New York City loves its landmarks. So much so, that trying to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to modify historic buildings, no matter how slightly, can prove quite a challenge. The Commission’s strict rules make it even harder to do bigger overhauls, like green retrofits, without forking over a ton of cash. But yesterday the Commission announced that they will be working with the Municipal Art Society to show that greening a historic property can be completed without changes in appearance or breaking the bank. The focus of the project will be the 1830s Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The goal is to reduce the energy usage of the Henry Street Settlement’s three Federal-style townhouses by 25 percent with a “modest investment” — exactly what amounts to a modest investment has yet to be revealed. However, officials did say that the changes would quickly pay for themselves through savings on energy bills. The buildings, located at 263-67 Henry Street are ideal for the project because of their age, lack of alterations, and ubiquitous style and size, in terms of New York City buildings.
The Pratt Center for Community Development is consulting on the project, guiding and managing the retrofit. The first phase involves inexpensive steps that have no bearing on the buildings’ architecture, like thermostatic and lighting control, retro commissioning, and weatherization. Then the architects will consider more substantial changes like using solar panels or other forms of renewable energy. This summer, a group of green building experts, including architects and engineers, will gather to discuss creative solutions. The project is being paid for by a challenge grant from the JM Kaplan Fund.
“Roughly 55 percent of New York’s building stock is more than 70 years old, and any serious efforts to build a more sustainable city must include solutions for making these older buildings more efficient” said MAS President Vin Cipolla. “This project really is a challenge to show that if you can improve the energy efficiency of a landmark at a modest cost, you can improve many of our city’s older buildings.”
We’ve seen several historic New York buildings undergo green renovations, but not without a significant capital outlay. Recently, we reported that the Argonaut Building received LEED Gold after a $45 million retrofit, and last fall, a landmark Brooklyn brownstone was renovated to Passive House standards, which meant purchasing expensive triple glazed windows that still conformed to the landmark aesthetic. And we can’t forget the city’s most famous green renovation: the $100 million makeover of the Empire State Building.
But these are all significant undertakings with large price tags. The point of the Henry Street demonstration is to prove that energy efficiency can be improved without extreme changes and costs. To ensure that others will be able to replicate the results at Henry Street, MAS and the Landmarks Preservation Commission will write a manual, detailing the project and the steps they took.