Trump Tower Fire Rekindles Automatic Sprinkler Debate

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For the second time in three months, a fire in Trump Tower has made national headlines, sparking a fresh debate as to whether current regulations for automatic sprinklers in NYC residential buildings are extensive enough.

On Saturday, April 7, a fire in a residential apartment on the 50th floor left its owner dead and six firefighters injured before the fire was extinguished, according to CNN. Authorities made a point of mentioning that the residences in the tower are not equipped with automatic sprinkler systems, which caused the fire to spread more quickly.

 

Why Were There No Sprinklers?

At the time Trump Tower was completed in 1983, automatic sprinkler systems were not required in residential buildings in NYC, or at least in the residential sections. In 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation requiring new residential structures to be outfitted with sprinkler systems. At the time, fire safety advocates also lobbied that the law require older residential buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers; however, Trump and others lobbied against the measure, saying it was too expensive. In the end, Giuliani signed a bill that grandfathered Trump Tower and similar buildings in a category that exempted them from complying with new sprinkler regulations.

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Rekindling the Debate

This week, as CBS New York reports, the head of the City Council Housing and Buildings Committee is planning to announce a new push for legislation requiring all NYC high-rises to be retrofitted with automatic sprinkler systems—including Trump Tower. In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, commercial and office buildings are already subject to retrofitting regulations, as covered in Local Law 26. If it goes through, the proposed new legislation would close this gap for residential structures.

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How This Could Affect You

If you’re a developer currently building a multi-story structure in NYC, you’re probably already aware of requirements to install sprinkler systems; that won’t change. If you are purchasing and/or remodeling an existing residential structure in the city, you should monitor this situation in the upcoming months as current laws may change. If you have any questions about installing automatic sprinkler systems in your building, give Wellbuilt a call at 1.866.846.4874.

Deciding on a Heating System for Your High-Rise Construction Project

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When planning any kind of multi-story construction, especially here in the northeastern United States, deciding how you will heat the building is one of the most far-reaching decisions you will make. Not only may you be limited to certain options based on where the building is built, but the utility structure can have a huge effect on your construction costs as well as ongoing expenses for the building itself.

In many parts of the country, developers are limited to two basic choices for heating: electric and natural gas. Here in the northeast, especially in older larger cities like New York and Boston, additional options are available. Let’s look at some of these options and discuss pros and cons.

Electricity

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Electric heating is one of the easier and more versatile options, in part because it’s readily available in most places and in part because you can include air conditioning and heating in the same basic system if you like. The down side is usually cost. The cost of electricity in New York is nearly the highest in the nation, for example, so many builders in this area find electric heating to be very cost-prohibitive.

Heating Oil/Fuel Oil

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Heating oil is more common in the northeast than in other parts of the country, and therefore it may be an option at some building sites. The advantages of oil heat are that the oil is generally not as volatile as gas, is dense and burns hot—meaning less of it can be used to heat more efficiently, keeping costs lower. The biggest downside (besides being a higher-polluting energy source) is that fuel oil is being phased out. It’s available in fewer and fewer areas (only 1 percent of buildings in NYC use it), there are fewer suppliers for the oil itself, and if you install heating/fuel oil as your heat source, you’ll probably have to change it out eventually for something else.

Steam

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Steam heat is another common option in the northeast, and many NYC high-rises use it because steam rises naturally, making it more cost-effective as a heat source than most other options. Steam can also power air conditioning if you install an absorption chiller, and steam can reduce the need for humidifiers. The primary disadvantage to steam heat is that it’s not available at all sites.


Natural Gas

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By process of elimination, natural gas is rapidly becoming the default heating option for high-rise buildings. It’s more common and accessible than steam or oil and nearly as available as electricity—just not nearly as expensive. It also burns cleaner than other energy options. The main disadvantage might be higher construction costs.

Which heating system is right for your high-rise construction project? The answer may depend on which utilities are available at your site, your budget and a cost analysis. Wellbuilt can work with you to help you decide what is right for you. To learn more, give us a call at 1.866.846.4874.

