New York City Adopts New Laws Aimed at Increasing Energy and Water Efficiency

Client Advisory

January 4, 2011

Taking further strides towards encouraging environmentally conscious building practices, the New York City Council recently passed eight laws intended to increase New York City’s energy and water efficiency. The new laws, most of which take effect in 2011, seek to eliminate inefficient construction code requirements and encourage the use of new environmentally-friendly technologies. A ninth law, effective immediately, includes environmental protection as one of the purposes of the New York City construction codes.[1] The new laws are generally described below.

Energy Efficiency Laws

New York City’s four new energy efficiency laws focus mainly on incorporating the use of daylight, as well as automatic occupant and photo sensors, to meet lighting requirements in egress areas, commercial buildings, construction sites and multiple dwellings. In addition, the new laws amend various illumination level standards to reduce excessive lighting requirements.

Effective as of January 1, 2011, Local Law 47 of 2010 amends current egress illumination requirements to reduce unnecessary electric lighting in lobbies and hallways that are adequately lit by daylight or are unoccupied. Generally, Local Law 47 permits the use of daylight to meet certain lighting requirements, amends various illumination level standards, permits the use of automatic occupant sensor or photo sensor lighting controls (provided they are equipped for fail-safe operation), and lessens certain lighting requirements.

Local Law 48 of 2010, which took effect December 28, 2010, seeks to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings by amending the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC). In part, the law adds a requirement that sensors and controls (including occupant sensors) in classrooms,[2] conference rooms, employee break rooms and offices smaller than 200 square feet,[3] (i) only enable lights to be turned on manually; (ii) automatically shut lights off within 30 minutes of all occupants leaving the space; and (iii) enable lights to be turned off manually. Further, such sensors are not permitted to have override switches which allow for the sensors to be converted from “manual-on” to “automatic-on” functionality.

Local Law 51 of 2010 aims to increase energy efficiency at construction sites by amending lighting requirements for temporary walkways, foot bridges and sidewalk sheds. The new law calls for illumination to be measured by foot-candle (a measure of light) rather than by wattage (a measure of energy used), and will also permit the use of photo sensors to control lighting based upon available daylight (again, provided the sensors are equipped for fail-safe operation). This law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2011.

Effective as of January 1, 2011, Local Law 52 of 2010 updates certain residential building lighting requirements of the housing and maintenance code to bring them into conformance with other NYC codes, specifically the NYCECC. Subject to any stricter requirements of the multiple dwelling law, Local Law 52 permits the use of both automatic occupant and photo sensors and daylight to meet certain lighting requirements in multiple dwellings and tenant-occupied two-family dwellings. The law also updates how illumination levels are measured (e.g., foot-candles instead of watts).

Water Efficiency Laws

Following the passage of the energy efficiency laws described above, the City Council subsequently enacted four more laws aimed at preventing water waste and decreasing New York City’s dependence on bottled water.

Effective as of January 1, 2011, Local Law 54 of 2010 amends the plumbing code to reduce the waste of potable water used for cooling. Local Law 54 prohibits the use of potable water for once-through cooling and provides that equipment such as ice making machines, walk-in coolers, and air-conditioning equipment be provided with air cooled condensers or recirculating condenser water systems, or supplied with non-potable water. However, once-through water-cooled ice making machines, walk-in coolers, refrigerated walk-in boxes, or air-conditioning equipment supplied with potable water through piping systems that were installed prior to January 1, 2011 (and any subsequent replacements thereof that use the same or lesser amount of potable water) are exempted from these requirements, as are certain once-through water-cooled ice making machines which produce less than 500 pounds of ice per day.

Local Law 55 of 2010 seeks to encourage the use of drinking fountains as opposed to bottled water by removing a provision in the plumbing code which permits bottled water vending machines to be used as substitutes for required drinking fountains in certain occupancies. Under the current law, in occupancies other than restaurants where drinking fountains are required, up to 50 percent of the required drinking fountains may be substituted with bottled water dispensers. As of July 1, 2012, this substitution will no longer be permitted. Further, required drinking fountains will have to be equipped with both a bubbler faucet for drinking and a separate faucet designed for filling containers (e.g., mugs, reusable water bottles, etc.); however, up to 50 percent of the required drinking fountains may be substituted with dedicated faucets for filling containers. This new law will apply to new construction and alterations of commercial buildings or spaces.

In an effort to prevent water loss in buildings caused by undetected leaks and equipment malfunctions, as of January 1, 2011, Local Law 56 of 2010 requires roof tanks be equipped with high water level alarms. In addition, (i) water distribution pipe lines serving commercial cooking or laundry facilities and commercial gyms and spas; and (ii) makeup water lines serving evaporative cooling towers, swimming pools,[4] and boilers serving buildings greater than 6 stories, must be equipped with at least one water sub-meter. This new law applies to new construction and alterations to existing buildings to repair or replace said equipment.

Finally, Local Law 57 of 2010, which takes effect July 1, 2012, aims to enhance New York City’s water efficiency by reducing the water used by various plumbing fixtures. Local Law 57 decreases the gallon per minute/flush rates under Section 604.4 of the plumbing code for private lavatories, shower heads, urinals and water closets. In addition, the plumbing code will require that shower heads, private lavatory faucets, water closets (other than water closets in public restrooms) and urinal flush valves (or fixture/valve combinations) bear the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program label (and otherwise meet the specifications thereof), or be approved in accordance with the plumbing code. This new law will apply to new construction and upon replacement of said fixtures. In addition, as of July 1, 2012, it will be unlawful to sell plumbing fixtures which do not comply with Section 604.4 of the plumbing code.

Acknowledging the Importance of Environmental Goals

While arguably the new law with the least physical impact, Local Law 49 of 2010 is perhaps the law with the greatest significance. Explicitly placing the “environment” on par with public safety, health, and welfare, Local Law 49 amended the construction codes to include environmental concerns as a guiding principle of the codes, signaling an important commitment by lawmakers to creating a sustainable city.

Carter Ledyard & Milburn’s growing green buildings & sustainable development practice includes experience with the increasing number of State and local “green” building laws and requirements. Questions regarding this advisory should be addressed to Zara F. Fernandes (Member, Urban Green Council, the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council; 212-238-8827,, Christopher G. Rizzo (LEED® Green Associate™; 212-238-8677,, or Christine A. Fazio (212-238-8754,


[1] The New York City construction codes consist of the building code, plumbing code, mechanical code and fuel gas code.

[2] Other than shop classrooms, laboratory classrooms, and preschool classrooms.

[3] With the exception of offices smaller than 200 square feet equipped with lighting activated by photo sensor.

[4] Other than swimming pools accessory to Group R-3 occupancies.

Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP uses Client Advisories to inform clients and other interested parties of noteworthy issues, decisions and legislation which may affect them or their businesses. A Client Advisory does not constitute legal advice or an opinion. This document was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. © 2020 Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP.
© Copyright 2011

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