Germany: Leads on Green Retrofits
Older homes will have to meet current energy efficiency standards in Germany by 2025. Kicked off in 2006, 1.5 billion euros a year directly funds the retrofits. Learn more
Older homes will have to meet current energy efficiency standards in Germany by 2025. Kicked off in 2006, 1.5 billion euros a year directly funds the retrofits. Learn more
A new US law might result in a ban on government purchases of fuel from Canadian oil sands. Greewire [Subscribers only]
With any luck, a building constructed today can last 50, 80 or a 100 years and its lifespan will literally embody today’s money, materials, and norms. Less fortunately, this building also will create a decades-long carbon footprint whose final size will be determined by the structure’s energy consumption and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. To cut 16.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, PlaNYC 2030 calls both for improving energy efficiency in existing buildings as well as requiring that new construction be energy efficient. Shrinking our carbon footprint by 16.7 million tons translates into meeting fully half of the City’s entire carbon reduction goal.
Because the stakes are so high, let’s see where we are now. Looking only at existing buildings, PlaNYC predicts that 85% of New York City’s current building stock will be standing in 2030. Since concerns over carbon footprints and climate change are of recent vintage, a walk down any NYC street offers a glimpse of the carbon challenge embedded in our 950,000 standing structures. And it is a challenge because we cannot get anywhere near the City’s 30% target for reducing the size of our carbon footprint by the year 2030 if these existing buildings aren’t altered or “retrofitted” to become high performance green machines.
Of all New York's older buildings, exactly one has achieved a United States Green Building Council LEED rating. Although overlooked by the New York Times, the New York Mercantile Exchange achieved a LEED for Existing Buildings certification in 2007. Additionally, twenty-three existing buildings have earned Energy Star labels. This adds up to twenty-four high performance retrofits. That's a starting point.i
Here's a second starting point. To meet the commitments of PlaNYC 2030, City government promises to lead by example and the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability has developed a Short Term Action Plan. The City intends to spend up to $80 million by June 30, 2008 to cut 33,992 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) a year. Purchasing more clean vehicles is also in the Plan. These actions might be followed by an ongoing annual commitment of $80 million for cutting deeper into the City's CO2e emissions by additional retrofitting of lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electric transformers in its facilities as well as upgrading heavy-duty equipment at facilities like its sewage treatment plants. However, there is no binding funding commitment beyond June 30.
The Clinton Climate Initiative, in partnership with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, has announced an energy efficiency upgrade for the New York City Housing Authority. This is a third starting point. New York's Housing Authority is enormous; it provides some 11% of the nation' public housing and the Clinton Climate Initiative "will help NYCHA structure agreements with energy service companies, banks, product suppliers and green building organizations to enable retrofits to be completed efficiently, quickly and inexpensively". ii
Undertaking high performance, building alterations - something that McKinsey Global Institute research recommends under the rubric of improving "energy productivity" -- is the grandest urban sustainability frontier. But the momentum for large-scale transformation is not yet here. True, City government can "lead by example", pass laws that enshrine PlaNYC's carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets and encourage voluntary participation in LEED. In parallel motion, Energy Star and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Energy Smart Program offer invaluable real-world learning laboratories, but a handful of "poster child" conversions or piecemeal system improvements won't scale up to greening those 950,000 existing NYC buildings within a time frame that counts.
The only way to have a scalable, deep and durable impact is changing the rules, not just the options. The rules that matter most in New York are the City's Building Code and the State Energy Conservation Construction Code and it is an article of faith that amending them is never easy. Owners of New York City's residential and commercial properties, their real estate trade associations, as well as lenders, architects and engineers must be willing to work with environmental advocates and government representatives first to shape and then to actively accept new, green rules of the road.
