Testing smart solutions for greening vintage buildings

Lessons from 100 Avenue of the Americas aim to advance NYC decarbonization

What’s the Point?

Achieving the aggressive carbon-reduction targets of New York City’s 80x50 Roadmap depends largely on greening the city’s vast commercial building stock. In a landmark project at 100 Avenue of the Americas, Hines and partners were able to retrofit a 96-year-old building to use almost no energy for heating at minimal first cost, without touching the building façade. The project represents a major step forward in developing a playbook to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

Exploring the potential of electric HVAC

In search of decarbonization solutions, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) commissioned Hines to methodically study electric building systems. Because approximately 70% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy used to heat, cool and power buildings,1 the team investigated electric-powered HVAC systems. While these systems are used across Europe and Japan, lack of familiarity and regulatory hurdles have kept them from becoming widely used in the United States.

Hines’ Mike Izzo, senior vice president, environment strategies, assembled a multi-disciplinary team of consultants to explore the use of different options at 100 Avenue of the Americas, a vintage building that is part of Hines’ Hudson Square Properties Portfolio. Built in 1930, 100 Avenue of the Americas is a 376,865-square-foot, 17-story masonry building. Like many of New York City’s vintage commercial properties, the building has an uninsulated façade, double-pane windows, and energy-intensive natural-gas boilers, air conditioning units and oversized fans that were prime for replacement.

Izzo’s team developed six different HVAC schemes based on “circular system” philosophy: (1) reduce demand for heating and cooling and re-use the heat generated by computers, lights and the occupants themselves to heat the building—instead of simply ejecting it to the outdoors. Then (2) address the remaining demand for heating or cooling with highly efficient equipment, ideally powered by clean electrical energy.

Impressive results show the way to a decarbonized future

In short, with the 100 Avenue of the Americas prototype, the team determined that substantial energy savings are possible with electric systems. What’s more, implementation is virtually identical to that of standard HVAC retrofits.

The project results demonstrated that load sharing could virtually eliminate the need for gas heating in New York’s buildings—and make decarbonization possible. Unlike conventional systems, the load-sharing systems actually output more useful energy than they use. The resulting energy use intensity (EUI) of 100 Avenue of the Americas is as low as today’s best-in-class new construction buildings or nearly zero energy buildings. What little energy the building will use can be supplied by the municipal power grid, forecasted to be 100% renewable by 2040.

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Perhaps most important for large-scale market adoption, the cost of implementing two of the three options that the team studied was comparable or only incrementally more than the cost to deploy standard practice counterparts. Equally important for market adoption, the solutions only minimally disrupted operations and can be easily scaled up or down. The schemes also worked equally well whether implemented on a floor-by-floor basis or when applied to an entire building.

Because full-floor tenants vacate spaces approximately every 10 years, New York City will see ample opportunities for upgrades before the city’s 2050 deadline to achieve carbon neutrality—and other cities can follow New York’s example.

More details on the project and its results are available here.

1 https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sustainability/downloads/pdf/publications/New%20York%20City's%20Roadmap%20to%2080%20x%2050_Final.pdf