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Low-Cost Upgrades Produce Benchmarking Leap for Battery Park City Condo

Emily Myers in Green Ideas

Battery Park City

Energy Grade

The T7 rooftop exhaust fans at River & Warren cost the building approximately $28,000 and are saving the condo $8,670 a year. (Photo courtesy Alternative Sustainability)

Aside from switching to LEDs, it can be difficult to find budget-friendly energy upgrades that significantly reduce a building’s emissions. However, River & Warren, a 166-unit condo in Battery Park City, has made a big leap in its benchmarking grade without spending a fortune, thanks to more energy-efficient heating and cooling units and fans. The cost to the board has been just $70,000, but the changes, implemented over the past three years, ensure the 27-story building will be Local Law 97 compliant for at least the next decade. 

The new equipment is the brainchild of John Stevens, founder of the design manufacturing firm Alternative Sustainability. Having spent 40 years fixing mechanical equipment as a building manager, he became increasingly frustrated at the six- and seven-figure energy compliance proposals he saw being delivered to boards. “You don’t have to spend millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars to make all these changes,” he says. 

At River & Warren, 250 of the building's 841 packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs), the self-contained heating and cooling units installed directly through the walls, have been replaced with a low-carbon model designed by Stevens that allows unit-owners to disconnect from the condo’s gas-generated steam heat supply. “The new PTAC has a built-in electric heating coil made from carbon fiber that’s super efficient, so it doesn’t use nearly the amount of power as the old heating coils,” Stevens explains. 

With just 30% of the PTACs replaced as the older units fail, board president Frank Massino says the results speak for themselves. “We are years and years ahead of where we need to be with respect to the carbon initiative,” he says. Massino is among the residents who have adopted the new models. The cost to unit-owners is around $2,700, including installation. 

“Each time we close a steam valve for one of these new coils, that's therms of gas that are no longer needed,” Stevens says. The switch has cut gas use in the building to between 10,000 and 16,000 therms per month in winter, down from approximately 17,000 to 23,000 therms a few years ago. That, in turn, takes the burden off the gas boiler, thereby extending its life. 

Another affordable upgrade has been the replacement of rooftop exhaust fans with new models designed by Alternative Sustainability. The T7 fans have motors that use 70% less power, are very low maintenance, and have timers so you can easily switch them off. The new design uses 67 kWh per day compared to the older models, which used 175 kWh per day. The fan upgrades, which cost $28,600, is saving the building 39,400 kWh, or about $8,600, annually. “We’ve already seen electricity and gas use drop precipitously,” Massino says.

The board has also added a T7 fan to the boiler room for $6,000 and installed a new cooling system in the lobby for around $36,000. Alternative Sustainability isn’t yet an approved contractor with the city-run NYC Accelerator program, but the building has been recognized by the program as a trailblazer based on data showing a 47% cut in energy use since 2017. River & Warren’s 86 point benchmarking score is expected to increase to an even higher 93 when the next annual benchmarking grades are released on Oct. 1. 

In another demonstration of the building’s commitment to new technology, the board plans to add newly-patented turbine slide frames to the vent systems. Stevens calculates 120 kWh per day will be generated as air is pulled into the building, spinning the turbines and generating power to be sent back to the lighting or equipment panels. “You are creating energy where it didn’t exist before and using that to power the common areas,” Massino says. Installing turbines to the existing equipment will cost $40,000. “These are the products that have the opportunity to change the game,” Massino says.

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