New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Green Land

A combination of private funds, state subsidy money, and volunteer efforts is pushing a conservationist building agenda in New York State. High energy prices and the growing clout of environmental groups are doing their part, as well.

Hoping to create an upscale Central Park North neighborhood, a 129-unit condominium at Fifth Avenue and 116th Street was constructed with environmental conservation in mind. It’s one of five such large “green” building projects falling under New York State’s Green Building Tax Credit program, which the state calls “the nation’s first tax incentive program for the design, construction or rehabilitation of environmentally-friendly buildings.” In the case of 1400 Fifth, the state tax credit is worth $1.7 million to the sponsor, which expects a condo board to be in place by the end of the year.
At the other end of the island, 20 River Terrace, in Battery Park City, also known as the Solaire, is another green condo opening for business. The 293-unit Solaire is also the beneficiary of a New York State green tax credit, to the tune of $2.7 million. Its sponsor, the Albanese Development Corporation of Garden City, calls it “the nation’s first environmentally responsible high-rise residential building.” Spokesmen for both buildings cite similar environmental savings: about 35 percent less energy consumption and 50 percent less water usage. The Solaire promises to live up to its name, boasting photovoltaic cells on its roof, which, the sponsor says, will provide for five percent of its electrical power needs.

On the other end of the income scale, the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association is building two green buildings on East Third Street, between Avenues C and D. They will be governed by a homeowners’ association and will be occupied by tenants living at or below 40 percent of the median national income – about $25,000. Unit for unit, however, the actual energy-saving muscle of the two Third Street buildings – which do not receive any state, city, or federal subsidies – will exceed that of the Solaire and buildings like it. Unlike the high-profile luxury buildings, the Third Street properties are being built simply to save money in operating costs, not to burnish a developer’s eco-credentials.

Architect Chris Benedict, and her engineer partner, Henry Gifford, both members of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (, recently showed building plans and described step-by-step construction procedures for an interested group of environmentalists and builders in an improvised auditorium on the ground floor of 228 East Third Street. Among the technical innovations which Benedict and Gifford are pioneering in the 22-unit building are wall assemblies with alternating studs, allowing the weaving of insulation within the walls, the use of voids within poured concrete floors to create thermal barriers, the use of air-flow regulators within walls and windows, and layered insulating outside walls which sport flashing backed by brick, then mineral wool insulation, and then a layer of sealant. Perhaps their most surprising engineering insight is that, by placing the boiler plant on the roof, they save large amounts of power in pumping costs for both room heat and hot water. They also conserve waste heat by reducing the height of the chimney stack from six stories to only a few feet.
Benedict sees these innovations as advances in “basic building science. Not just a solar panel or a green roof, it’s the infrastructure of a building where we’re having the greatest impact on energy savings and the environment.”
Like the Solaire and 1400 Fifth, the Third Street buildings feature individual thermostats for each unit, low-heat emissivity window glass, an insulating roof garden, and hallway lights that dim when they are not needed.

The state’s tax credit program, signed into law by Governor George Pataki on May 15, 2000, allows building owners and developers to deduct from their state taxes “the eligible expenses associated with the design and construction of green buildings, including increasing energy efficiency, the use of environmentally-friendly materials, and improving indoor air quality.” Some examples of green building features, the state’s website says, include “the use of solar power or fuel cells, daylight and natural cooling, carpeting or other building products made from recycled materials, and high-performance windows and ventilation systems.”

The city of New York also has a stake in 1400 Fifth, with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development designating it as part of its Anchor Program, which supports affordable housing along with retail store space. Fully one-third of the building’s units are pledged to buyers with incomes of between $53,000 and $103,000. For them, one-bedrooms start at $158,000.

Those 86 units have already been sold to the winners of a housing lottery conducted earlier this year. The other third of the units range from nine townhouses worth about $1 million and two-bedrooms typically going for $382,000 and three-bedrooms for $719,000. Providing an incentive for purchasers to go green, there’s a tax credit for each worth $24,000 payable over five years, reports Millie Loucasavik of Caran Properties, the managing agent.

Although what the individual unit-owner pays is important, it’s clearly the major installed systems that are the keys to these large buildings’ energy-saving mission. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is in charge of power generation and energy conservation, will monitor the state’s designated green buildings for five years, in an attempt to make sure that they live up to their environmental promise. Monitoring, says Loucasavik, means making sure power consumption stays within a set limit.

“We can’t really force unit-owners to conserve individually,” she admits. “After this point, everything depends on systems which are built in. We will be encouraging all unit-owners to use green cleaning products and conserve water and energy.”

The environmentally progressive systems at 1400 Fifth include a recirculating water system that uses the stability of below-ground ambient temperatures to keep water cool in the summer and save on heating costs in the winter. Each electrical outlet in each apartment monitors power usage. Windows are made to lower heat loss from leaks. “In the end,” Loucasavik says, “these savings will keep maintenance costs down.”

Medical researcher Henry Beene, who moved into 1400 Fifth on September 27, says that the building’s green design “did play a factor” in his decision to move in. “I liked the [green] features, the recycled materials, the air circulation and heating design. I’m looking forward to lower utility bills.”

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