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Get Out the Tape Measure

A few months ago. At the beginning of October all buildings received their energy efficiency letter grades, which are based on twelve months of a building’s energy and water usage. The grades are derived from data which is uploaded each year into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a well-established tool for tracking building energy use. Included with uploaded energy and water use data are building measurements and property type classifications. The benchmarking initiative falls under the requirements of Local Law 84.


Looking ahead. Local Law 97 builds on benchmarking, but takes it further, setting carbon emission limits for each building type and stipulating annual fines for failure to meet these goals. While these are two different laws with very different end goals, they are both based on a building’s classification. The Portfolio Manager has about 60 different property types, while LL97 is currently based on ten occupancy group classifications used by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). Because of this, the Portfolio Manager can more accurately reflect the variation in energy usage in a building. For instance, one structure could house residential apartments, a grocery store, a cell phone store, and a basement laundry room, and the Portfolio Manager would be able to classify these different uses, whereas the city’s 10 occupancy group classification couldn’t. 


Change is coming. Until now, LL 97 set emissions limits based on DOB’s ten occupancy group classifications. In October, though, DOB released a set of proposed rules for LL97 that expands these building classifications to include those of the Portfolio Manager. “A co-op or condo might have a parking garage and a bank, which consume less energy than a restaurant, and therefore have a lower carbon allowance,” says Peter Varsalona, principal at Rand Engineering & Architecture. “This shift will help the DOB tailor emission limits to that variety instead of trying to shoehorn everyone into one of the ten groups. It’s more accurate and more fair.”


Extra steps. That’s why it’s wise to ask building professionals to update square footage and space-usage measurements to make sure the information being submitted to Portfolio Manager (which is due May 1, 2023) reflects actual building uses. Many buildings have been using the square footage measurement found on the Department of Finance website. This figure is used for tax purposes, does not reflect different uses in your building, and may not even be accurate. Given that LL97 comes with fines for failure to meet emission goals, and these measurements are used to set carbon limits, all buildings should pay attention to the accuracy of what’s being submitted.


Since city regulations require building owners to have a licensed design professional sign off on their benchmarking data before it is uploaded to the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, it’s a good idea to bring in an engineer or architect to take the measurements. “Most of our clients have their managing agents or property managers reach out to us,” explains Varsalona, who says the average cost of the job ranges from $2,000 to $3,000, depending on a building’s size and occupancy types. “A low-rise construction under six stories will take a technician about a day, while a high-rise with several commercial tenants may take several days and cost more.”

No time to waste. With the proposed DOB changes likely to be finalized in early 2023, ensuring the accuracy of your benchmarking information is an investment that will pay off for boards. “We’re already having lots of conversations about how buildings should prepare for this, especially those that are facing fines in 2025,” says Amanda Clevinger, policy and programs manager at Bright Power, an energy consulting firm. “Having a professional come in to see where they stand and how the changes will affect them is the first step.”

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