Greening the Empire State Building

By Larry Siegel

King Kong would have been a big help on this project! Unfortunately, since the big guy wasn’t around it fell on Serious Materials, a Silicon Valley firm, to replace all 6,514 windows in the iconic Empire State Building.

Working at night so as not to disturb tenants and tourists in New York’s 102-story Art Deco landmark at Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street, workers used a high-tech process to remove every window from its frame and separate the glass. Renovating roughly 50 windows a night, they installed a clear, mylar-like plastic sheath in between the double panes, then filled the windows with an argon-krypton gas, resealed them and reinstalled them.

The result? The windows are four times more insulated than the old ones and will save $410,000 a year in heating and air conditioning costs!

The massive project is part of a $550 million upgrade of the Empire State Building, which was constructed in 1931 and held the title of world’s tallest building until 1973, when the World Trade Center was completed.

A key component of the renovation is eight projects totaling $13.2 million that will cut the building’s energy costs by 38 percent by 2013 and pay for themselves in three years. Those projects, which include the window replacements, also will insulate radiators, install more efficient lighting controls and upgrade the building’s cold water and ventilation systems.

Anthony Malkin, manager of the Empire State building, points out that, “The least expensive source of energy is energy savings. Before you start putting solar panels and wind generators on buildings you have to look at energy efficiency. You get three to five times the bang for the buck per watt, for efficiency.”

In writing about the Empires State Building project, journalist Paul Rogers writes, “Energy efficiency renovations have enormous potential as a growing industry. Nationwide, 72 percent of all commercial building space in the United States is at least 20 years old. And 43 percent of the office space in New York City was built before 1945.”

As Ashley Katz, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C., points out, “Building green doesn’t have to cost a penny more than a conventional building. Most costs are recouped in a few years, and after that you are going to be just saving.”

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