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Seminole Co-op Cuts Costs by $40K with Wireless Heat Sensors, Dodges Fines

Emily Myers in Green Ideas

Forest Hills

A low-cost shift from basic heating controls to wireless indoor heat sensors is generating more than $40,000 a year in energy savings for shareholders at Seminole Owners Corporation, a 349-unit co-op in Forest Hills. The cost of the upgrades, carried out last August, came in at $14,722 after the project received a $10,578 utility rebate from National Grid. Not only has the move reduced winter heating bills, it’s also cutting emissions and making the apartments more comfortable.

The co-op complex at 72-61 and 72-81 113th St. is managed by FirstService Residential, and it was senior property manager, Amanda Mercado, who realized the building was overheating in winter. Residents were used to having radiators on full blast but were cracking open windows or even running their in-window air conditioning units on warm winter days. “I just saw the dollars being thrown out of the window and I knew we had to do something about it,” Mercado says. 

The solution was to replace heating controls based only on outdoor temperatures with dozens of indoor heat sensors developed by technology and service provider, Runwise. The vertically integrated controls were installed in 100 apartments, allowing the one-pipe heating system to operate based on actual indoor temperatures. “The system makes predictions about what the optimal indoor temperature should be every 15 minutes, and then runs the heating system precisely to deliver that temperature,” says Lee Hoffman, Runwise’s co-founder and president. 

The smart controls will turn the heating off because apartments are warm. Controls based on outdoor temperatures don’t have that flexibility. With the gas-fired boiler getting more accurate data, it runs steam heating cycles more efficiently. The savings this past winter— more than 42,000 — represented a 23.6% reduction in energy usage and fossil fuel consumption. 

The low-cost installation was attractive to shareholders, as were the guaranteed savings. The shoulder seasons in fall and spring are when the biggest savings are generated. “When the weather is mild, you can see 60%-70% reductions in energy use,” Hoffman says. 

One unique aspect of the co-op — which has more than 100 sponsor-held units — is its large rental population. There are also three sponsor board members, one of whom had familiarity with Runwise in a separate investment building. Mercado says this prompted conversations that helped educate others about the program. “It’s a unique dynamic for a New York City co-op board,” she says. 

The co-op pays an annual service fee of $14,375 to Runwise for monitoring and control of the system, remote access to the software, training, ongoing support and a secure, dedicated internet line for the services. This ensures the building gets results from the equipment. “A representative is dedicated to each account to make sure the building is hitting its results and if not, to go in and figure out why,” Hoffman says. Along with the ability to detect problems within the system, the software also monitors the building’s water, identifying if there’s a leak and ensuring the hot water is at the correct temperature. 

The installation took only a day and was paid for out of the building’s reserves, without the need for an assessment. Based on energy data from 2022, the co-op was facing annual Local Law 97 penalties of $72,400 in 2030, but according to projections from Runwise, the new system will help shave off at least $60,000 in fines for each year.

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