Sustainable Buildings Questionnaire – How Green is Your Building?



A BCJN Green Buildings, Green Jobs Campaign Questionnaire 


New York City buildings create nearly three-quarters of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, (the gases that cause climate change). Along with transportation, buildings are a major contributor to the air pollution that causes sky-high asthma rates and other pulmonary diseases in the Bronx. A 2014 study by the state comptroller found that the Bronx has the highest asthma death rates in all of New York State, with 43 deaths per million residents, compared to the state-wide average of 13 deaths per million. In the past 5 years, the number of children suffering from asthma in our borough has risen from one in five to one in four. And, our buildings are major resource “hogs,” consuming enormous amounts of electricity, water, and other resources that could be conserved through fairly simple efficiency measures.

Along with 15 NY State legislators and more than 83 environmental, labor, and faith organizations throughout our city and state, Bronx Climate Justice North (BCJN) is calling for bold, rapid action to shift to a new energy economy. The goal: 100% of ALL energy – including heating, cooling, and transportation – must be provided by renewable energy and by energy conservation by 2030. This goal is attainable. Please see, among other studies, The Solutions Project, created by Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University.

For those interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the air pollution that creates major public health hazards, boosting conservation and efficiency of buildings, and helping to create buildings that are more pleasant, safe, and healthy environments to live in, Bronx Climate Justice North offers this questionnaire to help you learn about your residential building. We understand that buildings are complex, and that as residents we often simply do not have the knowledge or even the vocabulary to engage in conversations about them. We hope that this questionnaire, which will apply to a wide variety of building types, will help get you started, whatever your level of knowledge.

We also hope that seeking the answers to these questions will help you to build community by engaging with your neighbors and your building’s management in successful efforts to make your building greener, healthier, and more climate-friendly. Questions, comments or suggestions? We’re always seeking to improve and update this document. Please email:

For a glossary of terms for this questionnaire, see below.


Building type:

What kind of building do you live in?

Check all that apply: Single unit, multi-family, medium-sized apartment building, large apartment building, condo, co-op, private house, or rental.

Energy audits:

Has your building had an energy audit? Type? When? How was it financed?

When is it scheduled for the next one?

What measures were taken after the audit to reduce the use of energy in your building?

[Note: These audits concern electricity consumption as well as heating and cooling.]

On-site electricity generation:

Do you have solar panels on your rooftop? If so, does your building generate more electricity overall than it consumes? If so, what is the financial benefit that you obtain from net metering?

Do you have wind turbines on your rooftop?

Heating and cooling:

What kind of heating is provided in your building?

Check all that apply: Steam radiator, forced air, central heating and air conditioning, air-source heat pumps that provide heating and cooling in a single unit, etc.

What heating fuel(s) are used to heat your building?

Do you use a boiler for heating? If so, what kind of fuel does it use?

Check all that apply: Oil (#2, #4, #2 heating oil blended with biodiesel, #4 heating oil blended with biodiesel, or 100% biodiesel), natural gas, or natural gas and oil, which is possible with a dual burner.

Does your building have a co-generation (co-gen or Combined Heat and Power—CHP) plant?

How is your building cooled?

Check all that apply: Central air? Window air-conditioners? Ceiling fans? Simple fans?

Which fuels are used for cooling equipment?

Does your building use onsite renewable energy technologies for heating and cooling, such as geothermal? Has your building considered geothermal as an option?

[Note: If you use an air-source heat pump for heating and cooling and obtain your electricity from green power purchasing, your electricity, heating, and cooling will be obtained from renewable energy sources.]

Energy conservation/efficiency:

Are thermostats/temperatures adjustable in different parts/zones of your building?

Are timers used for different times of day?

Do you have motion sensors or heat sensors anywhere in your building?

If your building has more than one unit, is electricity master-metered, sub-metered, or direct-metered?

[Note: Master metering is metering of the electricity use of an entire building or building complex. Sub-metering is metering of an individual apartment unit. Direct billing/direct metering is direct billing of an individual unit based on sub-metering. Direct billing of sub-metered units is a valuable conservation tool since it allows apartment occupants to know how much electricity they are using.]

If you live in a complex with more than one building, do all buildings have connected heating/cooling systems, e.g., is steam produced in a central boiler facility and sent through an underground distribution system to all buildings?

When were windows last replaced and what type of windows does your building now have?

What type of energy-efficient lighting systems (CFLs, LEDs) are used in common areas, and provided/required in individual units?

Above and beyond the incentives available to all NYC residents through NYSERDA, does your building management provide incentives for or requirements to use energy-efficient appliances and equipment such as Energy Star appliances? For example, does your building require new residents to purchase or bring with them energy-efficient refrigerators, or does your building provide a lower surcharge for energy-efficient air conditioners?

Does your building have solar thermal panels for heating hot water?

[Note: Solar thermal is only used for heating water, so it’s not to be confused with fuel technologies to heat the air in a building.]

