Rent Green: It's Not All about Saving $$$

Event: Homes=Energy: What you can do as a Renter
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.12.12
Speakers: Cameron Bard — Project Manager, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); Eileen Egan-Annechino — Manager, Consolidated Edison Co. of NY, Inc.; Rory Christian — New York City Housing Authority
Organizer: NYSERDA
Sponsors: Underwriters: ARUP; Con Edison; Perkins+Will; Lead Sponsors: Buro Happold; STUDIOS Architecture; 3M Window Films; Energy Products Distribution; APG Design Studio; Sponsors: FLIR; MechoShade Systems, Inc.; Robert Silman Associates; Trespa; Supporters: Acheson Doyle Partners Architects, P.C.; DeLaCour Family Foundation; Ibex Construction; KPF; Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.; Friends: 1100 Architect; Bleecker Area Merchants & Residents Association (BAMRA); Brenda Levin; Capsys Corp.; Community Environmental Center, Inc.; Helpern Architects; Hugo S. Subotovsky AIA Architects, LLC; Levien & Company; New York Building Congress, Inc.; Oppenheimer Brady Vogelstein; P.W. Grosser Consulting, Inc.; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Viridian Energy & Environmental, LLC

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Center for Architecture

In a city of so many renters, New Yorkers don’t have a lot of incentives to cut back on energy use at home — homes that they don’t own; homes that are often warmed by landlord-provided heat. Though we can potentially save a few dollars by being more energy conscious, perhaps our collective environmental conscience should be the guide. In conjunction with the Center for Architecture’s exhibition “Buildings = Energy,” on view through 01.21.12, representatives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Consolidated Edison, and the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) discussed ways renters can change their behaviors and start saving more energy.

Last year, NYSERDA, Con Edison, and Councilmember Brad Lander organized a competition challenging 161 households in District 39 in Brooklyn to cut back on energy use. Participants reduced their usage an average of 4% (one household boasted a 49% reduction). Throughout the competition, monthly newsletters ranked the homeowners’ usage against one another. However, Cameron Bard, a project manager with NYSERDA, was surprised to learn that participants claimed more interest in simply learning about their personal energy use than actually competing with their neighbors.

Con Edison is the company responsible for supplying NYC’s power, which accounts for one-third of the load in New York State. Manager Eileen Egan-Annechino outlined the many ways in which the company is conserving, including the Smart Grid initiative, a push for system-wide efficiency; an online Home Energy Calculator ; a rebate program for purchasing energy-efficient air conditioners; and the e*billing option (ConEd plants a tree for each customer who signs up). Egan-Annechino advised renters to “be proactive,” but noted that “changes don’t always translate into savings.” Market fluctuations coupled with a plethora of evolving charges can make decoding bills confusing. Instead, she advised consumers to check their kilowatt hour (kWh) energy usage to determine if they are actually using less than previous billing cycles.

People living in affordable housing developments, such as those maintained by NYCHA, often feel even less incentive than the typical renter to save energy, since they aren’t responsible for paying utility bills. NYCHA supports 178,000 apartments, so it racks up increasingly hefty electric bills each month. As noted by Director of Energy Rory Christian, most of NYCHA’s housing stock is aging and wasn’t initially built with energy efficiency in mind. Aside from continually retrofitting these buildings, NYCHA aims to persuade residents to do their part, too. They established Resident Green Communities, which educates residents on energy conservation measures. NYCHA has also begun to install wireless energy modules to display the temperature in apartments and monitor electric use.

Participants offered several suggestions for renters to reduce energy consumption, including:

  • · Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs
  • · Clean light bulbs regularly to remove grime
  • · Use lower-wattage bulbs in areas like hallways
  • · Install weatherstripping around doors and windows
  • · Plug electronics into advanced power strips
  • · Unplug cellphone and laptop chargers when not in use
  • · Buy Energy Star appliances and use energy-saving settings
  • · Set your fridge to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and clean coils regularly
  • · Use the microwave instead of the stove (it uses half the power)
  • · Install a timer on your AC