 

Seeking LEED Certification? What You Need To Know

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In a day when environmental awareness is more necessary than ever before, developers and builders have plenty of reasons to seek LEED certification for their construction projects. Firstly, many cities offer financial incentives to building projects who implement “green” protocols and lower their carbon footprint. (New York and Boston both have these initiatives in place.) Secondly, LEED certification has become something of a badge of honor that impresses and attracts residents, tenants and companies to occupy the space. And thirdly—all other reasons aside, protecting the environment is just the right thing to do, in whatever ways we find to do so.

If you’re thinking about pursuing LEED certification for your upcoming construction project, here’s what you need to know to get started down the path.

What is LEED?

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LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to encourage innovations toward sustainable design and to rate buildings on their compliance with certain standards. What’s important to understand up front is that LEED certification isn’t a yes/no thing, but rather a continuum or a tiered system. Rating is based on a point system leading to four levels of certification:

  • Basic LEED Certification: 40-49

  • Silver Certification: 50-59

  • Gold Certification: 60-79

  • Platinum Certification: 80-110

The higher the point rating, the better rated your building is for energy efficiency and sustainability, and the more credibility your building has as a “green” construction.

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Achieving LEED Certification

Building projects seeking certification must go through a basic process:

  1. Register the project with LEED (accompanied by the appropriate fee).

  2. Form a plan of action. Certification is accomplished by meeting established prerequisites and earning a certain number of points toward certification. The general list of available credits can be found here.

  3. Apply for certification, based on achieving the objectives in your plan of action.

  4. Certification review, performed by Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI)

  5. Final certification.

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Understanding LEED v4

The standards for LEED certification have differed based on the type of construction project (e.g., homes, commercial, existing structures, schools, retail, etc.). The newest protocol, LEED v4, offers a more flexible, streamlined approach that embraces a variety of projects while raising the standards for green building moving forward. Learn more about LEED v4 here.

 

Focus on Integration to Reach Compliance

LEED’s entire approach to sustainability is not just about numbers; it’s about seeing a construction as an integrated entity, not unlike the human body with many working parts. Understanding this concept up front can help you make construction decisions that improve your chances for achieving LEED certification. This video explains a bit more.

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The USGBC has provided a set of guides to help various construction projects find the path toward LEED certification; this is a great place to start if you are serious about green construction and sustainability. Wellbuilt can also advise you on the best ways to qualify for LEED certification with your building project. To learn more, give us a call at 1.866.846.4874.

How Construction Technology is Transforming the Industry

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Can you imagine a day when you walk past a construction site and see a high-rise building going up…without any human laborers at the site? No, it’s not the latest sci-fi series on Netflix (although it could be—call us, Netflix); this is the real world, in the not-so-distant future. Last year, Balfour Beatty of London issued a prediction that thanks to the rapid growth of construction technology, we are likely to see human-free construction sites by 2050. However, just this month, ForConstructionPros.com upped that prediction to as early as 2025—less than ten years away!

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A decade ago, the idea of fully autonomous building construction by machines was definitely the stuff of The Jetsons—something we could envision only in a cartoon, “maybe someday” kind of sense. But now, technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that experts can now see a viable path toward humanless build sites, right alongside self-driving automobiles. Whether or not we see that particular benchmark come to pass, there’s no denying that technology is revolutionizing the way our industry works. From the use of drones to 3D printing, from building information modeling (BIM) to augmented reality (AR), technology is enabling us to build high-quality structures with greater speed, greater accuracy and higher levels of safety than ever before. We may discuss specific advances in later posts, but for now let’s look at just a few ways modern construction tech is making our jobs easier.

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Internet and Mobile Devices

More business is being done on-site via tablets and smartphones than ever before, with teams being able to collaborate and coordinate instantaneously via Internet connectivity. Blueprint apps are rapidly replacing the large, cumbersome physical drawings we used to use. GPS technology enables us to survey sites with stunning levels of accuracy compared to older, conventional methods. Our location desks piled with paperwork are now being reduced to devices we can hold in our hands—and those devices in turn connect us with the rest of the world.