Greener building and energy efficiency codes will ensure that energy efficiency investments in existing real estate are made both routine and regular. Tax codes will also play a vital role. In "Seizing the Opportunity (For Climate, Jobs, and Equity) In Building Energy Efficiency", Joel Rogers calls for "removing barriers to these investments...by aligning the treatment of energy costs and building improvements under federal tax law" and "developing markets for the 'secondary' value of greater efficiency (e.g., emission trading markets, efficiency trading markets, forward capacity markets)." The escalating cost of a status-quo level of building energy productivity is already manifest in a continued dependence on $100-a-barrel imported heating oil and ever-more-expensive natural gas consumed by local electric power plants. Looking further down the cost column, construction costs for new power plants, like almost all construction today, is spiraling up; increased electric power generating capacity will offer no relief from the bite of costly construction and commodities. These trends must impact any cost-benefit calculations for changing the rules. One catchy way of thinking about this is that the cheapest megawatt of power is the one that buildings never need. The same metric applies for heating homes and offices.
Next, let's consider the societal benefits that are built into such classic collective needs or public goods as electric grid security and reliability. Everyone agrees that new policies and plans are essential for providing relief to New York's strained energy grid. Grid relief is an obvious benefit as is finding least-cost ways of getting there. None of this, however, guarantees stakeholder agreement, availability of financing or timely action. Therefore, reducing aggregate electricity demand can't be relegated to the optional list because the reliability of the entire power supply system will be at risk at current rates of increasing power demand - and that's before another estimated million people move to New York City by 2030 and every home gets a flat-screen TV.
Whether we can ratchet down demand and protect the grid by increasing energy efficiency without constructing new power plants is a discussion for another day. For now, let's consider who could join the winners' circle in a city of mature, high performance buildings underpinned by green housing and energy efficiency code innovations. Landlords and tenants of renovated affordable housing would stand to gain with lower monthly operating and utility outlays. Provided that first costs can be contained or subsidized and that the work is done right, lower operating expenses free up more funds for mortgage payments, something of real value to lenders and underwriters. Despite New York's well-known dearth of affordable housing, high construction costs and its complex construction realities, there are a number owners, architects and contractors who are undertaking green, high performance building alterations, even if listing them all and understanding how they are performing isn't possible today.
Other potential winners are owners of commercial buildings with single tenants because carrying out building-wide mechanical systems or building envelope upgrades to reduce energy demand adds bottom-line value. This value only increases as energy costs shoot up in absolute terms, whatever their percentage of the operating cost calculation. Greening commercial buildings with multiple tenants or residential condos and co-ops is a more challenging task, according to Chris Garvin, a green architect with Cook + Fox, but that's where legal changes will be needed to create non-discretionary standards that are aligned with smart, targeted subsidy programs and the right tax code incentives. Either the Rogers or the Clinton Climate solutions outlined above could be applicable to these types of building, ownership and occupancy profiles. Among resources currently on tap, NYSERDA will work with commercial and industrial building owners and operators to help them become more energy efficient and reduce electric consumption at peak demand times. As well, both the availability and sales of Energy Star office equipment is growing.
A new generation of green-collar workers and businesses will make up a third group of winners. A New York City Apollo Alliance report finds that, "An environmentally sustainable NYC brings with it the prospect of economic benefits and good jobs: green collar jobs. For sustainability to generate widespread prosperity...Green collar jobs must provide family sustaining wages, safe working conditions and chances of advancement." A related "green collar" job initiative, Green For All, was recently launched in Oakland California under the auspices of the Clinton Climate Initiative. Green For All seeks "a national commitment to job training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy - especially for people from disadvantaged communities". Without the support of and tangible benefits to urban Americans who may not now rate fighting climate change as a top priority, we won't have sufficient velocity to overcome the inertia of business as usual and the clamor of other issues pressing for resources and solutions.
Creating a high performance winners circle requires the right kind of institution-building. As Rogers observes, large-scale participation by owners and tenants will require a way to lower the risk of failed installations and steep transactional costs. . He proposes an organizational solution. It consists of an energy efficiency "coordinating entity" to coordinate upgrade projects, a power utility that bills energy consumers and would charge for energy efficiency services in its regular billing, an energy customer who pays for the retrofitting, a bank that would loan money to the "coordinating entity", a certified energy auditor to make specific project recommendations and verify that the work was done right, and a certified contractor to perform the work. The Clinton Foundation Climate Initiative offers a slightly different version of this solution that relies more on energy service companies and less on third party verification.
