Remember our wild idea about wind turbines in Central Park? Well, maybe it isn’t so wild after all. Climate change and our environmental impact are becoming a larger worry every day, with high building emissions at the center of much concern. So much so that everyone from architects to engineers to tech entrepreneurs is seriously rethinking energy efficiency and the way we live together in buildings.
As a condo or co-op board member, you’re probably wondering: how’d we get here, and what are some of the most innovative building solutions to cut down on energy consumption?
How’d we get here?
In cities like New York City, buildings are the top greenhouse gas emitters by a long shot - from the materials they’re made of and the amount of energy needed to power them. To stand a fighting chance at saving our planet, our buildings need a super boost into the future. So, what specifically makes them so detrimental to the environment?
- Age: Many of New York City’s buildings are now beautiful dinosaurs with heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems that aren’t designed to keep up with our modern way of life. Plus, our newest city energy codes mean most of these older buildings need a total makeover to even compete with the latest models.
- Materials: Obviously, the building materials we use are critical in cutting down energy waste. While pretty, solid masonry like heavy brick tends to have a higher thermal mass and may need more energy to keep inside temperatures stable. Compare this to modern buildings with super-insulated walls, low emissivity windows, and green roofs that significantly cut down on energy consumption while elevating people’s quality of life.
- Resident behaviors: Different ways residents consume energy in dense cities can also impact energy consumption, including:
- The number of residents and their daily habits can be a big factor. Are they working in the building all day every day or are they going into the office, traveling, or spending most of their time outside?
- Changes in the weather can also have a big toll on energy consumption. Do you live somewhere with cold winters that require heat and hot summers that require powerful AC?
- Different times of day call for different energy demands. Energy spikes are usually seen in the mornings and evenings.
- Housing demand: Housing has been and continues to be in high demand in big cities. To solve this issue, high-rise residential buildings have become a staple of city skylines. Yet, these buildings often create more environmental problems and can be very expensive to construct, update, and maintain.
What’s New York City doing about all this right now?
New York City passed a number of landmark laws, building codes, regulations, and city programs for condos and coops to follow - many of which are on a yearly basis. Check out our additional guides on the local laws below:
- Local Law 84: Benchmarking Law
- Local Law 87: Energy Audits & Re-commissioning
- Local Law 97: Carbon Emission Limits
What can boards and residents start doing now? What kind of retrofits and new technologies are available?
There are a few efficiency strategies and renewable energy options that you can implement into your building life right now.
- Sustainable planning and landscaping: Turn your condo into a green oasis with innovative landscaping and site development, including:
- Green and solar roofs to capture energy for use and reduce solar heat.
- Strategic plant selections and landscaping techniques to cut down on maintenance, provide your building shade and support wildlife habitat (save the bees!).
- Innovative water systems to manage stormwater, mitigate flooding, and support sewer systems.
- Access to sustainable transportation, like public transportation, a secure bike room, car charging stations, and more.
- Financing and incentive programs: Don’t worry, we’ve got a guide on funding energy projects, too. Check it out here!
- Retrofits: Review your energy audit and re-commissioning report to identify the best retrofits to lower your building’s emissions, such as:
- Installing new windows, such as those with a low-emissivity coating, will significantly reduce heat transfer. If possible, strategically place your windows to allow for better natural ventilation throughout the building.
- Insulating your walls, roof, and floors can help better regulate the indoor temperature while sealing all windows and doors can ensure there are no unwanted air leaks or drafts.
- Integrating trombe walls (thick dark walls that absorb sunlight and radiate heat into living spaces) and sunspaces (glazed areas that act as greenhouses, trapping heat during the day and releasing it into the building during the night).
- Replacing old HVAC and lighting systems with high-efficiency alternatives. Check out some more ideas here!
- Installing shading devices, such as overhangs and awnings, to limit direct sunlight into your building.
- Smart home technologies and systems: Smart technology is getting, well, smarter every day. You can finally turn your building into a smart house.
- Smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart appliances, smart meters - everything is smart and working together now. You can now monitor, control, optimize, and personalize your energy and living habits all in real-time, even when you aren’t physically at home.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all the rage, even in energy efficiency. It can optimize energy usage and improve overall building performance by gathering data and optimizing performance in real-time - cutting down on energy waste without constant human supervision.
- New tools and technologies, such as resident apps and integrated building operating systems, can build connection and community, turning your building into a home. Check out Daisy’s tech-driven approach to better building life.
- Renewable energies: Leave the fossil fuels with the dinosaurs and start taking advantage of solar (panels on your rooftop, open spaces, and more), wind (those turbines aren’t so wild now!), and geothermal systems (heat pumps that exchange heat with the ground). They all have the power to dramatically decrease energy costs, increase property value, and get you far away from fossil fuels.
- Societal change: We can have the best technology in the world, but it won’t matter if we as a society don’t change our habits. Check out some of our tips for helping board members discuss energy laws, particularly Local Law 97, with residents here.
What about the crazy, forward-thinking ideas like the wind turbines in Central Park?
Wind turbines are old news compared to some of these futuristic building ideas.
- Modular buildings: Buildings may become more adaptable to changing needs and technologies, with modular construction and smart home systems that allow residents to easily customize their living spaces and modular layouts that can be easily modified.
- Building information modeling (BIM): This digital representation of a building’s physical characteristics now allows architects, engineers, and contractors to all collaborate before construction begins, resulting in more efficient and sustainable buildings.
- 3D printing: Right now, 3D printing technology is being used to print complex building components. Soon, it may be possible to 3D print entire buildings - walls, roofs, floors - in a matter of hours, reducing construction time and costs while allowing you to customize all you want.
- Vertical forests: You’ve seen the concept art of buildings covered in trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. Their facades and rooftops will mimic natural forests even in the middle of an urban environment. Not only will these buildings create a stunning visual effect, they’ll also help reduce air pollution within our densest populations.
- Urban farms: Food security is becoming more and more of a concern. One solution may be urban farms integrated into our buildings, allowing for fresh produce to be grown and harvested right in the heart of our cities.
- Floating cities: With rising sea levels and the threat of coastal flooding, floating cities are becoming quite an attractive option, especially as new technologies and materials are getting us closer and closer to making them a reality.
- Vertical cities: As space shrinks, vertical cities or skyscrapers featuring multiple functions like housing, offices, retail, and green spaces all contained within a single building could be the answer. How would you feel if you never had to leave your building for anything again?
With the knowledge and tools necessary to implement energy-reducing building solutions, we can begin to steer our world to a cleaner and greener future. Board members and residents have the power to start making real change, starting with the buildings we live in. Daisy’s here to help, providing you with innovative tech and an expert team to help bring your building into the future. Learn more about our approach to property management here.