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The Path to Sustainability at Henry Street

henry street settlement historic building

Over the past year, MAS and Henry Street Settlement have embarked on an exciting demonstration project to sustainably retrofit the Settlement’s three landmarked buildings on the Lower East Side.  Limiting our budget to serve as a model for small- building owners, we are looking for the greatest payback in energy efficiency for the least dollars, while setting up a plan to effect sustainable change over the coming years. Our first steps and some of our progress to date is outlined below.

The Settlement’s Historic Headquarters

Thanks to research conducted over the years by the Settlement we learned about sustainability strategies employed by generations past including the ivy-covered south-facing building and upper floor window awnings, a passive way to cool the building which could be emulated to reduce energy bills.  As Michael Kriegh, our lead architect on the project noted, “The thermal advantages of these solidly built brick buildings are probably underestimated. For example, in the winter they gather heat from the sun and radiate it into the building even after the sun sets.”

Beginning the Process

Our work began with the help of three energy audits—by Con Ed, NYSERDA and a private energy auditor who works with many non-profits.  Since NYSERDA and Con Ed audits are free to not-for-profits, we thought that an additional audit, conducted by a not-for-profit building expert would offer a down-to-earth, practical “to do” list.

Prioritizing our Work

After setting our budget, we consulted several green building experts who offered their feedback in an eco-charrette—a collaborative design and solutions-seeking process.

The top issues identified were

  1. Heat Control and Cost Reduction:  Individual offices being too hot (or, more rarely) too cold is a legacy of two outdated and inefficient heating systems (hot water and steam) and the placement of old radiators that did not take into account more recent changes in room configurations.  There was no easy way to control the heat in most of the offices.
  2. Lighting:  Con Ed recommended installing more energy efficient bulbs, including upgrading interior fixtures, replacing incandescent with compact florescent bulbs and installing security motion sensors.
  3. Real-Life issues: The need to heighten awareness about the relationship between behavior and energy-related expenditures and suggesting conservation measures in a way that is sensitive, fun and educational.  We realized that removing a water cooler might be good for energy conservation but bad for staff morale!

We then prioritized the work to be done consistent with cost and the most pressing needs of the building itself.  Using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system as a reference framework, we created a roadmap outlining short, medium and long term tasks in the following categories:

  • Lighting
  • Energy
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Site and Building Exterior
  • Water

Over the coming weeks we will continue to share some of the challenges and lessons learned at Henry Street, so check back for more on this important demonstration project.