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Construction Management

Construction management software platforms now enable us to coordinate multiple teams on multiple projects from any location, with instantaneous communication and updates reducing the risk of error. From project management to accounting, technology helps us stay on the same page, on target, in compliance and in budget.

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Safety Advancements

Construction tech is also helping us make our job sites and our workers safer, from drone monitoring to halo lights to “smart headsets” and more. Responsive clothing can now monitor a worker’s body temperature and heat or cool them accordingly; safety gloves are being designed to resist punctures, saw blades and even hammer strikes!

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Will we one day see human-free construction sites? Only time will tell, although recent advances make the prospect more likely than ever—and if it does happen, we’ll have the inevitable discussion about what happens to our jobs. One thing is clear for now: Construction technology is speeding up, not slowing down, which means our industry will likely look much different in the next 10 years or so than it does today.

 

 

Building Construction Boom Predicted for 2018

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If you’re a developer or investor thinking to embark on a large construction project, 2018 may be your year. All indicators point to a boom for the construction industry in 2018, according to a recent report by CNBC. With an ample and eager labor force, plentiful materials, reasonable costs and overall optimism, this may be the best window of opportunity developers have seen in years.

Driving Indicators

What is causing experts to predict such a bounteous year for construction? Let’s take a look at a few of the indicators.

·         A significant spike in hiring. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that hiring within the construction sector increased by 35 percent between 2016 and 2017, amounting to at least 210,000 new jobs. Thirty thousand of those new hires occurred in December alone, this despite a disappointing jobs report overall for the month—and the demand for labor shows no signs of slowing. When construction companies hire at these rates, it suggests an increased demand for new construction.

·         Construction spending is at record highs. The amount of money spent on construction has been increasing every month for the past several months. Recent reports from the Commerce Department place November spending estimates at nearly $1.26 trillion, an all-time high.

·         Increased optimism in the industry. Between the lessening regulatory restrictions, business-friendly tax overhauls and a growing economy, optimism within the construction sector is quite high—and equally so among developers who hope this less restrictive climate will result in modest pricing, abundant resources and ultimately higher profits.

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Commercial Construction May Dominate

Looking deeper at the numbers, while construction overall is expected to increase this year, the biggest gains are expected to fall to the commercial and office sectors, which have not grown significantly in the past few years. Residential developments and multi-family units, which have benefit from increased lending over the past several years, may see a leveling off on their growth rates as interests shift more toward the commercial side. One contributing factor may be the tax code overhaul, which is significantly favorable to businesses and may lead to increased demand for commercial space.

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Benefiting from a Boom: Take Advantage Early

Developers and investors who want to make the most of a construction boom are wise to get in on the opportunity sooner, rather than later. The reasons are simple: 1) Labor, materials and financing are likely to be more abundant in the beginning; and 2) You have the benefit of modest costs before increased demand drives prices upward.

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If you have a plan to develop a multi-level office, commercial or residential building in New York, Massachusetts or Connecticut, we’d love the opportunity to help you take advantage of a positive construction climate. For more information, give Wellbuilt a call at 1.917.475.1207

 

 

New York City Fire Codes and Local Law 26: What You Need To Know

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New York City Fire Codes and Local Law 26: What You Need to Know

If you own or plan to own an office building in New York City that is 100 feet or higher, this year you’re probably going to hear a lot of talk about Local Law 26 of 2004 (LL26, for short). This law, strengthens fire safety requirements for existing office structures throughout NYC—most notably the requirement to install a sprinkler system within 15 years of the law’s enactment (specifically, by July 1, 2019). Here’s what you need to know to make sure your building is in compliance as this deadline approaches.

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What Is LL26 and What Does It Cover?

Between its dense population and multitude of high-rise structures old and new, it comes as no surprise that New York City fire codes are among the strictest in the country. While most new structures comply with these codes as they are built, many older buildings do not. LL26 was enacted in response to lessons learned after the 9/11 attacks, when the NYC government determined that current fire codes didn’t provide enough protection for business occupants in existing structures.

