Greening Codes to Save Green

Green apartment building in Lower ManhattanEnergy codes, the laws that set minimum levels for energy efficiency in buildings, are getting updates throughout the U.S., most ambitiously in New York City. The changes that can make a big difference are easy to grasp. And they benefit renters and owners at the developers' expense.

Saving money at someone else's cost -- that should grab your interest.....The Urban Green Council, a New York chapter of the national organization that administers LEED ratings, canvassed 200 big shots (from the commissioners of planning and buildings to the developer who controls Penn Station and the president of NYU) over the past year to get suggestions on how the city could change its code.

Many of the recommendations, released earlier this month, would simply make the law require an end to lots of wasteful practices. Apartment dwellers would be able to control their own heat. And motion detectors would turn off lights in empty stairwells, or they would control and reduce lighting in unused laundry rooms of apartment buildings. These seemingly small changes are important, argues economist Ashok Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked on the codes, because they set new baselines for what every owner must do. If implemented, such code changes would lower residents' electricity bills in all multiple-unit buildings.

So why would anybody object? Simple: developers are often set in their cost-cutting ways.

Charlotte Matthews, who heads construction for mega-developer the Related Companies and also worked on the new recommendations, says changes in the outfitting of a building can cause "turbulence." In other words, developers are used to eking out profits from doing some things cheaply, and their lobbyists are ready to argue that no developer should have to spend extra cash so that citizens can save money (and carbon) over the coming decades.

So the Urban Green Council is soft-pedaling their effort to make the codes official. The new codes' proponents also have the implicit support of Related, the city's most powerful developer, and of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. With energy-code reform around the country moving faster, code proponents can argue that their changes will make New York's buildings more attractive for potential residents than those less code-abiding buildings in the "sand states" of Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada.

All that from a little common sense.
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