NYC Retrofit Accelerator Program Offers Help to Owners with Aging Steam Systems
The NYC Retrofit Accelerator is a free program that was introduced last year as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal to create more energy-efficient buildings and reduce greenhouse gas levels. The city is launching a Better Steam campaign to encourage owners to use city resources to upgrade their steam heating systems.
The program is reaching out to owners to perform smaller, affordable tweaks on heating systems that can help reduce one of the single largest opportunities to reduce NYC’s building emissions overall—steam heat.
Steam Heating Distribution Systems
Steam heating systems use a boiler to burn heating oil or natural gas to produce steam on-site. A system of pipes and radiators then distributes this steam to provide heat throughout the building.
Many steam systems are decades old and haven’t been updated since they were originally built. As a result, they waste heat and cause other issues, such as units that are either too hot or too cold or banging or hissing pipes.
The NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability estimates that if every large, steam-heated building in New York City performed relatively simple upgrades, the city’s building-based greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by about 5 percent. This might not seem substantial, but it’s the equivalent of taking 360,000 cars off the roads. Tackling steam all by itself could help reach New York City’s broader climate target, which is to reduce its greenhouse gases by 80 percent by the year 2050.
Data from the past seven years of energy audits shows that steam warms some 70 percent of the city’s large building stock and 80 percent of multifamily residences. And these old heating systems are often inefficient. Whether it’s generated from a basement boiler or distributed via an underground grid, high-pressure steam is supposed to flow uniformly through a building’s network of pipes and radiators. However, early 20th-century health officials designed steam systems to overheat apartments, forcing windows open on the coldest of days. The fresh air was thought to be wholesome.
And over time, poor maintenance and building changes causes steam to distribute unevenly, leaving some apartments freezing while others are too hot. Property managers often respond to complaints of imbalances by cranking up the heat even more, but that rarely helps tenants, and it wastes a lot of energy.
Make Upgrades to Save Energy and Money
You may think there’s nothing you can do about uneven heating issues. Rather than calling for major building renovations or system replacements, the city recommends the following cost-effective solutions. The best approach is to address the system as a whole. You can:
- Clean and tune the boiler to ensure your boiler is operating as efficiently as possible, or for older boilers in need of replacement, resize and replace the boiler.
- Install vents on pipes to help draw steam to apartments furthest from the boiler.
- Install modern heat controls, which use wireless sensors to help maintain comfortable apartment temperatures.
- Install thermostatic radiator valves (and orifice plates for two-pipe steam systems) to give residents control over apartment temperatures and reduce overheating.
To get the most out of these upgrades, you can also:
- Install pipe and boiler insulation to prevent the loss of heat before it reaches apartments.
- Repair steam traps on radiators to ensure efficient release of steam.
The city estimates that by making these upgrades, your building can reduce the fuel used for heating by 15 to 20 percent and help reduce overheating and clanging pipes. And depending on building size and heating fuel, smart steam heating system adjustments can save you from $10,000 to $30,000 a year on energy costs.
Contacting NYC Retrofit Accelerator
Owners can contact the Retrofit Accelerator before or after their energy audits for information about these upgrades, as well as for retrofitting water and cooling systems, which are just as important as heat, and for the names of specially certified service providers.
The program is free and starts with an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a call to the city’s Retrofit Accelerator office at (212) 656-9202. Once a connection is made, an energy-efficiency advisor will:
- Explain your options to fix your building’s steam heating system;
- Connect you with contractors trained by the city to make improvements;
- Find incentives to help pay for the cost of the work;
- Train your staff to keep your steam heating system in working order; and
- Be with you every step of the way, from project start to finish.