Empire State Building Goes Green

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 18, 2009

There is no other building quite like it.

Once the tallest freestanding structure, the Empire State Building is a defining image of the New York City skyline that has begun to grow old with America.

Even though it was surpassed by the World Trade Center, and two towers in Chicago—the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and the Trump International Hotel and Tower—the building that King Kong climbed up will forever hold a place in our hearts.

After almost 80 years, "The Empire" is showing some of age, but the owners are going to give her a major face-lift to save money and the environment.

Part of a $520 million building makeover, the building is looking to save $4 million dollars in electric bills annually by replacing incandescent bulbs with high efficiency lighting, upgrading to eco-friendly windows and a Web-based dashboard accessible from the office computers that gives feedback on energy use.

While $500+ is a major price tag, the people at Empire want to serve as an example, because according to their numbers, the upgrades will pay themselves off in just a few years.

Simple Upgrades = Big Returns

First, the owners thought they would need a new (and expensive) HVAC unit to lower their heating and AC costs.

But once the engineers took a look at the building and the infrastructure, they realized that they could make some simple upgrades like a variable frequency drive which will save millions of kWh annually.

But this is hardly all that is being done to the 102 floors in the building.

Another very efficient way to lower energy bills is through simple, inexpensive structural upgrades, and this stands true for every single American home, business and apartment complex.

Right now, about 50% of the heat escapes into the New York skies, due to thousands of windows, doors and cracks that grace the building.

The engineers focused on small changes that make a big difference – like insulating the 6,500 windows in the building. They would remove the double-pane windows, pump in a layer of film and gas and fit the same windows.

By 2013 (the completion of the retro-fitting) the owners expect to reduce energy use by 38%.

When you consider the thousands of people using microwaves, laptops, AC power, lights, etc., that can save untold amounts of money.

The Players

Cleantech experts like Johnson Controls Inc. (NYSE:JCI), the inventors of the first thermostat, are participating in this upgrade. JCI is contributing expertise, planning and equipment.

Another major contributer is the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), energy efficiency consultant, which is working to design and plan the project. They’re using state of the art technology to simulate the most efficient setup for the building.

Unfortunately, RMI is private, so there is no way to get a piece of this particular green building consultant, but there are a number of firms that specialize in the same industry that you can snag a piece of.

While it is tough to pull a pure play from this particular project, as most of the companies involved are private or have a number of other projects, but there is still money to be had from this story…or rather money to be saved.

The owners of the building are out to show other property owners how easy and rewarding it is to retrofit your home, office, or business.

They want to show you that if a 102-story building in the heart of New York can save millions annually on electric bills, so can you.

And they know that if they can pay off their investment in less than 5 years, it will encourage other property owners to do the same.

So to all you skeptical home/business owners out there, keep an eye on this story. 

-Kyle Haas

P.S. – My colleague Jeff Siegel just wrote an article on Green Building and Jobs that you should definitely take a look at.

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