The new law stipulated a laundry list of retroactive changes and requirements for these buildings, ranging from exit signage and egress to stipulations for scissor stairs, elevator vestibules and so on. (You can see a summary of the provisions here.) Most of these requirements have already been met per early deadlines set in 2006-2007. The one requirement still outstanding—and the one causing possibly the most expense—is the installation of sprinkler systems in these buildings. We are coming up on this final deadline next year.

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Why Am I Hearing About It Now?

Although the deadline for LL26 sprinkler installations isn’t until mid-2019, buildings that haven’t already made these upgrades are required to file an interim report by July 1 of this year indicating progress on the sprinkler upgrades and a plan of action. Thus, property owners whose buildings are not yet in compliance with the law must start formulating a plan and file a report with the city within a few months.

 

How Do I Know if My Building Is Affected?

You need to prepare for LL26 compliance if:

·         Your building is at least 100 feet tall

·         Your building is classified by the city for business occupancy; and

·         A compliant sprinkler system is not already installed.

If your building does have a sprinkler system, you should also have it inspected to be sure it meets the specific requirements of LL26.

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Are there Exceptions?

Yes. If your office building is designated as a historic landmark and installation of a sprinkler system would alter the building drastically, you may be able to obtain a waiver exempting the building from LL26 requirements. The same holds true if your building is not a landmark but installation of a sprinkler system would be impractical due to structural limitations.

 

 If you have questions about whether your new or existing building needs work to comply with New York City fire codes, we’re here to help! Call Wellbuilt today at 1.917.475.1207.

What Are Non-VOC Paints, And Why Does It Matter (Part 2)

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In the previous post, we began talking about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are common in paint and other household products, and the inherent dangers of these chemicals. We also mentioned that many manufacturers are now developing non-VOC paints to reduce our exposure to these compounds. But are non-VOC paints right for every project and/or every budget? Let’s take a deeper dive and discuss it further.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Non-VOC Paints

 

Obviously, the greatest advantage of a non-VOC paint is that you, your family and/or your tenants aren’t being exposed to harmful chemicals—or at least being exposed to far fewer of them. However, that’s not the only factor to take into account. Let’s look at a few other pros and cons of non-VOC paint.

The Pros

·         Improved air quality, both immediately and in the long run. You can be comfortable knowing you’re not breathing in harmful pollutants from the paint.

·         Better for the environment. Non-VOC paints are frequently touted as a “greener” solution to their counterparts, and they are popular among those looking to have a reduced carbon footprint.

·         Quicker drying. Non-VOC paints are generally water-based rather than oil-based, meaning they dry more quickly, causing less of a disruption in schedules. This can be advantageous if you’re simply repainting an existing room, less so in new construction situations.

 

The Cons

·         More expensive. Non-VOC paints can be up to twice as expensive as the alternative as they cost more to make. This trend is gradually moving downward, but still you can expect to pay more.

·         Reduced life expectancy. The tradeoff for having fewer harmful chemicals is having to repaint more frequently. (It’s more difficult to find exterior non-VOC exterior paints than interior, and they aren’t often cost-effective when you do find them.)

·         Quicker drying. You’ll notice we listed this as a “pro” just a minute ago. That’s because quick-drying paint can be a blessing if you’re finishing a room in a hurry, but a curse if you’re a novice painter and the paint starts drying before you can finish. Non-VOCs may require some skill and different techniques to apply, and you might be better off hiring a professional to do the job.

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If You Are Using VOC Paints…

Finally, to conclude our discussion…if you are in a situation where either budget or circumstances don’t make it feasible to use non-VOC paints, follow these tips to maximize safety for yourself and others:

·         Keep the area well-ventilated.

·         When painting an interior space, allow the odor to dissipate before using the room.

·         If doing the painting yourself, wear a mask and/or take breaks to get fresh air.

·         Choose a low-VOC version of the paint, if possible. (Reduced VOC's aren’t as good as                “zero” VOCs, but they’re still an improvement.)

