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Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Without electricity, buildings are dependent on whatever protection is provided by their walls, windows and roof. 

Original publication by Urban Green Council • February 5, 2014

In today’s buildings, that protection is modest at best. Only some buildings are constructed well enough to maintain their indoor temperatures without power. But to protect all New Yorkers, these resilient, high-performing buildings must become the new normal.

Atelier Ten created computer models based on six representative residential building categories to find indoor temperatures after a blackout within a single apartment. Summer and winter scenarios were defined by recent New York City weather data.

Baby, It's Cold Inside

Key findings

  1. If the next NYC blackout happened during a cold spell, typical buildings would be between 32ºF and 43ºF indoors.
  2. In a summer blackout, temperatures in a typcal all-glass building would jump to almost 90ºF.
  3. High-performing buildings provide the best protection against blackouts during severe weather and would maintain habitable temperatures for an entire week. These new and renovated buildings use readily available construction practices such as installing better windows, adding insulation and eliminating drafts.

There are three important factors that influence temperature in buildings during blackouts:

  1. The type and amount of window area,
  2. The amount of air that escapes through cracks and leaks in the walls, and
  3. The amount of insulation in the walls and roof.

All three factors can be improved during the design and construction of new buildings, and in the renovation of existing ones.

Indoor temperatures during a winter blackout

Indoor temperatures during a summer blackout

Adding insulation prevents heat loss through walls and roofs. New buildings can easily accommodate extra insulation since it’s easy to add during construction. In most cases, insulation can be added to older buildings, either indoors or by adding a new exterior layer.

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