How About Them Rats?

Though much quoted and imitated, Jimmy Cagney never said “You dirty rats.” He did say “…you dirty yellow-bellied rat…” in the 1932 film “Taxi”, but I digress, as the point is not the correctness of Cagney’s quote, but that rats truly are, um, dirty filled with viruses, pathogens, fleas and ticks.

You live here, you’ve seen a rat. If you haven’t seen one, you’re not looking close enough. Sewers. Subways. Streets. Sidewalks. Tree notches. Large swaths of greenery and bushes. They’re there. Like the huge one a friend of mine who, in her kindness and naivety, once shared a tuna fish sandwich with in full daylight at the entrance to Central Park near The Plaza Hotel. She thought it was a cat until it turned around and she saw the long pink tail. She also said it was very well behaved. Maybe it was the quality of the neighborhood.

New York City is indeed the place millions of rats call home. A recent study by a Ph.D candidate in the statistics department at Columbia University concluded there are no more than two million rats to 8 million humans. Compare that to Paris which has the reverse statistic of 8 million rats to 2 million humans which can really destroy the romantic vision of strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine.

Rats don’t live long, but they live large. They can have a new litter every few months. Squeeze through a gap the size of a quarter. Tread water for 3 days. Leap about 4 feet and survive a five-story fall. The rats we see in the City are brown Norway rats. We used to have black, or ship rats, but in a rodent version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (“Two men enter; one man leaves”), the brown rats trapped and killed them. Which gives us pause for thought that rats have been better at rat extermination than humans are.

Named one of the “Top 10 Worst Rat Cities in the World” by the TV station Animal Planet, New York is in good company along with Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, London and Paris. What all the cities have in common are older infrastructures and buildings and population density. Sanitation also plays a big role in attracting or controlling rats.

Regardless of the difficulty of eradicating rats from the city, numerous mayors have made the noble and, to date, futile attempt to do so. We say futile because rats have been here since Colonial times and have shown no signs of leaving in the ensuing 400 years.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio targeted the rodents with $2.9 million in rat control money in the city budget. He joins other recent mayors including Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg in the fight against rats. Hope may spring eternal, but so far, the rats have lost some battles, but are still winning the war.

“There have been 109 mayors of New York and, it seems, nearly as many mayoral plans to snuff out the scourge. Their collective record is approximately 0-108,” said an article in The New York Times when Mayor de Blasio announced his rat attack plan. With luck, planning and commitment, perhaps the record will be 1-108.

P.S. Lest you were wondering about the popularity of this topic, there is a book entitled “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It was a New York Times bestseller.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Battle of the Bulb: CFL vs. LED

Considering we used incandescent and fluorescent lighting for the last century and that a mere few years ago LED lighting was considered not yet ready for prime time, LED technology is now moving at warp speed.

I personally consider it a great bandwagon to get on. Its benefits are numerous: lower maintenance; long life; heat loss reduction; immediate bright light; nothing toxic (we’re talking mercury); cooler in both the literal and figurative senses; and, most of all, huge energy savings.

There are some negatives including high cost, which has to be put into the perspective of LEDs very long life and that prices are going down almost daily; quality, depending on what bulbs you buy and where they were manufactured; and that LED light is more focused, perfect for recessed lights, not so much for lighting your entire living room with the wonderful warm glow that incandescent bulbs provided.

With incandescent bulbs no longer an option (they were banned from manufacture and import in 2007), that leaves compact fluorescent lighting or CFLs as the other contender to LEDs. There are pros and cons to both types of lighting but the consensus is that CFLs will be overrun by LED lighting and can be viewed as an intermezzo before moving into LEDs.

As the future is lighting is here, the next big question for commercial property owners is do I dive head first and deep into a full lighting replacement or do the retrofit equivalent of dipping in a big toe?

The answer is it depends. CFLs will illuminate a large area with bright light, unlike LEDs. They are more familiar and less expensive. They will last a long time but not as long as LED lighting. They cost less, but LED lighting is decreasing in price rapidly and, because they last longer, eventually cost less than CFLs.

There are a lot of technicalities that are best left to lighting experts to explain and for building managers to analyze. LED, for example, comes in two options: luminaires with LED boards and luminaires with tubular shaped modular LED engines. CDLs are less expensive but they cannot be put on a dimmer switch and contain mercury.

