Real estate development can be very lucrative, especially in markets like New York City. However, the Big Apple is also characterized by having some of the most demanding building codes in the world, combined with the highest construction costs. New constructions are delayed if their designs are not compliant, and existing building owners face significant penalties for missing code requirements in upgrades and renovations.
NYC building codes are updated every few years, and Local Laws are often published to address issues that cannot wait until the next code version. Given the technical complexity and wide scope of building codes and laws in NYC, the best recommendation for developers is to rely on experienced engineering professionals.
Engineering firms offer services such as project design, consulting, construction administration and commissioning. These services simplify property development and management, ensuring occupant safety and a high building performance.
Planning a new construction project or a major renovation?
Although design services are associated mostly with new projects, they are also needed in renovations and upgrades for existing buildings. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems should meet client needs at the lowest ownership cost possible, while being code compliant.
Unless you submit a project design according to code, the NYC Department of Buildings will not issue a work permit, and proceeding without the permit is against the law. In addition, the project approval process can only be completed by Registered Architects or Professional Engineers, which are referred to as Registered Design Professionals.
An effective way to speed up a project is getting the DOB design approval as quickly as possible, ideally on the first attempt. However, this is only possible if you work with engineers who are experienced and familiarized with NYC codes.
Building codes establish minimum performance requirements for buildings, but exceeding these requirements normally pays off. An excellent example is the NYC Energy Code: new constructions and major renovations must meet its minimum performance level, but you can get an excellent return on investment with energy efficiency measures that exceed the code.
Property owners can hire consultants for a professional assessment of any aspect of building performance. Consulting services are as varied as the needs of a building, and the following are some examples of assistance that can be provided:
- Energy Efficiency: Identifying viable measures to reduce electricity and gas bills.
- HVAC: Improving control over temperature and humidity, reducing noise and vibration, selecting the best equipment upgrades.
- Compliance: Verifying that a building meets Local Laws and building codes.
- Fire Protection: Assessment of automatic sprinklers and other fire protection measures, to make sure indoor areas are safe for occupants.
In engineering consulting, the experience of the professionals providing the service is very valuable. Unlike design, which is regulated by standards and codes, consulting is open-ended and there are no publications to guide the process. Of course, any measures and upgrades proposed during the consulting service must then be designed and built according to code.
During new constructions and major building modifications, the property owner often lacks the technical staff or time to manage the entire process. In these cases, an engineering company can be hired to oversee the project and to provide a neutral professional viewpoint.
The company who designs the project is best suited for construction administration, since work is performed based on their own designs. Although design and supervision can be carried out by different companies as well, the process is less efficient - the supervision company must dedicate additional time to get familiarized with the project documents.
Construction administration is complex and every project is unique, but there is a common goal: Making sure the project is completed on time and on budget, while meeting the specifications in the approved design documents.
Even when a project is designed for top performance, building systems may have been configured incorrectly during the construction process. A loss of performance also occurs over time, since components wear down and control systems may be adjusted.
The main purpose of commissioning is ensuring that actual building systems operate as specified in the project specifications.
- When the word “commissioning” is used by itself, it normally refers to the building system verification process after a new construction or major renovation.
- Retro-commissioning applies when a building that has never been commissioned before, or has not been commissioned in a long time.
- Recommissioning applies when a building is subject to the commissioning process at regular intervals.
Regular commissioning is strongly recommended, since it can improve building performance without major capital expenditures. Existing equipment is adjusted and calibrated, and there are only minor expenses such as reparations and part replacements.
Engineering services can keep your building performance at optimal levels throughout the entire life of the project. For this reason, these services can be considered an investment in your property. Also keep in mind that a proactive approach is more cost effective that fixing problems: improving building performance from the design phase is easier than improving an existing property, and preventative maintenance is more cheaper than repairing equipment after it breaks down.
NYC local laws make some engineering services mandatory for buildings that meet certain conditions. For example, if your property is covered by Local Law 87 of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, you must carry out energy audits and commissioning at intervals no longer than 10 years.