April 7, 2009

Empire State Building To Undergo Green Retrofit

On Monday, owners of New York City's Empire State Building announced that the structure will undergo a renovation starting this summer designed to make the building more environmentally friendly.

The project is expected to reduce the landmark's energy use by 38 percent by 2013, saving $4.4 million a year.  The building is already undergoing a $500 million makeover.  The retrofit project will add another $20 million to the price tag.

Owners of the Empire State Building hope the new renovations will attract larger corporate occupants at higher rents.

Although there are heavy upfront costs, the retrofit project will pay back those costs through energy savings in roughly three years.

"People associate greening with expense and compromise," said Anthony E. Malkin, president of Wien & Malkin, which supervises the building on behalf of the owners, the Malkin family and the Helmsley estate.

"We're trying to prove: no compromise and payback."

Malkin announced the project at a new conference attended by former President Bill Clinton, and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Malkin, and those involved with the project, hope the Empire State Building can offer an example of how older buildings can be retrofit, effectively cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing energy costs.

In New York City, 78 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from city buildings.

"They're showing the rest of the city that existing buildings, no matter how tall they are, no matter how old they are, can take steps to significantly reduce their energy consumption," Mr. Bloomberg said.

Lighting, cooling, and heating are the largest energy guzzlers at the Empire State Building, said Paul Rode, project executive with Johnson Controls, the retrofit designer.

The building is occupied by nearly 13,000 people daily, and houses 302 office tenants.

According to the designers, half of the energy reduction will be achieved within the first two years of the project.

They will begin by retrofitting double hung operable windows, insulating behind radiators, and rebuilding chillers in the basement.

The windows will be redone on site by adding a layer of coated film between two glass panes at a rate of 50 windows a day.

The full project consists of eight projects, including upgrades to ventilation and electrical systems.

According to Rode, the largest challenge of the project was figuring out what was behind the walls of the 78-year-old building.

Original drawings and specifications relating to the landmark could not be found.

"It took a lot of investigative work," Mr. Rode told The New York Times.

The plan will also require that tenants keep an eye on their own energy use through an Internet-based dashboard accessible through their computers. 

The software will track how much energy is being used by the tenant, and where it is being used.

Skanska, a Swedish construction company and tenant of the 32nd floor in the skyscraper, renovated their 24,400 square foot office space to green standards and installed daylight sensors to conserve energy last November.

The company has cut its electric bill by one-third through the renovations.

Under its Energy Star program, the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates buildings for energy efficiency. It found that 6,200 commercial and institutional buildings have earned the label by achieving 30 to 40 percent greater efficiency compared to their peers.

The project designers estimate that the Empire State Building will rise to the top 10 percent of Energy Star office buildings when its renovation is completed.

Most of the energy-saving improvements will involve slight changes mainly hidden inside the building.

Malkin said the night lighting that makes the building a distinctive part of the city's skyline represents a small draw of energy during off-peak hours and will continue.

Green features will be a focus for visitors as an educational tool, although tenants may face more expensive rents because of them.

Jacques Catafago, president of the Empire State Building Tenants Association, called making the building more energy-efficient "a laudable effort" but said that rent increases were a concern. Mr. Catafago, a lawyer whose firm has been in the building since 1990, said that "34th Street is not 57th Street "” the rents are very reasonable here."

However, Malkin contends he's dreaming of a larger goal.

"If we don't change our unsustainable practices and the amount of energy we consume, if we don't make our city more efficient, we're toast," he said. "We won't be able to avoid the sort of changes that would spell a reduced quality of life."


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