New York City and its residents spend an estimated $15 billion each year to heat, cool and power their buildings, with about three-quarters of this cost attributable to commercial properties. Furthermore, buildings account for about 80% of New York City's carbon emissions. Recognizing the need to minimize energy consumption, for both environmental and economic reasons, the New York City Council unanimously approved amendments (the "Zone Green Amendments") to the City's Zoning Resolution that promote energy efficient construction and renovations. The Amendments, enacted on April 30, 2012, reduce the need for variances and encourage the use of a variety of energy efficient building techniques and designs.

Amanda Burden, the director of the New York City Planning Department, called the Zone Green Amendments 'the most comprehensive effort of any city in the nation' directed towards creating energy efficient buildings. To accomplish the directive, many of the initiatives address existing buildings since the City projects that 85% of the buildings standing today will still be operating in 2030.

To market these green initiatives to individual building owners, the City cites energy cost savings as the major incentive. Additionally, building and land owners interested in creating greener structures will save time and effort previously dedicated to obtaining variances, the necessity for which has now been reduced if not eliminated.

Already, the City has experienced green building initiatives spurred by the Amendments, such as a proposal in Brooklyn for the largest rooftop greenhouse farm in the world.

Generally, the Zone Green Amendments cover energy-efficient building walls, sun control devices, solar energy, rooftop greenhouses, wind energy, electric vehicle charging and air conditioning. Below is a discussion of some of the ways that the Zone Green Amendments can help developers and building owners lower energy costs and operate environmentally responsible buildings.

Boiler Rooms Move to the Rooftop

Paul Freitag, the director of development for an environmentally minded real estate firm, applauds the Zone Green Amendments for enacting simple yet effective updates to the Zoning Resolution. In particular, Freitag advocates relocating boiler rooms from the basement to the rooftop, an energy-saving strategy now permitted because of the Amendments. Historically, boiler rooms were located in the basement to accommodate street-level coal deliveries, necessitating the construction of chimneys running through the entire building, which is inherently inefficient and consumes usable space on each floor. The advent of natural gas solved this problem because boiler rooms can be placed on rooftops, eliminating the need for chimneys. To encourage this rooftop relocation, the Amendments characterize boiler rooms as a permitted "obstruction" on building rooftops.

Solar Shades

Summer sun increases indoor temperature, requiring more air conditioning. The Zone Green Amendments enable buildings to employ exterior solar shades, which block the heat of the sun, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning.

Used many years ago throughout Manhattan, buildings stopped using this technique because of Building Code restrictions and aesthetic concerns. The Zone Green Amendments and modern design alleviate both problems, paving the way for renewed interest in external solar shades. Furthermore, new shade designs are more efficient in that they adequately block the summer sun but allow the winter sun to enter at a lower level, warming the building in colder months.

Prior to the Zone Green Amendments, approval for such shades could take up to two years, requiring review by different City agencies. Now, builders need not endure these delays because the Amendments expressly allow solar shades constructed above the ground floor to project two to six inches into space otherwise required to be maintained as open areas. Still, the Zoning Resolution requires that the shades cover no more than 30 percent of the building's façade.

Wind Turbines, Solar Panels and other Rooftop Equipment

Two energy creating techniques made available by the Zone Green Amendments are wind turbines and solar panels. Currently, New York City has zero wind turbines in use and underutilizes solar panels. Both devices can now be installed more easily, providing the City with pollution-free energy for electricity or hot water.

Under the Zone Green Amendments, turbines may be mounted up to 55 feet on buildings taller than 100 feet, provided they are at least 10 feet from any property line. On waterfront blocks, all buildings (except in low-density districts) may install rooftop turbines up to half the height of the building, or 55 feet, whichever is less.

In addition, solar panels can now be placed on flat rooftops below the parapet and on sloping roofs where the panels can be flat-mounted up to 18 inches in height. Before the recent changes, installing solar panels above the maximum building height was prohibited.

The Zone Green Amendments also promote the use of rooftop greenhouses in non-residential buildings, which, in the City's view, will "serve a wide range of purposes, including managing stormwater, providing recreation space, or generation of renewable energy." Rooftop greenhouses that employ practices geared towards energy and water efficiency will be exempt from floor area and height limits otherwise imposed, although the greenhouses must be less than 25 feet tall and at least six feet from the roof's edge.

External Wall Insulation

Installing external wall insulation in existing structures reduces heating and cooling costs without minimizing usable floor space. Commonly included in newer buildings, but often lacking in older structures, external insulation reduces the need for heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. The City Planning Commission Report and Resolution No. N 120132 ZRY, dated March 28, 2012, estimates that properly insulated exterior building walls can reduce heating and cooling costs by 20 to 50 percent.

To encourage renovations that include external wall insulation, the Zone Green Amendments allow existing buildings to extend their walls beyond required yard or setback areas within their own property lines. An even greater incentive is that up to eight inches of wall thickness added because of insulation is now exempt from floor area, enabling owners to stay within the maximum floor area for the site.


The Zone Green Amendments facilitate energy conservation measures and energy generation improvements which were previously prohibited or restricted. The publicity surrounding the Zone Green Amendments serves to educate building owners on such energy saving methods. Regardless of whether building owners are motivated by the desire to save on energy costs or foster a cleaner environment, these Amendments allow renovations to proceed without cumbersome and time consuming variance proceedings.

The Zone Green Amendments promote green architecture, for both new construction and retrofitting of existing structures, resulting in increased profits for building owners and improvements in the health and welfare of the City's residents.