in these energy-efficiency measures without a maintenance increase or assessment.
Right now they're going through certification to get the building designated an ENERGY STAR-certified building, or a green building. They had not been eligible for that certification prior to implementing all these efficiency measures.
What it’s telling us. These were relatively modest capital projects. They didn’t electrify the whole building; they simply modified existing systems over several years. All these projects had payback periods that were in the order of about five years, and that made it very attractive to the board and the shareholders. And they've seen really significant results. In 2017, they had a low-C letter grade with an ENERGY STAR score of a 58. In 2021 that score improved to a 94, which puts them in the A category. They've seen an overall reduction of about 30% of their energy usage and a complete elimination of penalties under Local Law 97, both in 2024 and 2030. This story highlights what a board working with an engineering firm can accomplish.
Co-op and condo board business broken down into bite-sized bits - 2 stories each week. Read now on all digital devices.