Still ahead is development of smart public policy that aligns with and amplifies the impact of code amendments in order to reduce the costs of compliance while increasing the benefits of high performance retrofits. Without such alignments, competing capital needs, as well as the fear of new or untested technologies and a lack of skilled, certified contractors will scare off all but the bravest owners and tenants. Let's also acknowledge a nearly universal preference for avoiding building code applicability when possible; owners and architects have been known to exercise considerable ingenuity to ensure that their proposed alterations fall below the legally defined threshold for building alterations.iii It's clear now that the greatest value of greener energy and building codes will lie in the inclusiveness of their application. And, as always, competent and honest code enforcement is a must whether it applies to greener buildings or worker safety.
Code writers face the challenge of crafting statutory wording that will govern which alternations are covered or exempted from code requirements. State, City and high performance stakeholders must consult and work together on this fine print. A final point to acknowledge in this context is the well-known split incentive problem where "the builder pays but the tenant benefits". But even here, a mix of greener code requirements, tax incentives and a transforming market place as energy efficient buildings achieve greater market cache, would go a long way toward making energy efficient retrofits into Rogers' "killer app".
So, with so much to gain by greening our existing buildings stock, what other barriers or distractions should we anticipate? Here too, it will be the fine print that matters most. The prime task of building codes everywhere is setting minimum standards for public safety and health. Relevant energy-use standards are found in the New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code (ECCC) that lays out requirements for design of building envelopes as well as the mechanical, electrical, hot water and lighting systems for residential and commercial properties. A critical part of the ECCC is its requirement that mechanical and electrical systems meet the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1 standard. Now, a more advanced high performance standard, ASHRAE 189 of 2007, has a goal of achieving at least 30% better energy efficiency than the 90.1 standard. It's a safe bet that inertia in the real estate and financial industries, lack of trained contractors and workers, materials and equipment without a performance record will all press against rapid adoption of greener codes and reference standards.
Advocates of greener codes must take care to see that they apply to the widest possible range of building alterations in order to realize their potential impact on energy efficiency, operating savings and carbon emissions cuts. An allied new law should be enacted that would establish a centralized high performance building data registry and make use of a widely accepted, system of measurement and verification. Such a registry can be a powerful tool for understanding how well new code provisions are working to maximize a building's energy productivity and where further code improvements may be required.
Now it becomes evident where the performance and data driven models found in Energy Star's National Energy Performance Ratingiv and labeling programs or NYSERDA's Energy Smart programs as well as the Rogers and the Clinton Climate Initiative models could really shine. These are our learning laboratories and data banks filled with the results of real world measurement and verification. Energy Star, by definition, is for existing buildings because applicants must submit extensive data on actual energy performance in order to receive an Energy Star label. The Star is awarded for real performance, not design aspirations. The Rogers and Clinton models share the fundamental insight that lenders are repaid out of actual saving achieved by energy retrofits. Projects that are poorly designed, badly executed or inadequately operated won't generate the revenue stream to ensure loan repayment. This creates a real incentive to get it right.
Let's end with the Rogers paper, "Seizing the Opportunity". "We should be aiming to make building energy efficiency as basic a norm of civil behavior as obeying traffic lights, not driving drunk and not blowing cigarette smoke in a baby's face. It's pretty basic". Rogers is right.
Later this year, Sallan's website will post a report on research conducted by the CUNY Building Performance Lab. It will assess the impact of the City Building Code and the State Energy Conservation Construction Code on energy outcomes in New York City, because starting over is not an option.
Facility managers are on the front line to improve the sustainability of existing buildings, even green ones. Mind the gaps
Three environmental advocacy organizations filed a petition with the President's Council on Environmental Quality seeking amendments and guidance documents that would direct all federal agencies to perform climate change analysis as part of their National Environmental Protection Act review. Read it
A federal court overturns California's rule that cuts smog-forming ships' emissions. Ahoy there
New Yorks 10,00 black car limos will have to get 30 MPG by 2010 under the Mayor's new plan. Gear up
The British government wants utilities to rein in energy prices for those living in "fuel poverty". Follow this
Among Presidential contenders only Clinton and Paul will speak at a Greater Houston Partnership energy industry conference on Thursday. Stay tuned
Guardian UK Blog
Sallan Looks Back. London's a leader in urban sustainability, which makes PlaNYC 2030 news in London. Nancy provides the back story on where buildings fit into the mix.
