As the LEED for Homes Advocate for the Urban Green Council in New York, Honigstock plays a role in the enormous task of educating the design and building community and the public about improving building performance—and quick. New York City has set a mandated goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, to below 2005 levels, by 2030. On top of that, the city has new requirements to comply with the New York State Energy Code for the first time, so energy audits and benchmarking will become mainstream.
While 20 years may seem a long way off, the reality is daunting: New York City’s 960,000 buildings are overwhelmingly inefficient and account for 80 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions (40 percent of that comes from residential buildings), according to PlaNYC.
The city has a long way to go, and while there are many new, green high-rises dotting the landscape, the vast majority of the residential buildings that will be here in 20 years are already standing.
“In my mind, making this existing housing stock more efficient is the only way we’re going to achieve any kind of conservation goal,” Honigstock relates.
The real opportunity lies in the 650,000 single- to four-family buildings—low-rises—that account for two-thirds of all of New York’s buildings, she says.
Having weatherized her own Brooklyn home last year, Honigstock can attest to the energy and cost savings achieved by insulating, airsealing, and caulking alone. Her home heating index, the measurement used to score a building’s energy use, dropped 25 percent, from a 16 to a 12. “We saved $700 this year. It totally worked.”
Honigstock can’t fathom why other small building owners and operators don’t make similar efforts. “It actually works and you get your money back in a few years. It’s totally a no-brainer.”
It’s success stories like her own and many others that help sell the concept of greening homes, she says.
An architect for 25 years, 11 of those in her own practice, Honigstock became a LEED Accredited Professional and immersed herself in the world of sustainability about seven years ago. But she found that doing one green building or retrofit at a time represented a drop in the bucket toward greening New York, so she got certified by the Building Performance Institute as a Building Analyst, Envelope Professional, Energy-Efficient Building Operator, and Multifamily Building Analyst, steered her practice toward energy auditing and sustainability consulting work, and embarked on rigorous education, training, and advocacy work.
LEED for Homes hasn’t had much penetration in the New York City market. As the first LEED for Homes Advocate, Honigstock is working to form a committee to help conduct workshops and outreach to the development, design, and building community. She feels there’s too much of a focus on new buildings and high-rise developments, and not enough on smaller homes. Further, she’s encountered a lack of understanding of the value of sustainable practices among professionals. “It’s so difficult to penetrate the market,” she laments. “But I feel that there’s going be enough in the world of affordable housing—so I think that’s where we can have the most effect.”
Honigstock is also trying to establish regular idea-sharing with the LEED for Homes Advocates from other large-city USGBC chapters across the country.
Collaborating is a strong point of hers. Honigstock also served as co-chair for homes on the New York City Green Codes Task Force for 18 months, helping to recommend strategies that could improve the city’s building performance through enforceable codes.
In February the task force, made up of 200 sustainability professionals, released 111 recommendations to the mayor and city council on how to reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions, and increase health and safety through stronger building codes. [See sidebar on page 24 for highlights.]
“So it was a lot of work, but it was really so instructive and it was a really great effort,” Honigstock says.
Making an impact is what she’s all about. She teaches superintendents of buildings about new energy efficient operations and maintenance practices through the 1,000 Green Supers Program at the SEIU Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund. The Fund just received a $2.8 million federal stimulus grant to expand and train 2,200 supers in New York.
The supers spend five full days learning the latest, state-of-the-art practices: how to identify and address wasted energy, create a green operating plan, and perform cost-benefit analysis for building owners and managers. “We give them a lot of strategies. But I hope the thing that we give them the most is tools to be able to communicate why this is important,” Honigstock relates. Many have been superintendents for 25, 30, or 40 years, and they’ve been doing things the same way, she says, adding that she enjoys watching them exchange strategies and confer about their own experiences.
“I totally love it—and it’s a really important program,” Honigstock says. “They are the front lines—they have more control than I would say any other group in the city, other than building owners.”
The green measures she’s advocating for—and using in her own life—don’t only save energy and water, reduce pollution, and improve air quality, but will save the owners a lot of money over the life of the building, she says.
Saving energy is like saving for retirement—not very sexy, but essential. Just as retirement money grows over time through compound interest, so do the energy and operating cost savings over the life of a building, she says.
Honigstock pointed to her own home as an example: “My house was built in 1929 and is going to be standing probably for another 80 to 100 years,” she relates. “So if I can reduce its energy use now, for the next 100 years, it’s going to absolutely dwarf the money I’m spending on the upgrades. If I save $700 this year and probably a little more the next three years as energy prices rise, we’ll have already paid back the insulation.”
Still, she is bothered by this notion of payback—the perception that weatherizing a home or improving its energy efficiency in other ways must pay off quickly.
“Granted, energy costs will go up as time goes on, so payback will be sooner,” Honigstock says. “But it just drives me berserk. People redo their bathroom, they paint their house, they landscape—none of that stuff has payback. Why does retrofitting your house to make it more comfortable, more valuable, and save energy, have to? You don’t have to have a payback; it’s just a better house.”
This is just one of the ideas put forth on Honigstock’s ToeprintProject.com, a blog about sustainable strategies for existing buildings, that features weekly tips and success stories to inspire and motivate others.
“I just feel like the outreach and awareness piece is crucial—there’s just so much that has to be done,” Honigstock says.
Check out our digital edition of this article to read about NYC Green Codes Task Force Recommendations.