Decoding the Code: 2016 New York City Energy Conservation Code

September 20, 2016
air tightness test
An SGH engineer sets up a fan for air tightness testing

On 3 October 2016, the updated New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) will go into effect. These new requirements represent a major step forward for the city’s carbon reduction goals by driving greater building efficiency, but also place stricter guidelines on the architecture and engineering industry with essentially no transition period. It is important for building owners and project stakeholders to be aware of what is changing and understand what will be required to meet the new code moving forward.

WHAT IS CHANGING?
New York City officials approved the new code in July 2016, which follows and builds upon the adoption of new building codes at the national and state levels. This update, the second in less than two years, includes some substantial changes to building enclosure design, testing, and overall efficiency.

The new code still includes different compliance paths through either the NYCECC or ASHRAE Standard 90.1. The updated code provisions vary for commercial and residential buildings and depend on the compliance path selected, which adds complexity for designers choosing what best suits the needs of their project. Among several changes, the new code:

  • Prescribes thicker insulation for some opaque enclosure components.
  • Places more stringent requirements on some fenestration types.
  • Requires air tightness testing, which may include quantitative whole-building tests or a number of qualitative tests based on building size.
  • Considers the effect of mechanical penetrations for equipment on thermal performance of the building enclosure, including previously “ignored” equipment such as packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs).
bubble test
An SGH engineer performs bubble testing of a
building enclosure

WHY IS THE CODE CHANGING?
New York City has set ambitious goals to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. With these code changes, the city aims to dramatically increase the efficiency of new and renovated buildings by reducing air leakage and energy consumption. According to the Urban Green Council, New York City has seen 32 million square feet of new building area added to the city each year over the past 15 years. 

Based on this rate of construction, the NYCECC changes would reduce close to 70,000 metric tons of carbon emissions over the next three-year code cycle – the typical update period for the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), on which the 2016 NYCECC is based.*

WHO IS AFFECTED?
The NYCECC changes apply to new commercial and residential buildings, as well as certain aspects of building renovations and expansions. 

For current projects, building owners and project stakeholders need to be aware of when their designs are filed for approval by the city. With essentially no transition period between codes, designs filed prior to 3 October 2016 can meet the 2014 code. Designs filed on or after 3 October 2016 must meet the new 2016 NYCECC. This can have significant cost and schedule impacts for projects currently in design, as the stringency of the 2016 code could mean major changes to building enclosure, lighting, and mechanical systems necessary for compliance. 

Moving forward, it is important to become familiar with these code changes and how they affect new design and renovation projects in the future.

blower door testing
Blower door testing

WHAT’S NEXT?
These changes represent a major shift in how we design and construct buildings in New York City. Adapting to the new code may cause challenges and delays for ongoing projects, but the new requirements will lead to more efficient buildings that reduce energy costs in the long run. Building owners and project stakeholders should seek the advice and guidance of expert building science practitioners to ensure that ongoing and new buildings meet the new code and apply best practices for design, testing, and construction.

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* “New Energy Code Means Big Efficiency Gains for City and State,” Christopher Halfnight, Urban Green Council. Based on NYC PLUTO data from 2000–2014.