Recap: Uncovering NYC’s New Energy Code

“Code is elegant,” said Urban Green’s Ellen Hongistock at Uncovering the Code late last month. “It is crucial to understand the structure and rationale behind it.” She was referring to New York State’s new Energy Conservation Code, and the event was a look at what building owners and managers can expect from it. Along with Honigstock, speakers Gina Bocra (NYC Department of Buildings), Dave Pospisil (Con Edison), Mike O'Donnell (Steven Winter Associates), and Don Winston (Donald J. Winston, P.E. P.C) addressed a packed room on the changes the new code brings.

Honigstock’s enthusiasm for the energy code is genuine—she’s leading the Urban Green Council education team in the development of our latest energy code training course, Conquer the Code. The timing of the course, scheduled to begin this fall, isn’t coincidental: starting in January 2016, the NYC Department of Buildings will strengthen its enforcement of the newly adopted code. This means that more building designs will be audited for compliance to ensure that projects follow the approved designs.

One of the biggest challenges of the new code is also one of its biggest strengths: it is complex (or ‘sophisticated,’ if you’re a glass-half-full type of person). As Winston pointed out, although there might be pitfalls for building owners, the new code’s marvelous complexity offers flexibility for architects and engineers. For instance, if a consultant suggests a compliance path that an owner doesn’t agree with, the code offers alternate paths to a mutually agreeable solution. Each path has unique pros and cons, which may account for (and even place boundaries on) differences in the intricacy of building designs. Consider thinking of each path as a compliance choose-your-own adventure!

Bocra emphasized integrating compliance into pre-construction planning and then led viewers through the new, more stringent processes of the 2015 energy code. She also stressed the new code’s focus on thermal performance, including strict window-to-wall ratios and daylighting controls, as well as additional efficiency options such as on-site renewable energy and lighting power densities using the space-by-space method1. O'Donnell then detailed some of the code changes Bocra mentioned, specifically strict inspection guidelines, leading the audience through the technical inspection forms that will be used to track progress.

Wrapping up the event, Honigstock echoed Winston’s statement that, in order to remove barriers to compliance, architects and engineers must sharpen communication and coordination practices. She stressed the interdependence of the building envelope, mechanical, and lighting systems, and their impacts on energy consumption. And because building systems are interdependent, so must be the design professionals, code officials, contractors and energy professionals, said Honigstock—this is why Urban Green’s courses will emphasize a whole-building approach to high performance design. Though Conquer the Code’s mandate is to improve compliance, she said, one of the most important objectives is to inspire design professionals to exceed minimum code requirements.

1 A method that prescribes an energy allowance in watts-per-foot based on needs of a specific type of space within a building.