News Brief

Building Owners “Shafted” by Antiquated Fire Codes

In NYC and beyond, old regulations for elevator shafts waste energy —to the tune of millions of dollars every year. Urban Green Council offers solutions.

4%–16% of heating fuel in NYC is spent on released hot air.

Photo: Alex Eflon. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.
Besides discouraging able-bodied people from climbing flights of stairs, elevator shafts are running up major energy expenditures. That’s the conclusion of a report released by Urban Green Council, which estimates building owners around New York City could collectively save more than $11 million a year with relatively simple retrofits.

Until last year, NYC fire code required that vents at the tops of all stairwells and elevator shafts in residential buildings remain open. The law was a safety precaution to create pathways for smoke, but the same pathways give heated air an escape route, especially with the chimney effect of putting the opening at the top of a long elevator shaft.

Urban Green Council projects that an average of 4%–16% of heating fuel in NYC is spent on released hot air, adding up to $3,400 per year that building owners must pay on average. According to their projection, between now and 2050, one million metric tons of CO2e will be wasted­—equivalent to the annual energy use of more than 90,000 homes. The group studied 15 buildings of varying heights across boroughs to arrive at these figures.

They have a solution: cover the gaps. Annealed glass and mechanical vents can be installed with a realistic investment, the report claims, and a snappy payback is estimated at one to five years. The conclusion: “If simple repairs were performed on 4,000 tall apartment buildings in NYC, it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 metric tons and save over $11 million every year.”

The report includes a chart to determine energy loss for areas outside NYC. Leaky windows and hallways also contribute to unnecessary energy loss and bills, but covering giant holes in the roof is a great place to start.

Read more

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For more information:

Urban Green Council

Published April 28, 2015

Fichman, A. (2015, April 28). Building Owners “Shafted” by Antiquated Fire Codes . Retrieved from

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