Great to see what Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC look like from "across the pond". I'd like to add some thoughts from a New Yorker's perspective. The key to success for NYC, and I suspect for London too, is greening its building stock.
With any luck, a building constructed today can last 50, 80 or a 100 years and its lifespan will literally embody today's money, materials, and norms. Less fortunately, this building also will create a decades-long carbon footprint whose final size will be determined by the structure's energy consumption and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. To cut 16.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, PlaNYC 2030 calls both for improving energy efficiency in existing buildings as well as requiring that new construction be energy efficient. Shrinking our carbon footprint by 16.7 million tons translates into meeting fully half of the City's entire carbon reduction goal.
Because the stakes are so high, let's see where we are now. Looking only at existing buildings, PlaNYC predicts that 85% of New York City's current building stock will be standing in 2030. Since concerns over carbon footprints and climate change are of recent vintage, a walk down any NYC street offers a glimpse of the carbon challenge embedded in our 950,00 standing structures. And it is a challenge because we cannot get anywhere near the City's 30% target for reducing the size of our carbon footprint by the year 2030 if these existing buildings aren't altered or "retrofitted" to become high performance green machines.
Of all New York's older buildings, exactly one has achieved a United States Green Building Council LEED rating. Although overlooked by the New York Times, the New York Mercantile Exchange achieved a LEED for Existing Buildings certification in 2007. Additionally, twenty-three existing buildings have earned Energy Star labels. This adds up to twenty-four high performance retrofits. That's a starting point.
Consider these 24 buildings as the "cream of the crop". The entire number of energy-improved buildings is certainly larger, but there is no aggregating, authoritative record keeper to cite. "Without publication there is no discovery" is the rule-of-thumb here.
London, how do you do keep score?
US legislation to cap & trade GHGs should enable a global offset market rather than a US-only scheme say financial analysts. Clean Development Mechanism deals would keep a lid on domestic carbon prices. Greenwire [Subscribers only]
A report by the Energy Committee of the NYC Bar Association recommends creation of a State Energy Policy Board. Fine print
Catch up on the climate and energy views of the five remaining Presidential contenders. Go Grist
Starting daily savings time earlier wastes energy claims new study. Fall back?
Worried over the potential for the proliferation of nuclear technology while upping domestic nuclear power, the UK joins a US-lead partnership. GNEP
Some see a trendy community coming to the Gowanus Canal, others have some serious reservations. Look into it
Virgin Airlines tests biofuel made from coconuts and babassu nuts. Emissions are the same as conventional jet fuel, but advocates say biofuel production is more sustainable. Fly?
Some say no more coal, others look to carbon capture and sequestration programs. Peer in
Popular Science rates the 50 greenest big cities in the US. NYC does best on mass transit. No one's a star in 'green living'. Count it up
Worldwide clean energy investments decline due to evaporating credit and market jitters. Ouch
A new policy study finds that sales taxes, gas prices and social preferences are the most powerful incentives in consumer decisions to buy hybrid fuel cars. Drive in
The British government says that shutdown and clean-up costs for the new generation of nuclear power plants must be paid by owners. Start counting
In the face of rising domestic emissions, the Japanese government will highlight global warming at this summer's Group of Eight meeting, but its own route to cutting GHG's is far from certain. Look ahead
For an array of reasons, this academic study finds that solar photovoltaic power isn't ready for prime time. Plug in
A look at the US Climate Action Partnership finds some corporate members don't act so green. Walk the walk
A review of the scientific literature during the cold 1970's shreds the claim of any climate cooling scientific consensus. Chill
Take some time to get acquainted with the new science of paleo-tempestology. Get started
Environmental justice groups in California campaign against Governor Schwarzenegger's carbon cap and trade plan. Stay tuned
Lenders and underwriters grapple with how to benchmark the dollar value of green buildings. Count on it
Porsche, manufacturer of ultra-high carbon emitting $100K cars, challenges London's $49 congestion fee. Look under that bonnet
If you worry about the carbon footprint of your morning glass of OJ, here's the life cycle analysis you need. Drink up
Farmers can sell carbon credits for agricultural practices they've already adopted--or they can take the credits off the market and reduce overall carbon emissions. Choose
Brokers are touting green homes while banks offer eco-mortgages. Move in
Scientists find that breathing is still a health risk in big American cities. [Hint: another reason to change our energy habits.] Inhale
European heavy industry is concerned about ending free carbon emission permits; fears "carbon leakage" linked to non-ETS nations. In action?
