Spending Through The Roof: Fixing The Problem

One brisk evening last week­­, over 120 building professionals gathered at 32BJ SEIU to learn about the research behind our latest report, Spending Through The Roof, and explore how to put its recommendations into practice. Urban Green Research Director Richard Leigh led the group through the science behind Spending with an overview of the stack effect—the process that drives heated air from the bottom of a building up toward the roof in cold weather —and identified the top and bottom of a building as critical areas of energy loss.

Lead researcher Grant Salmon (Steven Winter Associates) walked us through data that showed how much elevator vent leakage was costing New York City buildings, and steps to sealing up savings—including a brief tutorial on our interactive calculator. “Between elevator hoistway vents, leaky dampers, and through-wall air conditioners,” he concluded, “we have definable sources of infiltration. We know how to address them—and [the retrofit solutions are] repeatable and scalable.” He closed with a case study of Roosevelt Landings, a five- million-square foot residential complex on Roosevelt Island. Salmon showed how implementing aggressive air-sealing retrofits—including the “super low hanging fruit” of covering roof openings with annealed glass—has saved the building $300,000 per year with less than five-year payback.

Resident manager Sean Wade advised those considering fixes to focus on “a cost-benefit approach, not so much return on investment,” adding that “low hanging fruit sometimes can be bad fruit.” Especially, he said, when side effects on other systems are not considered—in certain cases, for example installing weather-stripping can change airflow patterns and cause elevator doors not to seal properly. Rather than installing the stronger “stack effect” motors that others have used, Wade implemented a creative design solution that addressed another common source of air infiltration: the holes in our lobbies. Adding a sliding glass partition before the revolving door entrance created a thermal barrier that cut down air flow and the lobby air conditioning/heating bill by 30%.

A decade of experience managing The Future Condominium in Kips Bay helped Wade achieve his impressive results, and he recommends that building managers and operators not only “supervise the implementation of your own recommendation,” but make sure to “measure your results and verify that [what] you set out to do was correctly done.”

Paul Rode (Related) shared his expertise in addressing air leaks by taking us through the timeline for the renovation of the French Apartments, an affordable housing complex on West 30th St. He described how the incremental retrofit began with low-flow devices and whole building air-sealing early last year, closely followed by ventilation system upgrades. This continued on to the recent installation of a combined heat and power (CHP) system and, notably, the installation of operable storm windows inside existing windows that allowed for energy and resiliency improvements at a quarter of the cost for full replacements.

Afterward, questions bubbled up from an enthusiastic audience between each presentation, engaging the speakers on issues ranging from resident education to comfort, and fire-fighting practice from the “leaky hose effect” to the “piston effect.”

Read the full report to learn more about spending through the roof and see how much you could save with our online calculator.

Thank you to Eric Duchon of Cushman and Wakefield for facilitating an excellent conversation, and many thanks to our event partners REBNY and 32BJ SEIU.

About the authors

Rena Lee
Rena is the Communications Associate at Urban Green Council.