HVAC Rising to the Climate Challenge

Global climate change is not a new dilemma; however, the inclusion of HVAC systems and their potential to support the lowest emission output possible is becoming more significant. Moving beyond the political landscape, long-term sustainability goals and greenhouse gas emissions (embodied carbon) are seriously considered in the design, integration, and installation of whole building systems.

Net Zero initiatives, for example, are driving design and furthering the consideration of the entire HVAC system and its importance to the building function, as well as the necessary energy to support it. Cities around the world are taking serious measures to meet Net Zero goals.

More than 25 US cities have adopted various energy-benchmarking policies, as have the states of California and Washington. These laws make it mandatory for building owners to report their energy use (i.e. their electric and gas bills). Disclosure laws have guided Net Zero building codes and voluntary agreements (Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. were early signers).

New York City is raising the bar. What New York is doing is more strident: It’s the first city to attach a dollar value to these disclosure figures. In New York, building owners who don’t meet their carbon reduction requirements will pay fines — potentially very large fines.

While in most parts of the US transportation is the source of most greenhouse gases, in New York City buildings are the main source of emissions. According to the New York City Council, 71% of NYC emissions are from buildings.

The recently signed Climate Mobilization Act, also known as the NYC Green New Deal, by the NYC Council has 10 pieces of legislation that are part of the Act, but the centerpiece is a carbon emissions limit for large NYC buildings. Since buildings alone account for 95% of electricity use in New York, according to the Urban Green Council, reducing emissions from buildings is the most significant action the city can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the Paris Agreement targets, the Climate Mobilization Act requires buildings greater than 25,000 square feet to cut their carbon emissions 40% by 2030 (from a 2005 baseline) and 80% by 2050. Buildings exceeding the emissions limits will be subject to steep carbon tax. In total, approximately 50,000 existing residential and commercial buildings throughout the city will be impacted by this legislation.

Buildings larger than 50,000 square feet will be required to undergo audits every decade. Buildings that are not subject to this law include:

  • Houses of worship
  • New York City Housing Authority buildings
  • City-owned buildings
  • Multifamily properties that are three stories or less with no central HVAC systems or hot water heating systems
  • Industrial facilities primarily used for the generation of electric power or steam

While the requirements of the new Climate Mobilization Act may seem daunting, creating an organized plan now will go a long way towards mitigating most, if not all, of the potential costs and other burdens associated with this legislation.

Engineers, building owners and managers need to start planning for the future now. The potential effects on buildings in NYC should not be underestimated. To meet the challenge and tackle existing buildings’ carbon footprints, here are several steps that can get you ready for the 2030 requirements:

  1. Conduct an energy audit: Understand your building’s energy usage better with an efficiency audit to identify everything that requires energy consumption. The audit will also evaluate how well each of these systems are functioning, including HVAC systems, boilers, chiller plants, air handlers for cooling and heating and lighting.
  2. Identify critical problem areas: Based on data from the energy audit, identify the most critical issues to focus on first. Begin to determine the best course of action going forward.
  3. Create a long-term plan: To meet the Climate Mobilization Act’s requirements for the 2030 target and beyond, it is important to adopt a long-term capital budget plan.
  4. Begin to execute your strategy now: By focusing first on solutions that can lower operating costs in addition to reducing carbon emissions, you can get a jump-start on meeting the goals of the Climate Mobilization Act.

HVAC Sustainable Solutions

HVAC upgrades are critical for reducing and eliminating emissions while making buildings environmentally responsible — the higher the energy efficiency, the better. In fact, superior HVAC design solutions are among the key components for turning buildings into energy efficient or Net Zero renewable energy structures where emissions are balanced through carbon offsetting. Retrofitting to Net Zero isn’t about super powers; it’s about (super) energy efficient design!

New York City is going to need help retrofitting its buildings to meet the challenging demands of the Climate Mobilization Act. Ice Air stands ready to assist. Contact Mo Siegel at 914-668-4700 ext. 206 or Jim Nowakowski at 847-358-4848.