Beefed-Up NYC Energy Code Will Cut Carbon, Improve Buildings

New buildings in New York City—both commercial and residential—are about to get a whole lot more energy-efficient, thanks to improvements to the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC), green-lighted last week by the New York City Council.

The code governs new construction (and renovations) in the five boroughs. And thanks to this update, which builds upon improved national and New York State building codes, new commercial buildings will be almost 9 percent more energy efficient, while new one- and two-family homes will be as much as 32 percent more efficient, and solar-ready, too. For more details see this post from Chris Halfnight, our colleague at Urban Green Council.

A mind-boggling 32 million square feet of built space per year, on average, has been constructed in the Big Apple over the last 15 years—nearly the size of 15 Empire State Buildings combined, annually. So the improvements the NYCECC will bring about can have a substantial impact on the energy performance of New York City’s buildings well into the future as we work towards meeting the City’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The new code will work its magic in some important ways. First, it focuses on improvements to what architects and engineers call the “building envelope”—essentially, the barrier between indoor space and outdoor space—walls, roofs, windows, and doors. A well-sealed building envelope prevents heated or cooled air from escaping when it shouldn’t, thereby saving energy. The new code helps increase the energy efficiency of new (and renovated) buildings by upping insulation requirements, improving testing for air-tightness, and making sure architects and builders account for air conditioning and heating units that go through building walls (and can thus allow significant energy losses), when they do required energy modeling. Lighting improvements that generate more and better light with less energy are another component of the new code. And all new low-rise residential buildings will, as of October 3rd, when the code takes effect, need to be solar-ready, which means built so they can easily accommodate solar panels on their roofs.

Almost three-quarters of New York City’s carbon pollution comes from our buildings. So these improvements in the NYCECC are just the kinds of changes, along with others, that can help the Big Apple meet its appropriately ambitious climate goals. They can add up to big savings on energy for the home- and building-owners of New York and show the way to cities around the country that look to New York as an energy-savings pioneer, resulting in important carbon savings for us all.

About the Authors

Donna De Costanzo

Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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