Sane Energy Project was pleasantly surprised by a recent forum on boiler conversions hosted by GreenHome NYC at Hunter College, which took a skeptical look at the push to convert to gas. As Green Buildings reports, "After comparing the options, all of the Forum speakers concluded that converting directly from Number 6 to Number 2 oil is every building’s best option. While converting to Number 4 is a less intensive process, it’s only a temporary fix; natural gas is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to implement. On the other hand, the conversion to Number 2 can cost less than $10,000 and be completed in just a few days." To date, most forums on boiler conversions, and Con Edison's incentive programs, have focused heavily on gas. The Mayor and Con Ed have gone so far as to justify the need for multiple new pipelines by stating that "If 50% of buildings convert," there won't be enough gas to supply them. Where the 50% number originates is unclear, since only 1% of all buildings currently burn Number 6 oil; only those buildings are required to discontinue burning heavy oil, and they are not required to convert to gas.
The city's new heating oil rules have targeted reduction of particulate matter (PM) and asthma deaths as a stated goal. Particulate matter has been flagged as a leading cause of respiratory disease. So it was good news when boiler expert Michael Bendjouya noted that low-sulfur Number 2 heating oil creates less PM than natural gas. Bendjouya also praised biodiesel and bioD blends, noting its higher efficiency and better air impacts.
Robert Daley, Technical Director of the Boiler Division of NYC Department of Buildings, brought a down-to-earth perspective to conversions, walking attendees through the steps and details of conversions and the complex Con Ed procedure. He noted that most buildings have wastefully oversized boilers and that small condensing boilers–standard in the European Union–are the wave of the future. Mr. Daley also expressed a desire to rate buildings for actual proven energy efficiency (a numeric system that could be used as a real estate value), an initiative Sane Energy heartily supports.
Boiler engineer Ken Camilleri said building owners tend to be "compliance driven," rather than looking at their energy costs holistically. Even so, he counsels his clients against converting to Number 4 oil (the minimum change currently required) because of its uneven performance. Explaining, "Buildings that convert to Number 2 will end up spending less," he labeled such changes "painless," whereas, in terms of ease of conversion, "the only barriers are when you convert to gas."
None of the panelists expressed a familiarity with the radon issue. One panelist noted that if his clients expressed a concern about it, he recommended they convert to Number 2 oil, which carries no radon risk.