NYC’s Local Law 87: More Than a Path to Compliance


The Greener, Greater Buildings Plan was enacted in 2009 to increase the energy efficiency of New York City’s large buildings. With its creation came new regulations to help building owners better understand, and optimize, their annual energy and water usage. Among those regulations was Local Law 87 (LL87), the energy auditing and retro-commissioning law. With the recent passage of the Climate Mobilization Act and Local Law 97 (formerly Int. 1253), many building owners are wondering where LL87 stands and how it relates to Local Law 97 (LL97).

LL87 requires all buildings in New York City that are larger than 50,000 square feet to perform an energy audit and retro-commissioning every 10 years. The energy audit, performed by an energy professional who visits the building, gives building owners an evaluation of their building’s energy performance, how effectively their equipment is functioning, and what improvements could be made to reduce energy usage and increase building comfort. Retro-commissioning is a tune-up for the building to ensure that the equipment is operating as intended.

How LL87 Relates to LL97 (and LL33)

The best way to think about an LL87 audit is that it should provide a roadmap to achieve the carbon emissions targets in LL97. And the retro-commissioning that is required in LL87, if done right, should help capture low-cost carbon savings. An experienced LL87 energy auditor should be able to give you an idea of your carbon emissions now and what actions you will need to take if your emissions are over the limits. (LL87 audits performed prior to LL97 may not have been as focused on identifying measures that would maximize carbon emissions reductions, but should still identify cost-effective energy saving measures for your building.)

For rent-regulated buildings, there is some overlap between the prescriptive measures in LL97 and the required retro-commissioning measures in LL87. Regardless of your building size or occupant type, those prescriptive measures are generally lower cost and have an immediate impact on your building’s performance, operations, and tenant comfort.

Note that Local Law 87 applies to buildings 50,000 square feet or more, whereas LL97 applies to buildings 25,000 square feet or more. Buildings 50,000 square feet and over are subject to both. One other difference between the laws is that LL87 applies only the “base building systems” whereas LL97 applies to the whole building, including tenant usage.

And while LL87 and LL97 are both completely separate from Local Law 33 (the New York City ordinance that requires buildings above 25,000 square feet to post an energy efficiency grade at each public entrance beginning in 2020) the required retro-commissioning measures and energy efficiency improvements uncovered in your energy audit will help you increase your ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager score, and in turn, your building’s city grade.

How to Select an LL87 Provider

For those with limited exposure to energy audits and retro-commissioning, it may seem daunting to find an expert. What questions should you ask? What responses should I look for? And, how will I know if they will be able to help me get my carbon emissions under 2024 and/or 2030 limits to be in compliance with LL97?

Fear not! Here’s a list of questions you can ask potential vendors that should allow you to make an informed decision and get the most value out of LL87 compliance and set you up for LL97 compliance.   

How long have you been providing LL87 services?
Those who have been providing these services for more than 5 years will have a strong understanding of the law, how it’s changed, how any proposed changes will impact their current processes, and what actions will produce a real solution.

How quickly can you get my energy audit and retro-commissioning study done?
While you might want speedy action from your provider, be wary of providers that say they can complete everything in just a few weeks. It takes much longer to complete a comprehensive audit and retro-commissioning study. Depending on the time of year and your building’s need for a heating and/or cooling test, the provider may not be able to complete the study until the weather reaches certain temperatures. To be on the safe side, we recommend that you plan for the whole LL87 audit and retro-commissioning to take at least 6 months.

Do you have a Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA) on staff?
The proposed changes to LL87 include a requirement where a Registered Design Professional needs to sign off on all energy audit and retro-commissioning reports. Should each of the proposed changes get accepted, you’ll want to be prepared. Make sure your provider has a PE or RA on staff to enable your compliance.

What is your approach to retro-commissioning and energy auditing?
Some think retro-commissioning and energy auditing are straightforward. And to some degree, they areyou’re uncovering equipment that isn’t working as well as it should or could and making recommendations for improvements. But, an experienced retro-commissioning agent or auditor looks at the building, and all of its systems, as part of a living, dynamic being. Fixing one thing impacts other systems, and conversely, not fixing one system can cause problems in others. You should work with a partner who understands building science and can help you plan for the future by approaching the building holistically.

Additionally, your provider should be thorough and fully investigate the building. Most buildings will have multiple retro-commissioning deficiencies, in fact, a large commercial building may have dozens of deficiencies. So if your report comes back with only a few items, your agent may not have been looking as closely as they should. That should raise concerns, especially if you are using your LL87 report as a roadmap to LL97 compliance.

Once the LL87 energy audit and retro-commissioning is done, what do you do?
For most providers, the answer will be “we’re done.” But a comprehensive and holistic provider should be able to guide you to select and implement the right energy and water improvements with an eye towards LL97 compliance. Whether they turnkey design-build the improvements themselves or only provide consulting services for the improvements, they should not leave you hanging. We work with our clients to help them select the highest impact improvements that will not only keep them in compliance but will also increase the performance of their buildings, decrease their carbon emissions, reduce maintenance issues, heighten tenant comfort, and produce energy savings.

I need to install or have sign off on the list of prescriptive measures in LL97. Can you help?
Some providers may combine their LL87 and LL97 prescriptive measures services into one package to streamline the process for their clients. That’s what we plan to do.  

What is your approach to high-performance buildings?
Even high-performance buildings need tune-ups. An experienced agent will have worked with all kinds of buildings and systems and should be able to share examples of when they have optimized high-performance systems. A good follow-up question: do you have any experience with deep energy retrofits or Passive House buildings? My colleague, Punit Shah, shared a real-life example of retro-commissioning at work in his blog, illuminating why even high-efficiency systems need tune-ups. Spoiler alert: the more complex and sophisticated the equipment, the more nuanced, expert care and maintenance it needs.

Where Do You Go From Here

We hope you now have a better idea of what LL87 entails, how it relates to LL97, and how to select the right provider for you.

If you have questions about energy audits, retro-commissioning, or anything energy-related, Bright Power is always here to help. My team of experienced auditors and retro-commissioning agents is ready to help you comply and increase the performance of your building. Contact us to speak to an expert today.

Note: You may have heard about proposed changes to LL87. Those are still under review, and we will keep you informed of any final changes.