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For construction, development and remodeling projects of all types, we at Wellbuilt are skilled at applying non-VOC paints for our clients who request it. For more information, call us at 1.917.475.1207.

What Are Non-VOC Paints, and Why Does It Matter? (Part 1)

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Is anyone a fan of that “new paint smell?” (Reluctant hands go up all over the Internet.) It’s something we know we probably shouldn’t like—and granted, some people don’t—but for many of us, it’s a natural instinct to draw in a deep breath inside a freshly painted room. If so, congratulations—you have taken in a lungful of Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. They’re not the best things for you, which is one reason why non-VOC paints are rapidly gaining popularity in the construction world.

What You Need to Know About VOCs

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Volatile Organic Compounds are a variety of carbon-based chemical compounds that easily evaporate into the air—hence the odor. (Don’t let the word “organic” fool you into thinking these compounds are healthy. “Organic” simply means they contain carbon in this case.) VOCs are generally toxic, and many are known to cause cancer. Trust us, you don’t want to breathe these vapors in for an extended length of time—especially not in concentrated amounts.

VOC concentration in the house is strongest in the air when the paint is freshly applied and the paint is drying. However, VOCs can continue to seep into the air in your home for several years after painting. Different studies show that VOCs in the air is typically between 3 and 10 times higher indoors as they are outdoors. Also, paint isn’t the only household product containing VOCs. The New York Department of Health indicates these chemical compounds may be present in many different household products, from nail polish to hairspray, from paint thinner to mothballs, and even new carpet and upholstery.

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Are Low-VOC Paints Any Better?

VOC levels have been reduced overall in our paint products over the past few years, and many manufacturers now promote their product lines as “low-VOC.” While this is certainly a good development, the problem is that there’s no real standard as to what qualifies as “low.” It’s the same concept as buying a “reduced-fat” food product. (Reduced by how much?) A low-VOC paint may contain slightly fewer harmful compounds than another type of paint, or it could have almost none. Furthermore, a white paint base could start off with no VOCs, but the tints added to make the color could be loaded with them. It’s difficult to tell what you’re actually getting.

Should you be terrified? Does all of this mean you’re going to get cancer or have your brain cells fried? No, not necessarily—not unless you purposefully inhale concentrated levels of these vapors. (Read this article for more information on the dangerous practice of “huffing.”) Rather, VOCs, like other pollutants, is a fact of modern life; they are around us more than we’d like, and most people won’t get sick from them, but our lives would be better if we could reduce them. The environment would be better off, too.

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Non-VOC paints are healthier for us, but they aren’t necessarily the best choice for every painting or construction project. In the next post, we’ll talk more about the pros and cons of non-VOC paints, as well as how to practice safety when non-VOC isn’t an option. For more information on the best paint choices for your construction project, call Wellbuilt at 1.917.475.1207.

New York City Building Permits: What You Need to Know

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It’s hard to fathom, but from the earliest settlements of colonial days until now, construction has been happening in New York City for more than 400 years! What’s more, New York is the largest city in America, with a population of more than 8.5 million (not including the millions more in outlying areas). With this much infrastructure over the years—not to mention the limited amount of land for so many people—we shouldn’t be surprised that almost every kind of construction project in New York City requires building permits, with significant penalties for infractions.

Whether you’re building a new construction from the ground up, or whether you’re making improvements on an existing structure, you’ll need a State-Licensed Professional Engineer (PA) or Registered Architect (RA) to pull a permit from the city before construction begins. You’ll probably need to repeat this process several times at various stages of construction. The process is more complicated than we can describe here, of course—but here’s a quick overview of the basics.

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Types of Permits

New York City’s Department of Buildings issues work permits of many different types for different aspects of the building project. Here are just a few examples based on information from the department website:

  •  Electrical
  •  Plumbing
  •  Boiler work
  •  Elevator work
  •  Concrete
  •  Scaffolding & Sheds
  •  Cranes & Derricks
  •  Limited Alterations

…the list goes on!