If the full building, dive-in approach isn’t right for your building or feasible for your budget, phase in new lighting on a one by one decision basis. Cost savings can also be realized with a drop-in LED retrofit kit.

LED lighting continues to become more efficient. Today, energy savings of over 30% can be realized. With that kind of savings, buildings can recoup their LED investment in a few short years. There are also rebates available depending on the lighting products you buy and install.

LED lighting products have now reached a point in price, efficiency and energy savings that they are of value to everyone from the CFO whose budget had to take a hit to install them to facilities managers who are seeing much less lighting maintenance to tenants who may well be seeing an increase in productivity. LEDs have gone from leading the way to a lighting revolution to being the way to light now and well into the future.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

A Fond Farewell to Incandescent Light Bulbs

Energy savings is a large, important topic in conservation. We use and waste a lot of light in this country, from home to highway to office, from restaurant to theatre, malls, schools and hospitals. We can’t control much about our offices or other structures, but we can control home lighting.

For apartment dwellers, it’s not that big a topic. We are a city known for small spaces. Not as small as Japan, of course, but small enough to have newcomers to the city become dazed in shock and awe over what passes for a bedroom.

Apartment lighting consists of lamp light bulbs and perhaps some overheads. And now we have to bid, except for whatever is left in dusty store bins, a fond farewell to the incandescent light bulb that has been with us since childhood. While a blog in Scientific American called it “The Overly Dramatic Demise of the Light Bulb”, we’re not so sure as, according to CNN, there are about 10 billion light sockets in the country and we’ve been using incandescent bulbs for over 100 years.

When the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established new efficiency standards for lighting that required bulbs to use at least 25% less energy, it sealed the doom of incandescents. They may provide warm, cozy, far-reaching light and are cheap and predictable but they use and lose too much energy and are now not legal to manufacture or import. No longer will you hear the familiar tinkling sound of a dead incandescent bulb’s wire filaments inside the glass as you cart it to the trash.

No one is going to come and arrest you for using them, but you will be hard put to find them any longer. The 40 and 60 watt bulbs started being phased out a few years ago. You currently have a choice of halogen, CFL and LED light bulbs. All have pros and cons from cost to their look to energy savings and bulb life. But none create warm light like an incandescent.

Leave it, however, to MIT to be working on a “nanophotonic comeback for incandescent bulbs.” According to Wikipedia, “Nanophotonics or Nano-optics is the study of the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, and of the interaction of nanometer-scale objects with light. It is a branch of optics, optical engineering, electrical engineering, and nanotechnology.” (We had to look this up for you. All right, we had to look this up for me.)

According to MIT News, researchers at MIT and Purdue University (without going into all of the dense scientific processes) seemed to have found a way to combine the traditional warmth of incandescent bulbs with modern technology that results in much greater energy efficiency.

Today, incandescent bulbs are wending their way into becoming quaint history. Tomorrow, they may return in new form and be the next big thing.

Stay tuned.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

New York, The Highly Unlikely Green Utopia

Architectural marvel. Magnificent buildings. Stunning skyscrapers. Electric. Eclectic. Exhilarating. Energetic. Exhausting. We could go on with New York City descriptions but the one you don’t often see is Environmentally Cutting Edge. Then again, unless you’re in a field where green, sustainability, climate control, energy and such are your focus, New York City’s leadership in progressive environmental policies may not ping on your radar screen.

“Anyplace that has such tall buildings and heavy traffic is obviously an environmental disaster – except that it isn’t,” said John Holtzclaw, a transportation consultant for the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an article entitled “Green Manhattan”, published in The New Yorker over a decade ago. His opinion still holds up to scrutiny though you may not think so in rush hour traffic when you’re being splashed with dirty water while inhaling exhaust fumes. Your vision of a perfect environmental landscape is more like verdant valleys, majestic mountains and meandering streams. But reality is that the density, towering buildings and limited green space of Manhattan create a sound environmental model.

Covering every why and whereof on the subject would require a book which is why we’re going to touch base on a short list of the good, the bad and works in progress.

New Yorkers experience pollution because building, street and population density concentrates pollutants which sadly lead to the city having a high childhood asthma rate and high cancer risk from airborne chemicals.

