On October 19th, the Municipal Art Society and the New York City Landmarks Commission (LPC) published an in-depth guide (“Guide”) to increasing the energy efficiency of historic rowhouses in New York City by employing measures such as the installation of rooftop solar panels. The guide provides resources for rowhouse owners seeking to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings in ways consistent with the special regulatory requirements applicable to historic buildings.
Increasing the energy efficiency of historic buildings is an important component of decreasing the overall greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of New York City and meeting PlaNYC’s goal of a 30% reduction in such emissions by 2030. Presently, over 75% of the city’s GHG emissions come from buildings, and over 50% of the city’s building stock consists of buildings constructed before 1940.
Generally, any exterior change to a designated historic building, such a landmarked building or a building in a New York City historic district, is subject to the approval of the LPC, even if a permit from the Department of Buildings is not required. The Guide provides useful details on a variety of measures to improve energy efficiency with minimal architectural impact, such as weatherizing buildings, using energy-efficient heating and lighting controls, and installing basement and roof insulation.
The Guide also discusses the installation of solar panels on historic buildings, a project with the potential for a significant aesthetic effect. However, the Guide notes that most solar panel installations for flat or low-slope roofs, such as those often found on historic rowhouses, are approved by the LPC at the staff level, without need for a public hearing before the full commission. Hopefully this recent publication will encourage LPC staff to streamline the approval process for solar installations that meet applicable guidelines.