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Bronx Co-Op Board Embraces New Boiler Technology-Habitat

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Bronx Co-op Board Embraces New Boiler Technology to Avoid Fines

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on March 1, 2023

Cambridge House co-op in the Bronx is installing a cutting-edge SmartWatt Boiler.

Phil Fram, president of the co-op board at the 74-unit Cambridge House in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, didn’t see a palatable pathway toward reducing the seven-story building’s carbon emissions. The building had been given a D letter grade for energy efficiency and, worse, was facing $60,000 in annual fines beginning in 2030 under Local Law 97, according to an estimate by the energy consultancy Bright Power. Replacing the dual-fuel boiler would have cost upward of $250,000. Switching to electric heat pumps would be a $1 million hit, more than shareholders could possibly afford. After the board made numerous lesser upgrades — insulating pipes, adding heat timers, balancing the heating system — there was no more low-hanging fruit left to pick.

Then at a trade show Fram met Stu Fox, the director of sales with a Connecticut-based company called Enviro Power that has developed a new product known as a SmartWatt Boiler. Running on natural gas or liquid propane, it captures the steam generated by the heating process and feeds it into an internal turbine, which generates up to 6 kilowatts of electricity — enough to put a sizable dent in the electricity needed to power the building’s common areas. It’s similar to a cogen, or combined heat and power, system. But with a difference.

“The SmartWatt Boiler has a couple of advantages,” Fox says. “It drops right into the boiler room, where it can supplement or replace the existing boiler. It’s simpler to maintain than a cogen system because it has considerably fewer parts. And it’s more affordable.”

Fram invited Fox to give a presentation to the co-op board in 2021, but the board members were leery of this new technology, which was developed in partnership with the century-old boiler manufacturer Burnham Holdings. After the successful installation of a SmartWatt Boiler at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Fox returned to Cambridge House and got a warmer reception. The board approved the project in late 2022.

After an Investment Tax Credit, the total installation cost is about $65,000, which includes the boiler, related materials and the cost of engineers, plumbers and electricians. The Cambridge House board will recoup its investment in about three years through savings on electricity and natural-gas usage and reduced delivery charges for natural gas purchased from Con Edison. Meanwhile STRATCO Property Solutions, a company that specializes in navigating New York State incentive programs on behalf of property owners, has applied for an additional $1,500 incentive that Con Edison awards for high-efficiency condensing boilers.

“Our goal is to have the system up and running by the end of April,” Fram says. “We’ll extend the life of our old boiler because it won’t be used in the summertime to heat domestic hot water. In the wintertime the SmartWatt Boiler will provide hot water, and year-round it’ll generate enough electricity to power half of our common areas. And we’re thrilled to death with the three-year payback.”