Multifamily buildings in New York City (NYC) comprise nearly half of the building sector’s energy usage, and have tremendous potential for energy savings. Such savings are necessary to achieve the ambitious climate plan of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050 as outlined by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Hence, RetrofitNY, a capstone consulting project commissioned by the Building Energy Exchange and conducted by a team of graduate students from Columbia University’s Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science & Policy, examines existing multifamily programs in New York City and compares them with programs in six North American cities to identify best practices in pursuit of that goal.

Key Findings

  • Participation in NYC multifamily programs is hampered by the complexity of the energy efficiency landscape and overlaps between programs
  • Current regulatory changes in New York’s energy industry are causing uncertainty and disruption
  • Effective multifamily energy efficiency programs of other cities incorporate a single brand, one-stop shop, innovative financing options, and contractor incentives
  • Failure to understand building owners’ priorities and decision-making processes inhibit effective outreach efforts


New York City is expected to face numerous challenges as a result of climate change, such as sea level rise, heat waves, and extreme storms. In response to these impending threats, Mayor Bill de Blasio released One City: Built to Last, a comprehensive city-wide plan that focuses on transforming public and private buildings in New York City into models of sustainability. The overall goal is to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2050 (80 by 50). One of the plan’s major strategies, the Retrofit Accelerator, focuses on coordinated outreach and assistance to encourage private building owners to participate in energy efficiency programs.
Buildings, public, commercial, and residential, account for nearly three-quarters of New York City’s GHG emissions. While GHG emissions have been reduced by 19 percent through targeted efforts in more than 4,000 city-owned buildings since 2005, relatively less has been achieved in private residential buildings. In the residential sector, over half of the building sector’s carbon footprint may be attributed to multifamily buildings. If the 80 by 50 target is to be reached, the city must turn its focus to the largely untapped potential of these multifamily buildings.
Today, the multifamily energy efficiency space of NYC is characterised by complexity. The complex maze of different multifamily energy efficiency programs and overlap between them has exacerbated barriers to program uptake. As an illustration, multifamily energy efficiency eligibility is confusing for building owners (see incentive map below).

This is made worse by the uncertainty resulting from current and future regulatory changes in New York State. Regulatory proceedings that seek to modernize the industry are underway. The proceedings’ ambiguity and short timeline have created unease in the industry and disagreements about what the future will hold.


RetrofitNY was conducted in 3 phases from January to April 2015:
  1. NYC Multifamily Program Analysis
    The project examined NYC multifamily energy efficiency programs to understand the current landscape. In particular, multifamily programs offered by utilities, state and public agencies were investigated by comparing their incentive structures, strengths, and weaknesses using information from program websites, reports by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and utility program impact and process evaluation reports
  2. Stakeholder Interviews
    Interviews with various stakeholders of the energy efficiency sector were conducted to gather qualitative professional insight on successes, challenges, and future developments. Stakeholders interviewed include multifamily program administrators, utility employees, and energy consultants
  3. Multi-City Comparative Analysis
    An analysis of multifamily energy efficiency programs in major North American cities was conducted to glean best practices. The strengths and weaknesses of multifamily energy efficiency programs in Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and New Orleans. These cities were selected based on their similarity to NYC in terms of building density, population density, age, stock, and climate as well as overall sophistication of energy efficiency programs


The multi-city analysis revealed four best practices for NYC to consider for future program design:
  1. A Single Brand
    The unification of multifamily energy efficiency programs under a single marketing brand demonstrates a shared goal across all programs, reduces customer confusion, and can reduce promotional costs
  2. One-Stop Shop
    A cross-program office that allows customers to obtain information from a single source serves to address program overlap and to narrow the gap between customers and program administrators.
  3. Financing Options
    Innovative financing options to offset high capital costs of intensive building retrofits allow building owners or property managers to pay the upfront costs without breaking the bank.
  4. Contractor Incentives
    Contractor incentives encourage interested contractors to engage their targeted customer base.

Our interviews with stakeholders in the multifamily energy efficiency space also revealed four areas (4 ‘C’s) which the city’s Retrofit Accelerator initiative should focus closely on in its design and implementation:
  • Consumer beliefs refer to the fundamental questions of whether building owners care about and believe in energy efficiency;
  • For effective program uptake, there must be confidence in energy efficiency.
  • The person or entity with control and decision-making power must be identified and targeted.
  • Finally, for programs to make an impact, they must be in an environment of continuity.

Path Forward

Moving forward, RetrofitNY recommends:
  • Unifying the branding of existing multifamily programs to reduce complexity and coordinate the messaging of energy efficiency projects in New York City.
  • Implementing a one-stop shop for multifamily programs in New York City to simplify the application process
  • Designing the Retrofit Accelerator to emphasize consumer beliefs, confidence, control, and continuity


Available For You

PDFS and Presentations

Select Downloads

PDFS + Presentations


  • Deep Retrofits
  • Retrofit
  • Multi-Family
  • Financing

Related Resources

  • Insights

Want the latest news from Building Energy Exchange?

Sign Up Below For Updates