You’ll also need to apply for an After Hours Variances permit if your team needs to work on site after 6 p.m., before 7  a.m. or on weekends—and when the project is complete, you’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy permit before anyone can live or work in the building.

In addition to the specific types of permits, you can apply for four different permit classifications, based on the type of work you’re doing:

  • New Building (NB)—construction from the ground up
  • ALT1—Major Alterations
  •  ALT2—Multiple Alterations
  • ALT 3—Minor Alterations

Are There Projects that Don’t Require a Permit?

Certain minor improvement projects might not require a permit—for example, if you’re replacing cabinets in your own kitchen or bathroom. However, it’s best to be certain before starting any project whether a permit is needed, so consult with your contractor before beginning work.

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Can We Proceed with Construction without a Permit?

We seriously don’t recommend it; the New York City Administrative Code assesses significant penalties for construction that occurs without a permit. For a one- or two-family structure, the penalty is four times the amount of the permit. For larger structures (which is almost all of NYC), the penalty is fourteen times the cost of the permit, with a $5000 minimum! There are rare circumstances in which the department will give leniency and waive penalties, but trust us—in this situation, it’s far better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Given the sheer volume of permits being requested at any given time, it can certainly be frustrating to wait for approval before beginning any stage of construction. (It’s one of the most common reasons why buildings fall behind schedule, in fact.) However, you’ll save a lot of headache and expense by being patient with the process. To learn more about New York City building permits that may be needed for your project, give Wellbuilt a call at 917.475.1207.

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Unwanted Discoveries: When Building Projects Encounter the Unexpected

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It’s the repeating “plot twist” in almost every show you watch on HGTV. The home renovation is going along smoothly, when all of a sudden…the builders uncover an unexpected problem lurking in the attic, or the foundation, or the pipes, or a weakened support beam that could send the whole house crashing down at any moment! You watch with bated breath while the show host tells the owners their building project is going to go way behind schedule. The problem is going to take weeks to fix and add thousands to the budget. (Oh, the drama!)

If you think it’s bad in a home renovation on HGTV, consider the repercussions of uncovering some hidden problem in a major, multi-unit construction project. Multiply the stress ten-fold and you’ve got an idea.

Forgive us for chuckling; we’re not downplaying the seriousness of it. If it’s your building project and your money, an unwanted discovery can be very serious. Rather, we’re chuckling at the feigned surprise. Of course these builders know they’re going to encounter something unexpected. So do the creators of these home improvement reality shows. In the many years we’ve been in this business, we’ve uncovered these lurking problems countless times, to the point that we’re almost surprised when it doesn’t happen.

Building projects in older cities like New York or Boston are especially prone to unwanted discoveries, simply because of how many times the real estate is renovated and reused. We dig into a wall to find the 100-year-old wiring is a fire waiting to happen, an outdated pipe suddenly bursts and floods the basement. Even when clearing a lot and rebuilding from scratch, hidden dangers can be lurking under the soil—leftover relics from buildings that occupied the space centuries earlier. No wonder these projects so easily go over budget and behind schedule!

Dealing with the Unexpected

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So how do you keep these lurking dangers from derailing your project? While it’s impossible to prevent them completely, there are ways to anticipate and deal with them in a way that mitigates the delays and extra cost. Here are some ways to be prepared.

·         Schedule a thorough inspection of the build site. While you can’t uncover every possible problem, you can certainly reduce the risk by learning everything you can before construction or renovation begins. The inspectors might also be able to give you a heads-up if you’re at risk for a particular type of issue, so at least you won’t be surprised if you uncover something.

·         Be conservative with your estimated completion date. Allowing for more time than your current project needs will give you a buffer to help reduce the stress if something comes up.

·         Pad your budget as much as possible. Set aside a special fund designated for unexpected problems so if/when they arise, you have the resources to deal with them.

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Here at Wellbuilt, we maintain the mindset of “expecting the unexpected.” On our end, we do our best to give conservative projections (especially with older buildings and build sites) so when these problems arise, we can keep the drama to a minimum and keep your project on track. To learn more, give us a call at 1.917.475.1207.