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New Reports Highlight Findings on Cost Effective Retrofit Solutions


By 2025, the landscape of affordable multifamily buildings that exists today in New York State will look–and operate–dramatically different. RetrofitNY continues to make progress in its aggressive pursuit to standardize and scale carbon neutral solutions for retrofit applications in affordable properties and beyond.

Since the inception of RetrofitNY, “Test, Learn, and Repeat” has been a foundational principle, and the six designs that comprised the first round of pilot projects became a fertile testing ground that resulted in a number of successes while uncovering challenges experienced first-hand by the participating design-teams.

To extract additional takeaways from the pilot projects, NYSERDA engaged with subject matter experts Steven Winter Associates (SWA) and Solar One to assess the pilot designs, quantify the challenges faced by the design-build teams and other affordable housing properties across New York State, and develop detailed reports with findings and recommendations to help address the challenges and needs of the carbon neutral and deep energy retrofit market.

The three reports and the experiences of the design-build teams highlight two key challenges standing in the face of scaling net zero retrofit solutions in the market:

  • Products such as panelized envelope solutions and integrated mechanical systems are not readily available in the market
  • Products and technologies are not cost effective, even with payback through annual energy savings and incentives

The full reports are now available to download on the RetrofitNY Resources and Reports page. Below are brief summaries of each report.

SWA: HVAC, façade, and supply chain markups are top cost drivers

SWA completed two phases of a cost compression study for the RetrofitNY pilot projects. The first report, “Cost Compression Study (Phase 1) – Evaluation of Deliverables and Main Cost Drivers,” outlines the top cost drivers for each of the pilot net zero designs in an effort to identify focal points for cost compression strategies.

SWA observes that mechanical systems (heating, cooling, ventilation, and domestic hot water) and façade (windows, doors, walls, and roof) typically ranked either as the highest cost driver or second-highest cost driver for nearly all projects, indicating a clear market need for cost effective products that can deliver net zero performance. Soft costs and site conditions were typically the next set of cost drivers.

The Phase 1 study by SWA sought to understand the process of intermediary markups that add costs throughout the supply chain from the point of manufacture to product installation. The report shares findings from interviews with manufacturers and discusses the potential cost impacts of manufacturing at scale, domestic manufacturing, pre-fabricated solutions, and shorter supply chains.

In the follow-up report, “Cost Compression Study (Phase 2) – Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements in Net Zero-Level Performance Multifamily Residences,” SWA proposes functional specifications to achieve net zero or near-net zero performance in low- and mid-rise building typologies, including recommended system efficiencies and loads that correspond to target performance levels. The report also includes target price points for envelope and mechanical solutions.

Both reports are available for download:

Solar One: Upfront costs, property conditions, and permitting processes result in solar challenges

In the report “Cost-Effective Solar Strategies for Affordable Housing in New York State,” Solar One provides an overview of challenges impacting not only the RetrofitNY pilot projects but also other affordable multifamily properties in New York State that seek to include solar installations in retrofit applications. These challenges include prohibitive upfront costs, limitations attributed to property size, lengthy pre-development delays and permitting processes, and the inability of affordable multifamily property owners to monetize tax incentives.

To address these challenges, Solar One highlights the following strategies: zero down third-party financing, long term loans, prepaid power purchasing agreements, standardized solar contracts, and unified permitting processes.

Additional challenges and potential solutions are highlighted in the full report: Cost-Effective Solar Strategies for Affordable Housing in New York State [PDF].

Applying learnings, addressing challenges directly, and making progress

In accordance with the “Test, Learn, Repeat” framework, NYSERDA is applying the findings from the pilots and reports toward the next phases of RetrofitNY. NYSERDA plans to address the challenges uncovered with the following:

  • Funding the development of the next generation of HVAC solutions – Through the NextGen HVAC Innovation Challenge, NYSERDA is providing funding to manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and other innovators to develop energy efficient building technologies that support New York State’s energy saving and carbon reduction goals.
  • Aligning with the US Department of Energy Advanced Building Construction Initiative – The US DOE is providing funding awards toward the development of cost effective deep energy retrofit solutions that tackle a combination of envelope and HVAC issues, similar to the challenges that have impacted RetrofitNY projects to date. NYSERDA is partnering with the DOE to ensure that solutions meet the challenge of scaling carbon neutral solutions in the residential property segment. Learn more about the Advanced Building Construction Initiative Link opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..