A Pocket Guide to Local Law 97: The Future is Here, Are You Prepared? 07/12/23
By: Connor Brown, BLDUP NYC
NYC is a massive and continually evolving metropolis, with a major presence on the world stage. It’s a city that always tries to set examples for the world, and right now officials have their sights on transforming New York into one of the greenest cities on earth. With new energy codes, and strict requirements on the way for both new and existing structures, owners and developers will have to act deliberately in order to comply with the law. One of the more pressing topics on everyone’s mind lately when it comes to changing energy codes is Local Law 97. So what can we expect, who does it affect, and how does this law even work?
Local Law 97: What is It?
Local Law 97 is an ambitious piece of legislation aimed at the reduction of building emissions, passed by NYC’s City Council in April 2019. It represents a component of the “Climate Mobilization Act”, which was brought forth as part of former mayor, Bill de Blasio’s “New York City Green New Deal”. Local Law 97 aims to reduce building-produced emissions by 40% leading up to 2030 and ultimately 80% by 2050.
Local Law 97: Why is it Necessary?
While cars and air traffic are often blamed as the leading contributors of urban pollution, the fact is, buildings account for approximately two-thirds of the greenhouse gases emitted in New York City. In 2019 when de Blasio announced the NYC Green New Deal, he also announced his plan to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. The city believes that this law will greatly help to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality.
Local Law 97: What Does it Mandate?
In a nutshell, Local Law 97 requires all buildings over 25,000 sqft (with some exceptions, listed below) to comply with new energy efficiency standards and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024. A second wave of stricter limits will then be rolled out by 2030. Different limits will be set for different property types, due to the inherently varied energy needs of certain businesses and building types.
As of today, an estimated, 50,000 structures, throughout the city’s five boroughs, will have to be modified into compliance by 2024, while all future construction projects will need to meet this code, bearing in mind both current and future regulations. Owners who fail to comply with the new rules will be issued civil penalties, while those who don’t report their building’s energy usage at all will be subject to more serious fines.
Local Law 97: Who is Exempt?
While the law is overwhelmingly thorough, there are certain building categories that will be considered “exceptions to the rule” due to having special use cases, or a tax-exempt status. Property types that are not required to comply include city-owned buildings (such as fire stations, police stations, public works garages, administrative offices, etc…), religious structures and houses of worship, non-profit healthcare facilities and hospitals, electric and steam-producing power plants, structures that are part of the federal housing program, rent-regulated housing, property owned by the NYC Housing Authority, and developments owned by the Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). It should be noted, however, that while not subject to the emissions caps found in Local Law 97, these properties will still be required to reduce their overall carbon emissions in the future.
How Will Local Law 97 Affect Each of the Five Boroughs?
Due to its population density and quantity of high-rise structures, it’s reasonable to assume that Manhattan will have the biggest task ahead when it comes to complying with Local Law 97. With so many Manhattan buildings totaling hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of square feet, the scale of some of these retrofits and renovations will be staggering. Modernization efforts for these structures will neither be quick, nor cheap for owners, and they could easily become large-scale projects in and of themselves. Building envelope, window and facade replacements, for example, may prove especially challenging.
The Bronx will arguably experience its own share of major growing pains as it tries to comply with the new regulations. The borough has a high population density and is heavily characterized by multifamily apartment buildings and large commercial structures. Buildings in the Bronx tend to be smaller in stature than those in Manhattan, but this won’t make retrofits quicker, easier, or any less expensive as these initiatives are all case-by-case operations dealing with unique challenges and design parameters that each asset presents.
Brooklyn and Queens will be in the same boat as the Bronx in terms of types of buildings in need of intervention. Both boroughs are dense and diverse, and each boasts thousands of multifamily buildings and commercial developments. Tall building booms are taking place in several neighborhoods, such as Long Island City, Jamaica, Greenpoint, Coney Island, and Downtown Brooklyn, which equates to an incredible amount of structures that will have to adhere to Local Law 97. The big difference between these two boroughs and the Bronx however, is that vast sections of Brooklyn and Queens consist of low-rise, residential neighborhoods. Therefore, while the process of adjusting to the new regulations will still be widespread, certain neighborhoods will be impacted more than others.
Last, but not least, it’s our belief that Staten Island will be the least affected borough by Local Law 97. Staten Island is more akin to a suburb than an urban metropolis, and most of the borough is characterized by residential neighborhoods with single-family homes, and unbuilt land, such as forests and parks. That being said, a number of larger buildings, specifically on the northern end of the island in areas such as St. George, Port Richmond, and Stapleton Heights, will need to keep compliant.
Who Will Be Involved in Renovating These Buildings?
The conversion process for many of these buildings will be extensive, and therefore require the collective expertise of many industry professionals, working in unison. Energy, sustainability, and facade consultants will certainly be at the forefront of these projects, but we can also expect work to trickle down to a wide variety of suppliers and subcontractors, such as glass and facade manufacturers, crane operators and riggers, interior demolition specialists, mechanical engineers, plumbers, electricians, fire sprinkler designers, and the list goes on. Of course, to carry out any sort of work in the city, you also need permitting consultants and (oftentimes) site safety managers too. Even outside the realm of the construction world, these conversions will feed new business to broader types of service providers, such as insurance companies and law firms. Ultimately, the inherent complexity of modifying buildings to achieve efficiency gains they weren’t designed for, and the diverse pool of knowledge needed to make it happen, mean that these conversions will essentially become group projects, fueled by the niche expertise of a wide range of specialists.
Local Law 154:
While Local Law 97 is the most widely discussed change to NYC’s energy code, it is by no means the only change that’s been made. Passed by the New York City Council on December 15, 2021, Local Law 154 establishes strict CO2 limits for the construction of new buildings. Beginning in 2024, this law will ban the burning of fossil fuels in new or significantly renovated structures, essentially requiring all building systems to rely on electric power. This regulation will be rolled out in 2-phases with any new buildings under 7 stories to be subject to the law starting in 2024, and any new structures with over 7-stories to be subject beginning in 2027. Major building renovations will also be subject to Local Law 154, but only in cases where the structure’s floor surface area is to be increased by more than 110%.
This guide to Local Law 97 is the first article in a multi-part series exploring the topics of changing energy codes and energy-efficient buildings. Over the next month, stay tuned each week as we dive into specific NYC mega-projects that are rising up to the challenge of Local Laws 97 and 154. These are game-changing projects that are redefining the way our city adapts, as we enter a brand new age defined by sustainable construction. We’ll also be taking a look at how energy codes vary around the country and at the different types of codes used by the states and jurisdictions surrounding New York City.