Local green workforce:

Does your building contract with local, green workers and companies such as Sustainable South Bronx?

Have building maintenance staff members participated in 32BJ union green trainings or other green programs?

Green Power purchasing:

Do you purchase your electricity from a green power source, such as Ethical Electric?

Outdoor environment:

Does your building have a green roof or “cool roof” coating?

How does your building manage water and storm-water?

Check all that apply: Rain barrels? Rain garden? Bioswales? Green roof?

Does your building store rain water/gray water for watering lawns?

Has your building reduced or ended the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and/or gardens?

Does your building use leaf blowers? If so, what fuel is used in the leaf blowers? [Note: Biodiesel can be used to power leaf blowers.]


What is your building’s rate of compliance with NYC law requiring that all city buildings recycle paper, plastic, glass, metal, and electronics?

Does your building provide bins for recycling clothing? For electronics?

Does your building compost food scraps and other organic materials?

What financial incentives/arrangements has your building used?

Check all that apply: NYSERDA, Clean Energy Fund, Retrofit Accelerator, NYC Energy Efficiency Corp., green mortgage, private lender, private foundation, other?


Air-source heat pumpAn air-source heat pump can provide efficient heating and cooling to residential buildings. When properly installed, they can deliver one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy to a home or building than the electrical energy it consumes. This is possible because a heat pump moves heat rather than converting it from a fuel like combustion heating systems do.

Biofuels (biodiesel) — Biofuels are liquid fuels (most often ethanol or biodiesel), that are made from plant- or animal-based sources knows as biomass. Biomass includes everything from corn to algae and can also be used to generate electricity. Non-food-based biofuels — such as cellulosic biofuels made from grasses or farm waste — offer potential for cutting our oil use and fuel-related emissions. The substitution of biofuels for fossil fuels is a controversial and complex issue. For more information on the controversy, go HERE.

Bioswale — A bioswale is a linear, sloped retention area designed to capture and convey water while allowing it to infiltrate the ground slowly over a 24-48 hour period. For information about the NYC Green Infrastructure Program, go HERE. For info about bioswales from GrowNYC, go HERE.

CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) — CFLs are lightbulbs that use about 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and are a major energy efficiency measure.

Clean Energy Fund — CEF is one of the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision’s (REV) three “strategic pillars.” It is designed to deliver on the state’s commitment to reduce ratepayer collections, drive economic development, and accelerate the use of “clean energy and energy innovation.” It will reshape the state’s energy efficiency, clean energy, and energy innovation programs.

Cogeneration (cogen plant/Combined Heat & Power, CHP) Combined heat & power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat from a single fuel source such as biomass, biogas, coal, waste heat, oil, or natural gas. (For more info about cogeneration in NYC, go HERE.)

CHP is not a single technology, but an integrated energy system that can be modified depending upon the needs of the energy end user.

CHP provides:

  • Onsite generation of electrical and/or mechanical power.
  • Waste-heat recovery for heating, cooling, dehumidification, or process applications.
  • Seamless system integration for a variety of technologies, thermal applications, and fuel types into existing building infrastructure.

The two most common CHP system configurations are:

  • Gas turbine or engine with heat recovery unit
  • Steam boiler with steam turbine

Cool roof — A cool roof is one that has been designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles. Nearly any type of building can benefit from a cool roof, but consider the climate and other factors before deciding to install one.

Energy audit — An energy audit is the assessment of the energy needs and efficiency of a building or buildings. A home or building energy audit or assessment is like a check-up. It’s the first step in assessing how much energy a home or building consumes and to evaluate what steps can be taken to make the structure more energy efficient, which will save both energy and money. A professional energy auditor checks for leaks where heat or cool air can escape, examines insulations, inspects the furnace and ductwork and more. Energy audits examine electricity consumption as well as heating and cooling.

NYC Local Law 87 (LL87), mandates that buildings over 50,000 gross square feet undergo periodic energy audit and retro-commissioning measures as part of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP). The intent of LL87 is to inform building owners of their energy consumption through energy audits, which are surveys and analyses of energy use, and retro-commissioning, the process of ensuring correct equipment installation and performance.

For information about greening public buildings from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, go HERE.

Energy conservation — Energy conservation is reducing or going without a service to save energy.

Energy efficiency — Energy efficiency is using less energy to provide the same service. Both energy conservation and energy efficiency reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Energy conservation and energy efficiency are not interchangeable terms. Example: Turning off a light is energy conservation. Replacing an incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent lightbulb (which uses much less energy to produce the same amount of light), is energy efficiency.

Energy Star appliances — Energy Star is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) voluntary program that helps people and organizations save money and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (the gases that cause climate change), by identifying factories, office equipment, home appliances, and electronics that have superior energy efficiency.

Geothermal energy — Geothermal energy is heat energy from the earth. It can be used as an energy source in many ways, from large, complex power stations to small and relatively simple pumping systems. Many regions of the world are tapping geothermal energy as an affordable and sustainable solution to reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Geothermal is a renewable form of energy. Read NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation on geothermal in our state HERE.

