New York moves fast. But, as anyone working in the building industries knows, construction does not. There are a lot of moving parts and players that slow down the progress of your project, and most retrofits are no different. New York’s Urban Green Council estimates that a typical building retrofit involves at least ten steps!


But retrofits are a crucial part of getting New York City to that 2050 goal of an 80% reduction in buildings-based emissions. Retrofits can cover everything from lighting to heating, HVAC, sensors, lifts, or equipment. And since lighting contributes to about 10% of a building’s total energy use, it’s a retrofit worth your time—and one of the least expensive to implement.


Energy use in commercial buildings


New York’s building density is what makes it such a large energy load. But this density also creates an opportunity to significantly reduce our city’s carbon footprint. Considering 85% of New York’s existing buildings will still be here in 2050, it’s imperative we modernize and reduce the energy waste of those buildings. While New York City has almost a million structures, only 2% of those structures are responsible for 48% of the city’s energy use and take up almost half of the city’s square footage.


In response to this, in 2009, the city established the Greener Greater Buildings Plan including local law 84, local law 85, local law 87, and local law 88, focusing on the city’s largest buildings that use the most energy. In 2016, local law 84 and local law 88 were both updated to include smaller buildings. Local law 84 was adjusted to lower the 50,000 square foot building size threshold to 25,000 square feet, requiring water and energy benchmarking for midsize buildings. Local law 88 was also adjusted to reduce the threshold for mandatory submetering of commercial tenant spaces from 10,000 to 5,000 square feet. Local law 85 concerns the energy conservation code which encompasses all the provisions of the New York state code as well as additional requirements that vary for residential and commercial buildings. And finally, local law 87 requires buildings over 50,000 square feet undergo periodic energy audits and retrofits as needed.


When you’re considering a retrofit for your commercial or residential building, you need to know what you’re starting with. A quick way to get a broad understanding of your building’s energy consumption is by using an energy calculator. Con Edison provides one that’s free to use online, with available adjustments for building type and age, heating type, operating hours, etc. To get a more accurate idea of your baseline, an audit would be the next best step.

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Square footage cities benchmarking new york city


In terms of a lighting audit, the process is pretty straightforward. The first step is a walk through to determine the quality and quantity of available lighting in the space. This process would determine areas where light levels may be too high or too low, where lights are left on unnecessarily or not used, and any other factors leading to visual discomfort. The quantity, type, and location of lighting is noted, as well as measurements of light levels throughout the space.


Once the current state of your lighting has been recorded, a plan for the modifications required is set forth. This plan can include everything from new fixtures, LED lamps, sensors, and control systems—or simply a lamp-for-lamp replacement. It’s all dependent on your efficiency goals, budget, and baseline.


Another thing to consider when performing a lighting retrofit are the incentives available. Fortunately, New York state is one of the national leaders when it comes to providing incentives for energy efficiency—they give out about $250 million annually! Unfortunately, these programs are often difficult to understand, or even find. ConEd has a robust incentive program available to its customers that follows two tracks: the Equipment Rebate Program and the Custom Program. The Equipment Rebate Program offers cash rebates for the installation of energy-efficient equipment including LED lighting and lighting controls, HVAC, refrigeration system upgrades, and so on.


A retrofit of any kind will increase your building’s energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. A lighting retrofit will do both while improving the quality of the work environment and delivering a 400% return on investment. Considering the energy used in New York City’s buildings accounts for nearly three quarters of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, the question isn’t “Why should I do a retrofit?” but “When?”


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Wavelength is proud to be part of a community that includes offices, hotels, schools, retailers, LED manufacturers, and energy project investors. Material published here, however, reflects only our personal views on lighting, not those of our various partners.