The energy may be out of the alternative energy stock boom. Get down
Commercial and residential development in LA bigger than 50,000 square feet will have to meet LEED certification standards. LEED Silver-rated projects will get fast track permits from the city. Click here
Giant institutional investors demand Congressional action to combat climate change and seek corporate disclosure reporting to the SEC on risks linked to climate change. Money talks
A Who's Who list of global corporations pledges to do more to fight climate change by developing new energy efficient products because governments aren't leading the way. Act now
Duke Energy opposes the carbon auction provisions in the Lieberman Warner climate bill. E&E Daily [Subscribers only]
What to do with all that carbon? Here's a primer on how to put it someplace secure and long-term. Enter here
China's chief environmental official accuses local officials of undermining a green credit program by funding polluters. Debit that
Despite costly disruptions at two on-line plants, British Energy advances in talks about ten new nuclear reactors. Stay tuned
Visiting a Maryland auto plant, Hillary Clinton called for new green collar jobs in manufacturing clean hybrid vehicles. [Stay tuned for her ideas when she's campaigning in coal-rich Ohio.] Read more
A UN study finds that shipping is responsible for 4.5% of the world's CO2 emissions. That's less than cars but more than planes. Sail away
A 'railroad renaissance' comes to the US. Investment in expansion and repairs climbs. Go Dinah!
US energy companies see climate legislation in their future and it will price carbon. Today, clean energy investments are becoming a safe bet. Move on
A Kansas Senate committee votes for a bill to allow construction of coal-fired power plants with no carbon controls; override of a Governor's veto unlikely Step back
With record high oil prices, coal-to-liquid technology won't need government support to turn a profit. Banks will fund projects that capture carbon because they will be cap & trade market-ready says industry expert. Greenwire [Subscribers only]
China's appetite for coal is pushing global prices to record highs. Boon for US and Australian producers. Feel feverish?
While London's congestion charge hasn't unsnarled its traffic, things would be even worse without it and bus ridership is up. None of London's mayoral candidates call for repealing the charge. Make haste slowly
Mayor Bloomberg will cut NYC's use of tropical hardwoods by 20%. Act locally
Australia's biggest telecommunications company sees new technology as the key to cutting the country's GHG emissions. Think teleworking
City governments large and small are the engines of energy saving innovations. Nine places
Giving a speech at the UN, Mayor Bloomberg repeated his call for a US carbon tax as a major tool to combat climate change. Candidates listening?
A new report finds that European demand for palm oil-derived biofuel is linked to human rights abuses in Indonesia and urges the EU to rethink its biofuel targets. Read more
Sallan says Andy Revkin's "Endless Pursuit of Unnecessary Things" asked the wrong questions.
This Presidential election season is a good time to ask the right ones. Read Nancy's comment #21 in response to Revkin's Feb 6 Posting.
By asking about the sustainability of our collective future in terms of “how many people” and “how much will they consume”, I hear Four Horsemen in Hair Shirts clattering toward us to save the planet! But when they arrive, will Americans, Chinese and everyone else mend their “too many and too much” ways in the face of war, famine and disease? Fear and want rarely bring out the best in us and dire conditions can turn anyone into an immigrant or a case of population excess. Perhaps this Hair Shirt foursome will make us profligates mend our ways and emulate the environmentally virtuous, but don’t count on it.
Today, sustainability and climate aren’t make the cut of top issues in the US Presidential race. The fact is that by casting these critical issues as a matter of consumer choice and lifestyle is deeply apolitical and it means that they won’t make the cut. But it’s not too late to find the public and collective aspects of a path toward sustainability, but we have to start by asking the right questions.
