Earlier this year, the city's Department of Buildings began auditing thousands of architectural plans for new and renovated office and residential buildings. The results have been staggering: nine of every 10 have failed to meet the energy code, a set of standards that have been on the books for more than 30 years but are only now being enforced in earnest.
In some cases, the Department of Buildings has even stopped nonconforming projects in their tracks.
"We're very serious about this, and are trying to educate the industry on what is required," said Gina Bocra, chief sustainability officer at the Department of Buildings, which set up a permanent audit unit about eight months ago. "Buildings are the largest source of energy consumption in our city, and how we conserve energy is key to making progress on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions."
As laudable as the motivation might be, some people are fretting about the potential costs of compliance in terms of time and money. Looming additions to the building code over the next year only fan the concerns.
Several changes already are under consideration, including a potential requirement for developers to purchase pricey sensors that regulate building systems depending on how many people are present, and another that might require rooms to be more airtight.
The new scrutiny might take some in the development community by surprise. The first energy code was set in place in the 1970s. Subsequently, the city passed its own version but rarely enforced it.
But make no mistake: Flouting the energy code now carries serious risks for developers. The department is drawing up new fines and regulations that will apply specifically to the code.
In a handful of cases, building inspectors have issued stop-work orders at construction sites. And in at least one instance, a random tip called into the department resulted in a developer being investigated and fined for building a structure that was not up to sustainability standards, even though the property had already been occupied.