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Condo Co-Op Help Line: Preparing for Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines in New York City

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Mann Report Management - January 2018

By: Carol Sigmond

The United States may have withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, but the issues of climate change remain topical. Indeed, New York State and New York City are among the U.S. jurisdictions that are working within the Paris framework, the U.S. withdrawal notwithstanding.

Despite all of the climate change deniers, current projections are that the sea level will rise between two and 10 inches above the 2004 levels by 2030. Temperatures in New York City are projected to increase between 1.5°F and 3.2°F over 2004 levels by 2030. Measurable precipitation is projected to increase up to 10 percent over 2004 levels by 2030. The effects of the rising sea level, rising tides, increased precipitation, and increased heat increase potential deaths from heat exposure and flood damage. The full 2015 Report of the New York City Panel on Climate Change is available at

In May 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) for the purpose of helping New York City to prepare for the impacts of climate change. There are plans to strengthen the shoreline (NYC has 520 miles of shoreline), upgrade buildings (NYC has over a million buildings) and protect essential infrastructure for the city's 7 million-plus residents. Among the tasks of the ORR is the development of Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines. At present, there is a report on Preliminary Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines (Preliminary Guidelines).

The Preliminary Guidelines do not provide specific design information, but they signal changes to buildings in the near term. For cooperative and condominium buildings and their leadership, now is the time to familiarize yourself with the issues and likely changes. New York City, like all urban areas, suffers from excess heat. The asphalt roads and flat roofs retain and reflect out significant amounts of heat. Worse yet, in our efforts to cool buildings, we create more heat pushed into the air by the HVAC equipment. To combat the excess heat, there are likely to be changes in approved materials for roofs and facades to improve the efficiency of the building envelopes.

There will also be efforts to increase the number of green roofs arid facades. These are costly, not only to install and maintain, but the underlying structural support for a green roof is heavier than a conventional roof, because of the weight of soil and greenery. There will also be efforts to increase shade trees, planters, and vegetated structures. Paved areas may be unbound to allow for more vegetation. In addition, buildings will be asked to rely on passive cooling techniques, improved window shades, high-performance glazing, and generation of solar energy.

The city-wide drainage system is not sufficient for the sudden heavy downpours that we are now experiencing. To relieve the load off the sewers, the city will be looking to unbound some paved areas to create additional drainage and look at improving the overall operation and capacity of the city sewer system. This may entail requiring buildings to passively drain water with vegetated areas and structures.

Buildings located in flood zones will have to increase resiliency to rising tides and storm surges. Elevating entrances and protecting critical systems from flooding is the first step, but moving machine rooms out of the cellars up to mezzanine levels may be required. Typically, New York City develops new standards and imposes them on residential buildings at the same time and in the same manner as it imposes new standards on commercial and retail buildings. The time to begin financial planning for what is likely to be significant costs to comply with the new guidelines is now. That means this is also the time to begin to educate unit owners and shareholders about the likelihood of these new requirements.

This column presents a general discussion. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your attorney for specific legal advice.

This article was originally published by Mann Report: Management. You can access the article on their website.