While urban America takes pride in its (relatively) small carbon footprint, big footprint suburbs are looking to compete by shrinking their GHG emissions. Get down
Policy makers must build economic fairness into any carbon cap and trade scheme. It should buffer families least able to afford inevitable increases in energy prices. Consider that
Nearly all biofuels are responsible for more GHG emissions than conventional fuels, once their lifecycle impact is considered. Ethanol from Brazilan sugarcane may be an exception. Here's why
Responding to protest over the Department Of Energy's funding cuts for an IGCC coal-fired power plant, some argue that only the carbon-capture part of the technology needs federal support. Follow the debate. Greenwire [Subscribers only]
A senior Republican Party strategist identifies the fight against global warming as a good way to attract independent voters to the GOP ticket. Feel warmer?
Green collar jobs could be bright spot in darker economic times-and federal tax policy might be the key. Work on it
Facts on the ground prove that homes can be both high performance green and affordable to more New Yorkers. Learn how
The EPA issues standards for energy efficient, Energy Star televisions. View that
The Kansas Senate favors construction of a coal-fired power plant blocked by the State's environmental protection agency last year. Learn more
Now that the US has pulled the funding plug on clean coal technology, will Australia do the same? Look into it
President Bush's proposed budget provides $0 for a GHG registry mandated by Congress. Bush also chops $300 million from EPA, bringing agency funding down to to the lowest level in years. EE Daily [Subscribers only]
The "forward" price curve of oil is up, although current spot market prices are lower. Next?
If the EU sets a 35 MPG standard for auto manufacturers, they will meet the challenge, says former oil industry executive. Go, Go!
London launches a war on trucks whose diesel exhaust exceeds EU limits. Inhale
Investment banks starting to link funding for new coal-fired power plants with cleaner power production. Check it out
Here's a look at climate scientists working to coordinate models, funds and research. The newest thing is the Meta-ensemble
Despite hefty subsidies and profits, the wind farm industry in England is becalmed. Why?
Knowing what we now know about our planet's peril, there is no excuse for building a new building that does not take advantage of best practices to achieve energy efficiency and to otherwise minimize its environmental impact. But what about New York City's approximately one million existing buildings? These properties are responsible for seventy-nine percent of its carbon emissions. And, by the City's estimates, in 2030, the target date of the PlaNYC 2030, they will comprise 85% percent of the total building stock. So, even if every single new building that comes on line in the next 22 years is carbon neutral (unlikely), we will not near our goals for reducing carbon emissions without sharply reducing emissions from the existing building stock.
Energy consumption is the source of virtually all carbon emissions from existing buildings. Fortunately, substantial knowledge exists and continues to grow about how to make buildings more energy efficient. For one-to-four-family homes, energy retrofits using an integrated-system approach (also called a whole-house or building-as-system approach) are widely recognized and employed in weatherization and energy retrofit initiatives across the country. The whole-house approach starts with an energy audit which determines where energy is used and wasted, accounts for the interaction of various systems and considers comfort and safety in addition to energy use. Using the integrated system approach, insulation, heating systems, ventilation, windows, appliances and fixtures are all considered and recommendations are made 'holistically' for prioritizing measures that will save the most energy. Numerous studies have documented 20% to 50% and even greater reductions in energy use, through the process of residential building retrofits, using this approach. (For example, download Michael Rogers, et al, Home Performance with Energy Star®: Delivering Savings with a Whole-House Approach at Energy Star; and Jennifer Thorne, Residential Retrofits: Directions in Market Transformation, at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy)
This Snapshot focuses on the contracting industry for New York City's 808,509 one-to-four-family homes, eighty-four percent of New York City's buildings. It discusses the challenges ahead, offers some recommendations and gives examples of steps that the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority is taking to meet the task.
The Home Improvement Market
Across the country, even after a dip in spending, American homeowners spent $174 billion on home improvements in 2007. In New York, homeowners and multi-family building owners spend hundreds of millions of dollars on building improvement every year. Much of the expenditures in this market make up the livelihood of 10,000 contractors that are licensed to work here — either general contractors or specialty contractors. A general contractor will oversee all aspects of a medium- to large-scale renovation. Specialty contractors, either working under subcontract to a general contractor or independently under the owner/manager's supervision, more typical in smaller jobs, implement the specific tasks of their trade, for example, heating, plumbing, electrical work. The contracting industry is not yet prepared for the massive task of retrofitting the over 800,000 one- to four-family homes in New York City.
