Retrofitting an empire: Iconic New York City building becomes energy efficient

October 30, 2012

The commercial real estate industry is already considering the benefits of energy efficient building technology in new construction projects, but it seems that the owners of iconic American office structures are also willing to invest in a greener and more efficient future.

The Empire State Building in New York City is arguably the most famous piece of commercial real estate in the world. Completed in 1931, it has towered over Manhattan for many years and has been recognized by many as a symbol of economic strength, even in times of financial hardship. It was not built to be  a leader in efficient energy usage, but according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the owners of the building have embarked on a series of energy efficient retrofits that could see power savings of up to $4.4 million per year.

The building is slowly undergoing a number of green initiatives that will significantly reduce the amount of energy wasted by commercial and residential occupants. The owners of Empire State, Malkin Holdings, have been overhauling the infrastructure and have reported that there has been a saving in operating costs of $2.4 million in the first year alone. A team of third-party engineers, real estate professionals and energy experts put together eight potential projects as part of a retrofit analysis for the building and the energy efficiency upgrade is part of an overhaul that could be used as a model for other classic American properties/structures.

Figures released by the NRDC show that some older buildings can waste up to 80 percent of the energy they consume, mainly through inefficient lighting or inadequate window insulation. The team at Empire State identified windows as a priority when it conducted the original analysis, but with 6,514 windows to work on, the upgrade had to be both cost and energy efficient. The solution was to rebuild the existing windows by sandwiching a layer of high-tech insulating film between the two existing panes of glass, a strategy that saw Malkin save more than $15 million on just that part of the retrofit.

The work at the Empire State is being closely monitored by federal and state energy officials. The Department of Energy has been championing the practice of retrofits in aging buildings and has sponsored an initiative in Philadelphia, the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub), for a similar series of commercial real estate transformations. A consortium of academics, industry thought leaders, energy development companies and the private sector, the EEB Hub is transforming a number of 19th Century buildings in the Greater Philadelphia region as part of a nationwide drive toward energy usage awareness.