Renewed Focus on Enforcing and Instituting Energy Efficiency in New York City’s Buildings

New York City’s energy conservation code applies to new, existing, commercial, and residential buildings.

There are a few exemptions (properties with federal and state historic designations, as well as some small renovations), but broadly the code applies to new construction and most renovations. The current code requires project teams to follow the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) or the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1 code in addition to some NYC-specific requirements.  


Why Compliance Will Be Increasingly Important 

Currently, around one-third of residential projects and 60 percent of commercial projects in NYC do not meet the energy code. Up until very recently, enforcement was weak, with plan reviews being practically non-existent and on-site inspections only occasionally conducted. However, plan review enforcement and inspection enforcement are increasing. In 2015, an energy code review fee of $220 was instituted. As a result, permit reviewers have more funds to do their jobs. Onsite inspections have also experienced a recent uptick.  

With Mayor De Blasio’s One City: Built to Last goal of reducing the city’s 2005 greenhouse emissions levels by 80 percent by 2050, city reviewers and inspectors are paying increased attention to energy code compliance throughout the design and construction process. About 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, and code advancement and compliance is therefore key to reaching the “80 x 50” goal.

With the building industry already adapting the 2009 Local Laws, LL84 Benchmarking, LL85 Energy Code, LL87 Energy Audits, and LL88 Lighting Upgrades, improvements to NYC’s stock of energy efficient buildings will only increase the visibility of buildings that do not meet the energy code. 


What CRE Professionals Need to Be Aware Of 

To improve the rates of compliance, it is important that engineers, architects, contractors, and owners are aware of code requirements and that there are adequate levels of communication among the team. Given this increased scrutiny, here is a brief reminder of the primary building components impacted and/or encouraged by the current IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 codes: 

  • Building envelopes (e.g. windows, walls, air sealing and insulation)
  • Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and equipment 
  • Service water heating
  • Building controls 
  • Electrical power and lighting 
  • Submetering
  • Renewable energy 
  • Minimum levels of commissioning to improve the quality of construction and operation
  • Documentation requirements


In addition, architects and engineers must meet the code requirements via one of the following compliance paths: 

  1. Prescriptive compliance path. Requirements include specific design decisions. 
  2. Prescriptive w/ tradeoffs compliance path. Requirements include specific design decisions. Some design decisions not met can be “traded” for improving another design decision significantly beyond the minimum requirement. 
  3. Performance-based compliance path. The building must demonstrate its over-all level of energy performance.  
Next Steps 

Most architects in NYC currently select the prescriptive compliance or the prescriptive with tradeoffs compliance paths. In these paths, a simple spreadsheet or a free online tool called COMcheck can be used to determine code compliance.

For the performance-based compliance path, a sophisticated energy model is required to calculate energy usage. Unfortunately, projects often do not have the budget or team members for energy modeling. However, engineering consultants with a specialty in energy modeling are becoming more prevalent and price competitive, and project teams should reach out to them early in a project to help with code compliance and to get the most value out of the energy model.

Energy codes set a minimum bar for how buildings consume energy. At their best, energy codes improve the quality of new buildings and retrofits and save cities massive amounts of energy. At their worst, energy codes are overlooked, expensive to comply with, and unenforced. With improved communication about the energy code requirements, teamwork, and implementation best practices, we can reduce code violations and penalties and get the best out of our codes while avoiding the worst.


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