Greening Apartment Buildings

Almost every environmentally conscious person has run into the old adage of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. While this call to action is self-explanatory, what may be lesser known about these stages is that they are listed from greatest to least effective. By focusing on Reduce, the first and most effective stage, individuals can make significant energy saving contributions in even the smallest of spaces – a New York City apartment.

There are 4 categories that energy consumption in an apartment can fall under – space heating, space cooling, lighting, and plug loads. Whether you’re moving in for the first time or you’re looking to upgrade an old system, each category has many “smart” new ways to reduce energy consumption:

1: Space Heating: Old steam radiator systems are the bane of most apartment owners and renters because they have poor (or no) temperature control, which results in excessive over-heating and frequent under-heating. New products in development, like the Cozy from Radiator Labs, allow occupants to control when the radiator provides heat. The radiator is insulated and will only provide heat when the temperature of the room drops below setpoint and the fan turns on.

2: Space Cooling: Window air conditioners are great for cooling apartments without central air but lack any complex controls. If left on all day they drain energy from the city grid and can cost the user hundreds of dollars per month. However, Con Edison now offers programs for better control over window air conditioners for free. The coolNYC program lets Con Edison customers request a “smart thermostat” which runs individual air conditioning units on a predetermined schedule and provides control over the system through a smartphone app. Greater controls reduce the need to keep your unit running all day and gives users the freedom to consume energy only when necessary.

3: Lighting: Perhaps the easiest way to cut down on lighting load is to use more efficient bulbs. In the past the best option was compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL), but recently the market has seen an increase in LED sales. LEDs are typically more expensive than CFLs, but they can last more than twice the life of a CFL bulb, more than 20 times the length of a normal incandescent and still provide 85% energy savings over traditional bulbs.

4: Plug Loads: Even after electronic devices have been turned off, they continue to draw power from the grid if left plugged in. This type of energy is referred to as vampire loads or phantom loads and can add up to be a serious waste of energy. To combat this, appliances must be unplugged or the power strip it is connected to must be turned off. This inconvenience can be avoided by installing a smart powerstrip, which completely shuts off power to all appliances when it senses a main appliance is not in use. For example, if you were to turn off your television, a smart powerstrip would sense this and completely shut down your cable box, stereo and DVD player to avoid the vampire load. While these individual savings are not significant, the savings across the entire electrical grid can make a notable difference.

One thought on “Greening Apartment Buildings”

  1. Good ideas, Brian. Especially #4 – so few are aware of this. Thankfully #1 & 2 don’t apply in my neighborhood, but here’s another one that applies everywhere: Food Scraps.

    The EPA has estimated that “95% of food scraps are landfilled in the US each year, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to seven coal-fired power plants.”

    One of Los Angeles’ largest waste/recycling companies has joined in a food scrap recovery pilot program for multifamily buildings. This hasn’t come to my town yet. It’s 80% apartments and we could use it (especially as the city only makes limited greens waste recycling available to single family residents). I find ways to compost at my apartment but that is, admittedly, very tricky and not practical for most.

    I hope we see more of this: https://www.globalgreen.org/press/263

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