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BOMA New York Leadership Breakfast Delves into City’s New Construction Code

New York & Tri-State  + Midtown New York  + Office  | 

Toward the end of November, BOMA New York produced its Annual Leadership Breakfast at Club 101. Sponsored by Arrow Security, Firequench Inc, and Swinerton, the event formally confirmed the results of the election of the organization’s incoming Officers and its Board of Directors. Attendees of the breakfast also enjoyed three information packed presentations.

First up was Joseph Ackroyd, P.E., Assistant Commissioner of Technical Affairs and Code Development at New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), who presented an insider’s overview of the city’s “New Construction Code.”

Ackroyd explained that the overarching goal of code revision is to bring New York City’s construction code up to the level of the present-day International Building Code, or “I-Code,” which is the most trusted and authentic source of building codes and standards. Local Law 99 of 2005 stipulates that the codes must be revised on a three-year cycle, which, he acknowledged “was a little ambitious, and that in reality the city was about six years behind the latest version of the I-Code.” He said, however, “We can still adopt the latest technologies” in achieving that goal.

In many ways, New York City is unique in that the list of stakeholders involved in the code revision process is large, and that much of the draft revision is consensus-based. Then, DOB’s Legal and Management Committees refer a final draft to the City Council, the City’s Legislative Branch, to be passed and integrated into Local Law. Implementation usually requires copious amounts of operational training, as well.

Importantly, Local Law 126 of 2021, which will become effective in November 2022, amends the New York City Building Code, the New York City Mechanical Code, and the New York City Fuel Gas Code in relation to bringing such codes and related provisions of law up to date with the 2015 editions of the I-Code for Mechanical, Fuel Gas and Plumbing Codes, with differences that reflect the unique character of the city.

Ackroyd also explained that world events have a significant impact on construction codes. He cited major sections of the new Construction Code related to world events. While not citing it by name, he referred to code revisions inspired by the horrific 2017 Grenfell Tower high rise apartment fire in London, which killed 72 people. He said that stakeholders from FDNY, BOMA New York, REBNY, and chemical firms contributed to changes in the code for combustible exterior wall materials and their installation.

“All exterior walls with combustible materials must be tested,” he said, as to how flame will spread both vertically and laterally, “from compartment to compartment.” New special inspections will be required to ensure the adequate installation of fire blocking material and thermal barriers. Specifically, no combustible materials can be used near apartment exterior access points, such as balconies.

The new code will also recognize the emergence of cross-laminated timber (CLT) for structural elements, with requirements for sprinklers and a maximum building height of seven stories in New York City. Exterior walls must be at least six inches thick, with one-hour fire resistance. “This is a good expansion of special inspections,” Ackroyd said.

The next speaker at the event was Robert Holub, R.A., Senior Code Development Architect at the New York City Department of Buildings, who provided an introduction to the DOB’s planned Existing Building Code that specifically addresses alterations to existing buildings. His chapter-by-chapter, expert explanation was quite comprehensive, even including appendices.

Holub opened his presentation with the astounding fact that there are more than one million existing buildings in New York City, generating more than 80,000 applications for alterations each year. He, too, acknowledged that building codes could be “in some ways prescriptive.” Yet, both he and Ackroyd asserted that the DOB strived to be in a productive relationship with the city’s building owners and managers.

Holub said, “Alteration applications always contain triggers for compliance and may not proceed conveniently,” and that one component of an alteration “may trigger a compliance issue in other work that is not a trigger in itself.” He added, “DOB wants to remove barriers to renovations and alterations.”

He assured attendees that “the Existing Building Code won’t be quite as scary when it actually becomes a reality and is not a nightmare.” For example, he cited many types of alterations that do not require a building permit, like lighting improvements. That said, he reported that there will be significant changes in the Existing Building Code in order to maintain oversight and safety. Far more work will require the use of licensed professionals, which, he correctly characterized, as “taking away a burden on owners.”

To conclude, Holub said that it was top-of-mind at DOB to ensure that “triggers are balanced with appropriate relief.”

The last speaker at the breakfast was Chris Cayten, LEED AP, M. Arch, Partner at CodeGreen Solutions and Chair of BOMA New York’s Energy & Sustainability Committee. His presented an update on Local Law 97 and how buildings owners should budget for 2022.

Cayten, a welcome and familiar face on BOMA NY webinars, opened with a brief overview of Local Law 97, which will further the City’s goal of achieving a 40 % reduction in aggregate carbon emissions from buildings by calendar year 2030 and an 80 % reduction in citywide emissions by calendar year 2050.

Realistically, New York City could achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Nonetheless, a giant hurdle is that roughly 99% of New York City’s energy is produced with fossil fuels – a situation exacerbated by the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. He said that the goal is clearly defined in the law– it is not to reduce energy consumption, but instead to reduce carbon emissions.

“Buildings account for 40% of carbon emissions globally, but buildings in New York City are important because 70% of emissions in the city come from buildings.” He added, “If we’re going to meet the 2050 goal in New York, we need to focus on existing buildings because 80% of them will still be here.”

Thanks to initiatives like the federal EPA Energy Star program, and Local Law 84, New York City building owners have been benchmarking energy use and efficiency since 2009. Cayten said that publicly posted letter grades for buildings’ energy efficiency, as per Local Law 95 of 2019, assigned grades based on Energy Star energy efficiency scores.

He said that this has led to frustration among owners and operations managers. “Many well-designed buildings have excellent operations and are still getting C and D grades because of nuances in the grading system and tenants’ energy use.” Cayten said, “Getting tenants to be aware of the energy they use is the challenge. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” However, by 2025, all tenants will be required to have sub metered energy dedicated to their space, a big first step in awareness.

For implementation, Cayten said that starting with basic upgrades is the first step like retrofitting old lighting to LEDs that can save 60% on lighting costs. “This is an energy cost saving slam dunk,” he said.

He referred to “carrots and sticks,” as incentives. “Easy energy savings are a carrot, but there are a lot of sticks.” He warned that New York will impose a building owner fine of $268 per metric ton of carbon emissions above legal limits set by local law. “This price on carbon is as high as anywhere else in the world,” he said. However, the ultimate goal is to reduce emissions and disincentivize owners from just continuing with business as usual and paying the fines. Cayten said, “At present levels, an average million-square-foot office tower in New York City would be paying $400,000 a year in fines starting in 2030.” And, as far as purchasing carbon offsets or renewable energy credits to reduce fines, these pathways will be severely limited.

He added that there are discussions underway with policymakers to allow owners who reduce emissions below allowed limits, to “trade” their emission reductions, like air rights, to other buildings.

In conclusion, Cayten offered a “reverse timeline” to place Local Law 97 in perspective for capital and operational budget planners. He said, “Years 2025 and 2024 are not far away.” Penalties assessed in 2025 will be based on 2024 measurements. Therefore, he said, “You want your energy upgrades to be fully working in 2023, to be measured in 2024, to meet the 2025 submission. So, you need your 2023 capital plan to be ready now.

“The sooner you install, the sooner you’ll save.”

Pictured at BOMA NY Leadership Breakfast, from left: Matt Duthie, Newmark; Igwe Harvey, Cogswell Realty; Pat Dolan, The Durst Organization; Sharon Hart, Cushman & Wakefield; and Hani Salama, Capital Properties.


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