But all the news is far from all bad. According to the book The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City, “gasoline consumption in the city is at the rate the national average was in 1920.” To put that into perspective, in 1920 there were 7.5 million cars and trucks in the U.S.; In 2014, there were 256 million (and yes, it does seem like they all want to go through the Lincoln Tunnel at the same time). The city also has one of the largest fleets of hybrid busses in the country, as well as the most hybrid taxis to help alleviate the concentrated pollution.
Busses and taxis aside, because we are a mass transportation-based city, greenhouse gas emissions are already well below the national average but, realizing the threat climate change can mean, Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. This also includes reduction of energy usage and legal requirements for energy efficiency in buildings. At the same time, apartment and commercial office buildings are extremely energy-efficient structures.

New York City is a leader in green. LEED certification, the goal of many buildings, has become a driving force in setting green standards. The Solaire, a residential building in downtown Manhattan, was the first green residential building in the U.S. Many others have since followed its lead.

Prominent commercial buildings that broke new ground in green and sustainability include Conde Nast Tower in Times Square, 1 World Trade Center, Bank of America at One Bryant Park, Hearst Tower, The (new) New York Times Building and The Empire State Building. Although they are very difficult to realize, Net Zero or Zero Energy buildings are on the rise in the city, as are installations of solar panels.

And then there’s New York City’s famous water, a result of the purity of filtering in upstate protected areas. According to nyc.gov, “Each day, more than 1 billion gallons of fresh, clean water is delivered from large upstate reservoirs—some more than 125 miles from the City—to the taps of nine million customers.” To reduce waste, the city has also installed sprinkler caps on hydrants that provide city children with a refreshing outdoor summer shower.

And let’s not forget the city’s Greenmarkets, over 100 in the five boroughs, where farmers bring fresh produce to residents and restaurateurs on public spaces.

We live in a city of where government, companies, developers, residents and activists have come together with a mutual goal of creating one the world’s most livable, environmental progressive and healthy cities. With a nod to former Mayor Ed Koch’s trademark quote, ask me “How’re we doin’?” and I’d say “damn good.”


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Green Roofs in the Concrete Jungle

Green roofs are among the newest sustainability assets for commercial and residential buildings. And, unlike other green assets like energy savings systems, recycling and gray water usage, green roofs are visible, beautiful, useable and valuable to both tenants and building owners alike.

In a city that is mostly glass and steel corridors and gray concrete streets, with the exception of parks, from pocket to Central, greenery is at a premium.

For the most part, the city’s roofs are still tar and asphalt. But changing those roofs into environmental sound solutions – and green sanctuaries – is gaining momentum. It’s a complex and expensive process that also requires ongoing maintenance, so progress has been slow, but the benefits are numerous and compelling, not the least of which is turning an ugly, underused part of a building’s real estate into an asset.

A quick look at the benefits include mitigation of the Urban Heat Island Effect. New York City is a vast summertime heat island with far-reaching negative impact on energy, water and health. Green roofs act as building insulators, reducing energy usage and the extent and cost of air conditioning and heat as well as air pollution and greenhouse gasses.

Then there’s stormwater management, no small issue in New York City. Green roofs help control runoff with vegetation absorbing water that, as runoff, contains a high amount of pollution and contaminants.

Green roofs can extend roof life, reduce AC and heating costs, serve as a stormwater management tool and fire retardant, reduce noise, contribute to air quality and greatly enhance a property’s marketability by providing viewable or useable garden and recreational space.

You’ll need a professional engineer and registered architect to do a structural analysis to determine if your roof can sustain vegetation or needs reinforcement; an architect/landscape designer and/or green roof specialist to design and install the system; and a big budget. Tax abatements and green infrastructure grant programs help make green roofs more feasible.

Some prominent buildings in NYC that have installed green roofs include the Empire State Building; Javits Center; Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Parks Department’s Five Borough Administrative Building on Randalls Island; Zeckendorf Towers on the east side of Union Square; the rooftop farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and the New School’s LEED-Gold student center.

The largest green roof in New York City is in midtown Manhattan atop the U.S. Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center.