While there are many contractors who will properly install all of the individual components that may impact on a building's energy use — windows, heating and ventilation, plumbing, insulation — no one trade is responsible for the interaction of the systems on energy use. For example, the insulation may be installed without knowing if the heating system is back drafting in the house; the heating system may be sized and installed without knowing whether the roof is insulated. In larger projects, where an architect or engineer is involved, s/he can (should) play the role of ensuring maximum efficiency, though, often, it is not done well, even then.
Limited number of skilled contractors
There is a clear opportunity for the contracting industry to meet the emerging demand for energy retrofits. At this time, there are only a few dozen contractors in the City who are trained and experienced in implementing energy retrofits. These are the contractors who currently participate in the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal's Weatherization Assistance Program (for low-income homeowners only) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's (NYSERDA) Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (R) program (for both low-income and market-rate housing). Home Performance with Energy Star offers homeowners and contractors incentives to undertake a whole house approach to retrofitting one- to four-family homes and is now aggressively marketing the program and recruiting new contractors here.
Insufficient benefit for reducing energy use
Another hurdle to wide scale retrofitting is that, for jobs conducted independently of the State's programs, there is no incentive for contractors to recommend work outside of their trade. For example, even if the heating contractor recognizes that the heat is being wasted due to a lack of insulation, that contractor gets little or no reward for recommending that the homeowner consider insulation. That is, the heating contractor will get paid for installing or repairing or replacing the heating system, not for suggesting insulation. What's more, s/he will size the system to adequately heat the leaky building. As discussed below, NYSERDA's programs address this by paying incentives to contractors for making referrals to other trades that impact on energy efficiency.
Typically, in the absence of NYSERDA or other incentive programs, homeowners call contractors because: 1) there is an emergency (i.e., the hot water heater breaks down); 2) they wish to solve a particular problem (i.e. their back rooms are cold and drafty or their heating bills are too high); or 3) they want to remodel all or part of their house. While all of these situations present an opportunity to reduce energy use, the opportunity is, most often, squandered. The homeowners' first step is to go through a difficult process of a) trying to figure out the type of contractor they need b) finding a trustworthy contractor, and c), negotiating the scope of work that contractor will perform, and the price the homeowner will pay. Energy audits are almost never requested, or, therefore, conducted. Sometimes the presenting contractor(s) will promise energy use reductions that are unsupportable. This is an issue that is addressed by the quality assurance and testing out that the whole house approach used in the Weatherization and Home Performance with Energy Star program but is rarely used outside these programs.
If our goal is to realize every opportunity to increase energy efficiency, how can we make this happen? Following are some ideas:
Build a sector of the contracting industry that specializes in energy auditing for existing buildings
Energy auditing requires specific expertise, but not the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to become a licensed architect or engineer. To develop this new sector, New York City and State should work together to build on existing efforts to:
Increase education for contractors to learn how to conduct energy audits
To conduct the home energy audit that is critical to the whole house approach, contractors must understand the basics of building science and learn how to effectively assess the energy uses of a building. They must learn how to use diagnostic equipment such as a blower door, manometer and infrared cameras. Facility with computer software programs that can generate energy audits and the ability to manage documentation increase the likelihood for positive results. Likely candidates to target for such education includes contractors that install heating systems, insulation, ventilation, windows, roofs, electrical lighting and other appliances. Other candidates may be individuals who work on the margins of the contracting industry, for example handymen. Developing this new sector is an opportunity to benefit disadvantaged workers and businesses.
NYSERDA offers education opportunities and is currently reimbursing 100% of the costs for City-based contractors to attend classes that lead to Certification by the Building Performance Institute, (BPI) a national credentialing organization for building performance (for class information visit: AEANYC.org). Contractors that receive accreditation can participate in NYSERDA's Home Performance with Energy Star program. NYSERDA also contracts with Hudson Valley Community College to develop programs to train high school and college students in this emerging field and classes are being offered in New York City, for example at Bronx Community College.
Develop and disseminate profitable business models for building auditors
As almost anyone in the industry will report, contracting isn't an easy way to make a living. Insurance requirements, licensing, finding and retaining good workers, dealing with the clients and getting the jobs done keep contractors busy from early in the morning to late at night. There is an opportunity for workforce and business development organizations to develop business models for making energy audits profitable. The successful contractors that are working under the Home Performance Program upstate would provide examples for developing business plans.
