Next week marks the 2014 NYC Marathon, which will include a team of runners from the Fresh Air Fund – a non-profit dedicated to serving children living in low-income communities.

NYC’s notorious child asthma rates have long been traced back to neighborhood air quality, but where are most of these polluting emissions coming from? It turns out that cars and trucks are not the culprits—it’s all the high-rise buildings.

Given the immense variability among buildings, evaluating their energy usage requires a common, normalizing metric that allows for one building to be judged against its peers. The customary metric, energy use intensity {EUI}, enables comparison between buildings regardless of size:


In other words: the higher the EUI, the more intense the energy consumption.

LL84 data submitted in 2011 indicated:

  • A positive correlation between asthma ER visit rates and median EUI
  • The highest EUIs are located in the poorest and the wealthiest neighborhoods.

In other words, both the most disadvantaged and the most prosperous New Yorkers living in multiunit properties suffer from severe asthma and consume excessive amounts of energy to power their apartments.


According to the CDC, New York City has twice the national asthma hospitalization rate among children, and a 2009 report from the Environmental Defense Fund attributes this to air pollution containing fine soot and nickel. 1% of New York City’s buildings contribute more nickel- and soot-based air pollution than all its cars and trucks combined. These contaminants result from the combustion of dirty oils in boilers, and the vast majority of oil-fired boilers are used to heat residential buildings.

Unsurprisingly, air nickel concentration corresponds with the heating season:


The most severely-affected neighborhoods are in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, where these 1% of buildings are concentrated:


These neighborhoods are also the most energy-intensive, since dirty fuel oils (grades No.4 and No. 6) are the least-efficient of all heating fuels.  In other words, more fuel energy is required to heat the same amount of space, which leads to higher EUI values. 

According to the EPA, the greatest health benefits in terms of cost savings are achieved by reducing direct soot emissions, i.e. replacing No. 4 and No. 6 oils, with cleaner fuel.  In 2012, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection mandated that:

  • All buildings burning No. 6 oil must convert to cleaner fuel before their three-year certificate of operation expires
  • All buildings burning No. 4 oil must switch by 2030

Within two years of enacting these laws, New York City’s air is cleaner than it’s been in half a century.

Click here for more information on common energy retrofits and projected fuel costs and consumption.

Want the latest news from Building Energy Exchange?

Sign Up Below For Updates