Does the Rubber Meet the Road for the Energy Code?

By Frank Fortino

Over the last few years we’ve seen remarkable efforts to ‘greenify’ the City. Developers, architects and engineers have embraced new materials and building practices, striving for LEED certifications, and the honor of having the most energy respectful properties. Roofs have been painted white, and some now flourish with rooftop gardens and green space. Reading the headlines of our trade papers, one would think that compliance with the Energy Code was a fact beyond discussion.

We are very much a City filled with buildings of all ages, and we all know the challenges of bringing this vast universe of properties up to the same Code standards. We also are well aware of the density of these buildings, and the fact that our buildings are the single largest source of energy consumption in the City. Truly making progress with regards to energy consumption demands that we scrutinize our buildings to make sure they are performing within the standards we set.

Before he left office, Mayor Bloomberg – always one for metrics – sent a team out to conduct random energy audits that evaluated heating, lighting, AC and window systems. Mayor de Blasio has continued these audits, and the findings of both teams may come as a shock. As many as nine out of ten buildings audited have failed to meet the requirements of the Energy Code. To be clear, that’s not a 90% pass rate. It’s a 90% fail rate.

As an industry, we could certainly point fingers about the cause of the situation, but we’re better served by facing the facts in front of us. A team of auditors intends to review thousands of buildings per year to ensure compliance. We can anticipate they will be armed with the ability to assess penalties and assign violations. We should expect they will be able to issue Stop Work Orders and bring our projects to a halt.

If there is better news in the story, it’s that construction sites for new projects seem to be faring better, although certainly not to the standards we should expect. A recently conducted series of audits found problems with Energy Code compliance in about 20% of the cases. In many instances, the actual construction simply did not match the approved plans.

Moments like these, while troubling on the surface, must act as a rallying cry for all of us. Energy Compliance isn’t optional, it’s a critical component of our future. We need to make rectifying this issue a priority, and get these numbers trending in the right direction.