New York City, your buildings are on notice. A recent audit by the NYC Department of Buildings revealed that nine out of every 10 new or renovated office and residential buildings do not meet the current New York City Energy Conservation Code.

Mayor de Blasio and Gina Bocra, chief sustainability officer at the DOB, have made it clear that this level of non-compliance is unacceptable. So far this year, the de Blasio administration has reviewed more than 1,200 building applications, and they plan to quadruple that figure annually.

Bocra’s team has also set up a permanent audit unit at the DOB that will continue to review whether construction and renovation plans for lighting, heating and air-conditioning, and walls and windows align with current energy code standards.

“We’re very serious about this, and are trying to educate the industry on what is required,” she told Crains New York. “Buildings are the largest source of energy consumption in our city, and how we conserve energy is key to making progress on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Greener & Greater

It is estimated that 75 percent of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the building sector. As part of the emission reduction goals outlined in PlaNYC, the Bloomberg administration issued the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. The GGBP is a comprehensive, mandatory policy that includes the Energy Conservation Code, and attempts to address energy efficiency in large, existing whole buildings throughout the city.

Four pieces of legislation make up the GGBP:

  • Local Law 84 | Benchmarking: This law requires annual benchmarking of energy and water consumption.
  • Local Law 85 | NYC Energy Conservation Code: The NYCECC sets energy-efficiency standards for new construction and alterations to existing buildings
  • Local Law 87 | Energy Audits: This legislation requires an energy audit and retro‐commissioning of energy equipment in large buildings every 10 years.
  • Local Law 88 | Lighting and Sub-metering: This mandates that by 2025, the lighting in the non-residential space be upgraded to meet code and large commercial tenants be provided with sub-meters.

While these laws have now been in place for years, it appears that up until last year, very little oversight was being given to ensure compliance.

“No one knew what was going on before because no one was checking,” said Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council. “It is very easy to proclaim some policy or write some law, but the hard work comes on the other side when you need someone to implement it.”

A New Era of Enforcement

Construction in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Photo credit: David Tan
Construction in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Photo credit: David Tan

The energy code audits began last winter, while Bloomberg was preparing to depart, but de Blasio’s team has scaled up the effort significantly. More than 1,200 audits have been conducted this year (compared to Bloomberg’s 212), and 160 random construction site visits have occurred. In 20% of those inspections, officials found that construction was not even being conducted in accordance with the city-approved plans, and in some cases stop-work orders were issued.

The DOB is currently drafting new fines and regulations that will apply specifically to the NYECC, but in the meantime they are focusing on education and outreach. “We are trying to bring both the design and construction sides up to speed,” Ms. Bocra said, noting that many firms were not consciously breaking the rules.

For their part, developers seem skeptical about the new era of enforcement, complaining that compliance with the NYECC will cost both time and money. But this much seems clear from the de Blasio administration: Build it green, or face a fine.