From left: Peter Lampen, AIA; Luke Surowiec, LEED AP; Steven Winter, FAIA; John Lee, AIA. Photo: Center for Architecture.

A Closer Look at 80×50 Initiative’s NYC Retrofit Accelerator Program

On 06.07.17, the AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE) brought the conversation around New York City’s 80×50 initiative back to the Center for Architecture. The lecture, titled “NYC Retrofit Accelerator: An 80×50 Resource”, introduced a promising feature of the ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. A key aspect of Mayor De Blasio’s endeavor to make New York City a green city, the Retrofit Accelerator program focuses on making the city’s older buildings just as sustainable as new, cutting-edge construction. The panel comprised John Lee, AIA, Deputy Director for Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency, NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Luke Surowiec, LEED AP, Retrofit Accelerator Project Manager, ICF International; and Peter Lampen, AIA, Vice President, Douglas Elliman Property Management. Steven Winter, FAIA, Founder and President, Steven Winter Associates, moderated the discussion.

Lee began the conversation with some facts and figures about greenhouse gas emissions in New York City. He cited how multifamily residential buildings consume the most energy, with most of it going to space heating and hot water provided through steam heat. And as more people settle in the city, the increased usage will drive up costs over time—up to a 100 percent increase in fuel costs and a 20 percent increase in utility costs.

“We have to do something now,” Lee warned.

The Retrofit Accelerator program is designed to address this dire immediacy. The program provides free, personalized advisory services to landlords and property owners in order to streamline the process of improving energy efficiency in older buildings. Improving the energy efficiency of an older building doesn’t just save the owner money—it directly contributes to improved air quality and increased affordability, said Surowiec. So far the Retrofit Accelerator program has completed 650 retrofits in five boroughs. The organization anticipates an additional 1,500 projects next year.

“We’re trying to fill unique gaps [in making New York a green city],” said Surowiec. “There are currently about $15 million in untapped [retrofit] initiatives. Why not take advantage?”

Through face-to-face meetings, representatives from the Retrofit Accelerator program educate property owners and landlords on new environmental standards and building technologies, and work with them to bring their buildings up to 21st century standards. Projects can range from very simple lighting upgrades to comprehensive heating system overhauls. These projects often are carried out by the property’s own maintenance staff. As part of its free service, Retrofit Accelerator representatives will connect property owners with non-profits who can provide grants and funding for larger projects. Even more enterprising, the program aims to develop a market for environmentally-friendly steam heat retrofits through training and working with vendors.

Lampen closed out the evening by providing a property owner’s perspective on the program. He mentioned that low to mid-level-income properties are the ones that need these retrofits the most and that many of them are interested. The biggest problem, he said, was convincing everyone to get on board.

“The biggest problem is overcoming the massive indifference [to climate change],” Lampen said. “We fight every day to get people to understand the gravity of this issue.”

Event: “NYC Retrofit Accelerator: An 80×50 Resource
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.07.17
Speakers: Peter Lampen, AIA, Vice President, Douglas Elliman Property Management; John Lee, AIA, Deputy Director for Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency, NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Luke Surowiec, LEED AP, Retrofit Accelerator Project Manager, ICF International
Moderator: Steven Winter, FAIA, Founder and President, Steven Winter Associates
Organized by: AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE)
Sponsored by: Con Edison