The funkiest – and award-winning – green roof includes plastic rocks, artificial boxwoods, clear crushed glass and recycled rubber mulch. It’s on top of the Museum of Modern Art and, although visible, you can’t get there from here as it’s inaccessible.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

What’s New in Green in 2016

It is no longer an issue of whether to go green but more a question of how to maximize the benefits from energy savings to water conservation, recycling, enhanced workplace health and productivity, attracting and retaining a higher quality of tenant and adhering to the growing number of local, state and federal laws.

We took a look at what is up and coming in green building to develop a list of top trends in green for 2016.

  • The number of buildings seeking LEED will continue to increase dramatically. There are LEED rating bashers out there and those who question whether LEED is enough. But, for now, the answer is yes it is and will continue to be.
  • LEED has a relatively new competitor, Green Globes, which is based on an online questionnaire system. Time will tell if and how much Green Globes will impact LEED’s global popularity.
  • Look for more cool roofs and green roofs. Cool roofs, achieved by using foam, rubber, special tiles and/or solar-­reflecting paint, lower temperatures inside a building and can result in energy savings of as much as 15%. Green roofs, planted with vegetation, can increase a roof’s life span, result in major energy savings, greatly reduce water runoff and mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect. Green roofs being built as urban produce gardens for tenants to manage, is a beginning trend we would like to see much more of.
  • One new architectural design idea for new builds is to incorporate atriums inside high-­rise buildings for better air ventilation and more healthy natural daylight.
  • Sustainable construction which uses materials and products that require less use of natural resources and more sustainable resources, is also on the rise. Steel, glass, prefabricated parts and additions to concrete serve to reduce waste.
  • Significantly trending is LED lighting. With so many benefits – reduced maintenance, much longer life and substantial energy savings ­- property owners can clearly see their competitive advantage. The obstacle remains upfront cost but a LED lighting retrofit can typically pay for itself in less than 3 years.
  • Lastly is a look at Net Zero or Zero Energy buildings. These buildings, although they may also store power from the grid, are designed with energy­ saving techniques and depend on renewal energy sources such as solar and wind power. Energy use is further reduced with state­-of-­the-­art HVAC and lighting that, for example, takes advantage of natural light. Once considered impossible to achieve, net zero building designs are on the rise in New York City but remain difficult to realize.

The future of green buildings and construction is exciting and, if you pardon the pun, energized with regard to development of new ideas, products, techniques and technologies that will conserve energy and natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint and result in healthier homes, learning centers and workplaces.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Going Batty from Going Green

From dense landscaping, city parks, green rooftops and community gardens to OneMillionTreesNYC, there’s a little known and even less understood benefit to all this greening of the city. The more green spaces we provide, the more the bat population flourishes. Bats love living la dolce vita in green urban areas.

Bats you say? Bats? They’re evil (forget Bram Stoker’s Dracula); they suck human blood (forget Bram Stoker’s Dracula); they’ll attack me (only in self defense so don’t rile them); they get rabies (yes they do but the incidence is very low at less than 0.5%); they’ll fly into my hair and get tangled in it (no, they won’t).

Forget all the lore and misconceptions except possibly the popularity of the superhero Batman. Though you don’t want them in your home, these little guys provide a number of benefits.

The most common species in New York City is the little brown bat, only 2” with a 4” wingspan. There is also a larger variety. They both love to nest in the corners and crevices of buildings, preferably older ones with a nice selection of cobwebs. Red, hoary and silver-haired bats, also species found here, like to nest in trees, either in trunk crevices or within foliage.

The question is: why should we welcome these flying creatures to the neighborhood?

“Bats are beneficial mammals because they are efficient predators of insects,” says the Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet on Bats from Cornell Cooperative Extension. “A colony of 100 little brown bats, the most abundant species in New York, consume hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes and other small insects each summer.”

Thus bats help rid the city of the nuisance of small flying insects; reduce insect bites which can be annoying and painful; and help thwart the spread of diseases like West Nile virus. Bats eat insects like you eat M&Ms, feasting on 600-1,000 mosquitoes per hour. Their voracious appetites save approximately $3 billion in insecticide use for agriculture.

All of that is why the city has encouraged growth of the bat population by building simple bat houses (which swarms of the little guys move into) in parks throughout the city.

To learn more about bats, even take a guide tour offered seasonally, log onto the Urban Park Rangers and Central Park Conservancy websites.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services