Since it opened in 1931, New York’s Empire State Building has enjoyed its share of superlatives. The tallest building in the world at the time it was built, the art deco gem was hailed as a triumph of modern engineering, which is why the American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
So, how does the erstwhile tallest skyscraper hold onto its cutting-edge reputation? It can’t get taller, but it has become smarter.
In 2009 the building’s owners began an effort to make the structure more energy efficient by employing various new technologies designed to cut overall energy usage by 40 percent. The project puts the building at the vanguard of a new trend, but it wasn’t easy, and most of it entails the unglamorous work of peeling back and resealing the skyscraper’s insides.
In real estate, the key to any property is location, location, location. To capture peak energy efficiency through a retrofit, the mantra is insulation, insulation, insulation.
“If you can’t start with insulation, you can’t accomplish the simplest and most important thing right off the bat,” said Anthony Malkin, head of Malkin Holdings, which owns the building.
To accomplish its goals, Malkin Holdings reconstructed 6,514 windows, taking them apart and inserting a thin plastic film between the panes to better insulate each room. The company also rebuilt its cooling system, tying it into the building’s energy management system. Connecting the two platforms allows for smarter climate control on each floor, based on needs and usage. Malkin Holdings also physically cleaned their radiators, repositioned thermometers and installed more than 6,000 insulated reflective barriers behind radiator units located on the perimeter of the building.
The new trend toward efficiency is happening just in time. According to ExxonMobil’s 2017 Outlook for Energy, high levels of economic growth will produce rising living standards across the world. Energy efficiency across the commercial, industrial and residential landscape will help meet the new increased energy demand.
By 2040, the Outlook for Energy forecasts that global energy demand will increase by 25 percent. However, without new gains in efficiency, energy demand would be four times higher over the same period. Increased efficiency brought about by makeovers like the one in the Empire State Building and increasingly efficient household appliances will help keep commercial and residential demand in places like Europe and the United States comparatively modest.
When the Empire State building was originally built it set the standard for the many skyscrapers then shooting up across Manhattan. But, its more recent overhaul means it is now a prominent example of the rapid gains in energy efficiency being made across the globe.