Create incentives for contractors to change the way they do business
In the absence of regulation, incentives to both contractors and consumers are warranted. As an example of incentives to contractors: NYSERDA offers subsidies to contractors to take classes and test for certification (100% reimbursement), shares in the cost for equipment purchase and helps pay for advertising. NYSERDA also provides additional incentives to contractors to conduct audits and retrofits and addresses industry fragmentation by providing incentives to bring in contractors from other trades.
Modernize the rules on energy use by existing buildings
Contractors would start to pay more attention to offering energy audits efficiency audits if they were required. In addition to providing incentives, City government might consider requiring an energy audit when an alteration permit is approved by the Department of Buildings or a building is sold. In addition, building codes should be revised to require high-efficiency heating systems, appliances and lighting fixtures. There are no regulations on energy use or carbon emissions for existing buildings; the only penalties to property owners for running energy-inefficient buildings are their high fuel bills.
Increase the market for energy audits
Although many owners want to save energy, owners are not often able or willing to pay the up-front costs of energy retrofits or aware of the incentives available to them. Increased funding is needed to promote and expand existing programs and to increase consumers' understanding of the long-term benefits of retrofits. The more homeowners and consumers are aware of the advantages of retrofits, the more likely they will try to take advantage of existing and new resources.
Mayor Bloomberg has put out a progressive and ambitious plan to save energy and reduce carbon emissions in PlaNYC 2030 but we have a long way to go to get there. Contractors are an important "hands on" part of the solution for reducing the City's energy use. With that recognition, there is an opportunity to grow a new building audit trade that can benefit New York's air quality, shrink its climate footprint, reduce utility costs of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and expand economic equality at the same time. Let's seize it.
Wendy Fleischer is Sustainability Project Manager at the Pratt Center for Community Development
Sallan | News and Views | Snapshot | Wendy Fleischer | Comments
Existing Homes: the Frontline of Global Warming
The Wonkster Readers weigh in
February 5, 2008
Building on the consensus that existing homes present the biggest hurdle in reducing carbon emissions in the city, the Sallan Foundation, an environmental organization, looks to contractors' role in addressing the issue. It notes that the majority of home improvement contractors do not communicate with one another when addressing individual issues such as heating. So, for example, a contractor who installs a new heating system often does not look to see whether the home could be better weatherized. Further, there are a limited number of contractors specialized in reducing energy use in existing homes.
To address these issues, the Sallan Foundation recommends training contractors to conduct energy audits and giving incentives to contractors and consumers to conduct such audits and retrofit the homes to be more energy efficient. The organization also suggests requiring an energy audit when an alteration permit is approved by the Department of Buildings or when a building is sold.
By Mike Muller on February 5, 2008, 3:24 pm | Reply on The Wonkster
The most critical thing is to get homeowners to consider rooftop solar when it is time to replace the roof. That is the time to do it.
By Larry Littlefield on February 6, 2008, 12:58 pm | Reply on The Wonkster
Getting an audit to identify energy leaks and implementing cost-effective measures such as insulation and heating system adjustments are not only more accessible to homeowners but are more critical in the immediate-term.
Colin Cathcart, whose architectural firm, Kiss + Cathcart, has probably done more high-profile solar installations than anybody else in NYC recommends that homeowners 'spend your first dollar on conservation'.
NYSERDA's incentives through the Home Performance with Energy Star program make getting a home energy assessment and implementing conservation measures inexpensive for the homeowner and financially lucrative for the contractor.
By Wendy Fleischer on February 7, 2008, 1:40 pm | Reply on The Wonkster
Transportation and energy breakdowns in China during brutal winter weather highlight the need for cutting the country's carbon cravings. Chop chop
Torrid growth of California's solar industry gets a boost from surging private investment as well as state and municipal subsidies. How sunny
European power plants face escalating coal prices. Will they resist new EU carbon emissions cuts or seek new technologies? Stay tuned
This Congressional think piece explores how domestic climate legislation could "encourage" developing nations to curb GHG emissions in a framework of international trade that meets WTO rules. Tariffs, standards, or markets?