The Bill-What Green Laws Are Presently On The Books And How Do They Affect How We Practice Architecture And Engineering In The Tri-State Area?

Douglas P. Casper

April 2007

Up until now, most Green building requirements have been strictly voluntary in nature and, for that reason, unevenly followed. Now, with the advent of sweeping regulations being put forward by the city, as well as some of the public authorities that situation is changing dramatically.

Presently, in New York City, there are only nine LEED Certified buildings, less than one tenth of a percent of the new buildings built here over the last ten years. The problem is that, aside from the administrative effort required to submit a building to the United States Green Building Council as a Registered building, the time and money spent discourages the typical building owner from pursuing this option.

Then; on June 10, 2001; Governor George Pataki signed Executive Order 111 for “Green and Clean” state buildings and vehicles. This document was prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority www.nyserda.org. This order required that all new building and major renovation projects undertaken by state agencies that were greater than 20,000 square feet in area must be designed to be the equivalent of a LEED rated building. (Significantly, the order did not require the buildings to be submitted to the USGBC and go through their formal rating process.) Transportation and Industrial buildings were exempted from this ruling.

The list of Agencies affected includes: Battery Park City Authority, City University of New York, New York Power Authority, and New York State Public Transportation Authority. Some of the LEED Certified buildings put into service over the last seven years were designed and built under the aegis of some of these agencies.

New York City Council, on October 3, 2005, passed Local Law 86 (LEED Law). This ruling, effective January 1, 2007, requires all new building or substantial renovation projects done for city agencies to be Certified as LEED Silver. This involves actually Registering the project with the USGBC and, then, working through the certification process with the “Council” until it receives its Certification.

Schools, libraries, and medical facilities need not be Silver rated – but must receive at least a LEED Basic rating. Occupancy group G (educational and libraries) and H-2 Occupancies (hospitals and clinics) only require a LEED Basic Rating. Occupant groups A (high hazard), D (industrial), F-2 (grandstands, stadia, etc.), and all group J (residential) are exempted. In addition, all affected building must improve energy efficiency and reduce potable water usage.

The city has over 1300 buildings and leases over 12.8 million square feet of office space. This legislation will affect 12 billion worth of construction, over the next 10 years.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) developed their own extensive guidelines, referred to as the Sustainable Design Guidelines (SDG), effecting all the work being done on the World Trade Center Site. These guidelines are significantly more stringent than are the LEED Version 2.2, which went into effect January 1, 2007. In addition, Governor Pataki, in his “swansong,” required all buildings on the site to be the equivalent of LEED Gold Certified buildings.

The “Green and Clean” legislation and Local Law 86 will have a positive effect on the sheer number of Green buildings that will get built, going into the future. To appreciate just how extensive these requirements are, consider that, embedded in the LEED Reference Guides are additional laws and standards that must be adhered to – in order to be able to build a Green building. These additional requirements go well beyond our present day building codes.

A good example of that phenomenon is the referenced standards of the American Society of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The building codes currently in effect in the states of New York and New Jersey are adaptations of the International Building Code, 2000 Edition. These codes reference ASHRAE 90.2P (ASHRAE 1989): Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential. The New York City Building Code references ASHRAE Handbook - 1987 HVAC Systems and Applications. (The New York City Building Code is known for having out-dated reference standards.)

Now that the city and state agencies are requiring that A/E firms design in accordance with the LEED Reference Guides, a much higher standard for HVAC equipment is being elicited. Under Energy and Atmosphere Credit 2, LEED-NC, Version 2.2 references ASHRAE 90.1-2004: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential. This standard requires buildings to be at least 20% more efficient than the older version currently referenced in the 2000 International Building Codes (the I-Codes).

Another example of how the LEED Reference Guides go significantly further than state and municipal codes in effect is in the area of paints. LEED-NC, Version 2.2, under Credit EQ 4.2 – Low Emitting Materials. This credit applied to interior coatings only (site applied and within the weatherproofing system). Flat paints can have a maximum of 50 grams per liter of volatile organic compounds (voc’s) and non-flats can have a maximum of 150 g/L voc content. The reference standard Green Seal GS-11 defines flat as less than 5 degrees gloss, so – most paints would classify as non-flat. Incidentally, primers are included in these categories, as well.

New York, New Jersey, and several other states in the northeast follow the Ozone Transport Commissions rulings. The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) was formed by Congress in 1990 to reduce ground-level ozone and improve air quality (in the northeast). Surprisingly, New York and New Jerseys’ requirements, as codified in the Department of Conservations’ regulations are significantly less stringent than the Green Seal figures, however, they are going to get totally rewritten over the next two years, which will bring them in line with the LEED requirements.

The LEED Guidelines, of course, have extensive requirements in all areas that go significantly beyond the regulations found in the state and municipal building codes. That is due, largely. To the fact that building codes take several years to adopt and are by definition always going to be at least a few years behind the current codes and standards. New York City is in the process of revamping their building code, following the I-Code model. Because there are so many quirky features contained within the New York City Building Code, however – the process is being delayed. (The New York City Building Code was supposed to be released January 1, 2007 – but, alas, it was not.)

The latest decisions made by our area politicians to adopt and embrace the new Green building Guidelines as part of there requirements is a major decision and one that should be applauded. Governmental entities must help as much as they can to facilitate the change process because, like with anything in life – there are going to be “growing pains.” This new direction should be applauded by the design community because it affords it the best opportunity, yet, to engage in the design and construction of Green buildings on a larger scale than was previously possible.