“With so many New Yorkers working at home and spending extended hours indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, co-op and condo boards’ thoughts may be turning to indoor air quality. This might be a good time to refurbish a building’s ventilation system – a capital project that may lack great visual appeal but can reap considerable energy savings while improving residents’ comfort, health and peace of mind.

‘They probably already have indoor air-quality questions and concerns,’ says Amalia Cuadra, the senior director of engineering for the energy consultancy EN-POWER Group. ‘The biggest point we hear is, ‘I can smell my neighbors smoking or cooking.’ ‘

… Two New York City co-ops that EN-POWER has worked on have saved money by purchasing more energy-efficient equipment and sealing off faulty ductwork leaks that let cool air escape during summer and warm air during winter – forcing air conditioning and heating systems to work that much harder. The dollar savings can get downright sexy. At the 15-story 10 Plaza Street East co-op in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a $184,000 ventilation refurbishment in the summer of 2016 is saving about $27,000 a year, Cuadra says. And at the 30-story Plymouth Tower at 340 E. 93rd St. in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, a ventilation project costing $200,000 (minus an anticipated NYSERDA incentive of $42,800) is expected to save that co-op $26,000 annually, according to Michael Scorrano, the managing director of EN-POWER. After a few years, these upgrades will turn into money-makers.

How do you know if it’s time for your co-op or condo board to start investigating a ventilation system modernization or upgrade? Resident complaints are one good indicator. ‘The specific concerns we often heard were regarding inadequate ventilation of cooking odors or other odors which apparently traveled between floors and were not being vented out of the building,’ says Micah Garner of Maxwell-Kates, the managing agent at 10 Plaza Street East. At Plymouth Tower, Scorrano says, shareholders likewise complained of odors and also that the lower floors did not receive any airflow while the upper floors had too much.

Such imbalance occurs when apartments on higher floors, nearer the rooftop exhaust fans, get better ventilation than those on lower floors, which may be getting little or none due to their distance from the roof, poorly functioning fans or obstructions and leaks in the ducts.

… At 10 Plaza Street East, the nine-member board addressed residents’ ventilation concerns by first commissioning a study. EN-POWER verified there was no airflow beyond certain points throughout the building, which was built in 1959 and has 134 units. ‘They then set up a camera inspection of all the ducts,’ says Garner, the property manager. ‘At points there were complete blockages that looked like debris from original construction that was never cleared out.’

Cuadra of EN-POWER took a slightly different tack. ‘We cleaned exhaust ducts and apartment registers to remove debris, cooking grease and dust blocking air flow,’ she says. ‘In addition to the regulators, we also installed fire dampers at the registers, which are designed to close during fires to prevent flames from spreading through ductwork.’ Existing rooftop fans were replaced with more appropriately sized fans to match the exhaust rates from the apartments. The new fans run on direct-drive motors instead of belts. ‘They require less maintenance, consume less electricity and produce much less noise when operating’, Cuadra says.

… Importantly, at both 10 Plaza Street East and Plymouth Tower, ductwork leaks were sealed. This is done by using an injected spray sealant. ‘It goes into the ventilation system and finds every hole about the size of a golf ball or smaller, and it steals it,’ Cuadra says.

Scorrano, her colleague adds, ‘It’s almost like a paint sprayer.’ The sealant covers pits, pinhole leaks and spots where two ducts are connected with tape and the tape’s falling apart. Larger holes are sealed manually with fiberglass mesh tape and mastic, a type of plastic resin. With such leaks sealed, fans don’t have to work as hard to pull up air, which lowers energy costs.

… Ventilation became part of this overhaul for a simple reason. ‘Airflow in the building was very inefficient,’ Dwork says. ‘The fans on the roof were either not working, working too much or working too little. Totally out of balance.’ Some residents of the roughly 366 apartments in the 1977-vintage building complained of odors. The board worked with EN-POWER, which went into roughly a dozen apartments and also did flow tests throughout the building to get a good overview.”


To read the full article in HABITAT’s September 2020 Issue  >>>> click here