Gray water — The water use in most homes has long been thought of in terms of clean white water coming in and sewage, or black water, going out. Gray water, as the name implies, is something in between. By most domestic definitions, gray water is tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers, and bathroom sinks. It’s not sanitary, but it’s also not toxic and is generally disease free. Gray water reclamation is the process by which households make use of gray water’s potential instead of simply piping it into overburdened sewage systems with all the black water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), close to 280 gallons of gray water per day per U.S. household goes straight into sewers rather than being used for irrigation and other purposes. For a fascinating look at gray water systems in homes, go HERE. For Gray Water Use in New York from Eco Brooklyn, go HERE.

Green Mortgage — An Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) is a mortgage that credits a home’s energy efficiency in the mortgage itself. EEMs give borrowers the opportunity to finance cost-effective, energy-saving measures as part of a single mortgage and stretch debt-to-income qualifying ratios on loans thereby allowing borrowers to qualify for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home.

Green Power PartnershipThis is a U.S. EPA voluntary program that encourages organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity use. Go HERE for the U.S. EPA’s Guide to Purchasing Green Power.

Green roof — A green roof or living roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. It may also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems. For information about BCJN ally Sustainable South Bronx’s SmartRoofs program, go HERE. For information about the City of New York’s green roof program, go HERE. For info about environmental and energy efficiency benefits of green roofs, go HERE.

LED bulbs — LEDs, or light–emitting diodes, are semiconductor devices that produce visible light when an electrical current passed through them. They produce light more efficiently than incandescent and even CFL bulbs.

Metering — Master metering is metering of the electricity use of an entire building or building complex. Sub-metering is metering of an individual apartment unit. Direct billing/direct metering is direct billing of an individual unit based on sub-metering. Direct billing of sub-metered units is a valuable conservation tool since it allows apartment occupants to know how much electricity they are using.

Natural gas — Natural gas is a fossil fuel, a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, the kind of gas that contributes to global warming. In fact, methane is a more intensive greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For basic information about how natural gas works, go HERE. For an explanation of why BCJN recommends that NYC buildings NOT convert their boilers from #6 oil to natural gas, go HERE.

 NYC Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) — NYCEEC is a city agency that finances energy efficiency, cogeneration, renewables, fuel conversions, and demand response projects across all building types and neighborhoods.

NYSERDA (NYS Energy Research and Development Authority) — NYSERDA promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. NYSERDA’s efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce customer energy bills.

Oil (#6, #4, #2, blends) — #6, #4, and #2 oils are varying blends of fuel oils, with #6 being the “heaviest” and most polluting. New York City has mandated that all buildings cease using #6 oil. For information about boiler conversions, go HERE. From the environmental protection website about heating oil: New Yorkers burn more than 1 billion gallons of heating oil every year which accounts for nearly 14% of fine particulate matter pollutants emitted into our air; more PM2.5 emissions than all cars and trucks in the city combined. This particulate matter contains many pollutants that are associated with respiratory and cardiac diseases. The City published a rule that requires all boilers in New York City burn low sulfur Number2 oil or natural gas.

Rain garden — A rain garden is a planted depression or a hole that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas such as roofs, driveways, walkways, sidewalks, parking lots and compacted lawn areas, the opportunity to be absorbed. For information from the NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation on how to plant a rain garden, go HERE.

Renewable energy — Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that comes from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. For information about renewable energy from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, go HERE. BCJN stands with many other environmental and climate organizations in NYC and NY State in advocating for a just transition to a 100% renewable energy economy by 2030.

NYC Retrofit Accelerator  — From the NYC Retrofit Accelerator website: The NYC Retrofit Accelerator is a one-stop resource provided by the City of New York to help owners and operators of privately owned buildings reduce operating costs and increase the sustainability of their properties through energy and water upgrades.

Solar thermal (STE) — Solar thermal power is a form of energy and a technology for harnessing solar energy to generate thermal energy or electrical energy for use in industry, and in the residential and commercial sectors. Solar thermal is only used for heating water, so it’s not to be confused with fuel technologies to heat the air in a building.

Solar thermal power plants use the sun’s rays to heat a fluid to high temperatures. The fluid is then circulated through pipes so that it can transfer its heat to water and produce steam. The steam is converted into mechanical energy in a turbine which is then converted into electricity by a conventional generator.

Solar thermal power generation works essentially the same as power generation using fossil fuels, but instead of using steam produced from the combustion of fossil fuels (which causes climate change), the steam is produced by heat collected from sunlight. Solar thermal technologies use concentrator technologies to produce the high temperatures needed to heat fluid.

Wind turbine — Wind turbines are turbines with large, vaned wheels rotated by the wind to generate electricity. Wind power is one of many renewable energy sources.

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NY Times: Turbines popping up on New York roofs, along with questions of efficiency

10 small-scale wind turbines cut NYC apartment building’s energy costs in half