Should Canadian cities follow NYC and consider banning new ‘inefficient’ glass skyscrapers?

New York City mayor plans to introduce a bill banning the construction of new glass skyscrapers. Photo
New York City mayor plans to introduce a bill banning the construction of new glass skyscrapers.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio plans to introduce a bill to ban new construction of glass skyscrapers as part of his endeavour to reduce citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent.

When announcing his Green New Deal on April 22, the mayor said all glass façade skyscrapers are “incredibly inefficient” because much of the energy escapes through the glass. He added buildings are the number one cause of GHG emissions in New York.

De Blasio said the bill would require existing glass buildings to be retrofitted to meet new rigid carbon-emissions guidelines.

The mayor’s Green New Deal effort also involves plans to power all of the city’s operations with clean electricity sources like Canadian hydropower, mandatory organics recycling, and the phasing out of city purchases of single-use plastic food ware and processed meat.

Earlier this spring, the city council passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a set of 10 bills responding to targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Essential to the act is a requirement that many of the city’s buildings slash their carbon emissions beginning in 2024, reducing overall by 30 per cent by 2030.

The act, unofficially named ‘Dirty Buildings Bill,’ will require 50,000 of the city’s buildings to cut emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 through the installation of new windows, insulation, and other retrofitting procedures. The law would apply to buildings over 2323 m2 (25,000 sf), which account for half of all building emissions despite comprising two per cent of total buildings in the city.

In response, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) said there are a number of factors that determine the environmental impacts of each of the iconic buildings in the most famous skyline in America. The activities of a building’s occupants and other processes associated with operating a modern skyscraper (such as heating, cooling, and lighting) generate the vast majority of a building’s GHG.

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  1. Skyscrapers the energy source of the future. In 2015 in Boston researchers discovered ways of making clear glass photoelectric cell so in theory we can convert all skyscrapers or glazing systems into electrical photocells and therefore help them provide green energy.
    Should Canada be banning a source of future green energy?

    1. Agreed! Also, recent developments in glazing technology means that we can specify R30 glazing. Sounds like the mayor of New York is in the thrall of climate change warriors that want to return us to a state of medieval subsistence. Instead, he -and others- should be developing regulations to promote what is currently available and will soon come onto the market.

      1. Double pane glass was invented around 1865 and really hasn’t changed with R5. Between 1980 and now, the apartment towers we see have doubled their energy consumption due to the lack of insulation provided by glass. Vancouver cannot be the “greenest city in 2020” as their advertising says. Developers like glass because its cheap. Seafoam green glass is about as cheap as you get. The cost to maintain and eventually replace the entire facade of a 30 story apartment building becomes the responsibility of the unlucky owner at that time. Leaky condos in Vancouver during the 80’s and 90’s were developed under the guidance of the city. When the condos all leaked due to the poor building codes, the city created a bylaw so the strata couldn’t sue. Strats owners in some cases had to pay more than the condo was worth. The glass facade of these new towers is simply another “leaky condo” scenario.

  2. Absolutely! Those glass towers rely on sealants to keep them air- and water-tight. But sealants have a life expectancy of roughly 20 years. So in 20 years time, the cladding systems on those glass towers will need to be removed and replaced, making such buildings clearly unsustainable. R30 glazing “might” be possible, but that is only considering the centre of glass, not the edge of glass area. The total effective thermal resistance of a glass wall is considerably less than the centre-of-glass value. In regard to the comment from the AISC that it is the processes associated with operating a modern skyscraper (such as heating, cooling, and lighting) that generate the vast majority of a building’s GHG. Sure. But make the building envelope more thermally-efficient and the costs of those processes will decrease. The best way to tackle reducing our GHG emissions is to start improving the building envelope.

  3. In Vancouver BC, a combination of LEED Gold/Platinum, upcoming step code 3 and ASHRAE are doing a pretty good job of ensuring efficient buildings. Next step up would be Net Zero – which may render projects simply unaffordable from a $ pro-forma perspective. It’s already brushing with the impossible at the moment. Curtain Wall Technology and other elements are already having a hard time keeping up with the existing constraints. Let’s give some time for the manufacturers and commercial markets to bring new products that can deliver on existing parameters.

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