Panelized Retrofits Move from Concept to Construction

In the push to scale up building retrofits, panelized envelope solutions have been seen as a potential game-changer, a key component enabling low-carbon retrofits to reach a pace significant enough to help achieve climate targets. Yet, this key retrofit component has been mostly elusive in the U.S.—until recently. 1660 Madison Avenue in New York City is an 11-story property that’s getting a low-carbon makeover, thanks in part to retrofit panels.

1660 Madison Avenue is one of three buildings making up The Heritage, a 680,000-ft2 mixed-use development that is owned and managed by L&M Development Partners and includes 600 mixed-income residential units. The firm has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030 at The Heritage, including a 54 percent reduction in site energy use intensity. L&M is getting help in reaching this goal. In early 2022 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) awarded $5 million to advance this project as part of its Empire Building Challenge program, which is intended to demonstrate different pathways for achieving carbon neutrality in tall buildings.

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Originally built in 1974, the 11-story property at 1660 Madison was constructed under the Mitchell-Lama program to provide moderately priced housing on the periphery of one of Manhattan’s most expensive residential districts. Its retrofit will include major building envelope improvements and the full electrification of all loads, upgrading to heat pump units for heating and cooling and CO2-based heat pump water heaters for its domestic hot water supply. These extensive renovations are aimed at the preservation of below-market units, ensuring that middle-income tenants can not only remain in their homes but also experience significant improvements in the efficiency, thermal comfort, and acoustic performance of their residences.

To accomplish its goals, L&M chose to work with DEXTALL, both for their envelope expertise and the cost effectiveness of DEXTALL’s proposed D-Wall 1500 product that features noncombustible mineral wool insulation. Richard Weinstock, vice chairman and senior partner at L+M, explains the choice of DEXTALL as a pragmatic response to the particular challenges of the project, as well as a solution that fits with his company’s broader strategy in the neighborhood “The building had this split-block façade, which was popular in the 1970s but has a certain stigma attached to it now. We wanted not just to repurpose the building, but to reposition it in the market,” says Weinstock.

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Along with the new aesthetic, DEXTALL’s panels will provide an additional R-23, thanks to 8 inches of mineral wool insulation. Thermally broken steel anchors will secure the panels to the existing structure. New Intus windows will replace the existing inefficient units.

Currently in the design stage, the project’s construction is set to begin in the first quarter of 2023. The panels will be installed in vertical runs, roughly 10 per day, and the whole installation process is estimated to take four to five months.

While many panel manufacturers have been slow to appreciate the retrofit market, DEXTALL is excited to deliver technological solutions that are urgently needed to slow climate change. “We are interested in decarbonizing the environment not only by building new buildings but also by retrofitting old, existing ones. We believe technological advancements must be accessible and affordable to all if we are to battle climate change,” says Aurimas Sabulis, CEO of DEXTALL. DEXTALL has several other retrofits in the works, including another NYSERDA retrofit pilot project—this one in Brooklyn, New York.

The collaboration between L+M and DEXTALL—which will deliver lower carbon emissions, greater comfort, and a contemporary look to the Heritage—seems like an augur of great things to come, not just for East Harlem but for the construction industry as a whole. “The field is very slow to adapt to change,” says L+M’s Weinstock. “We’re hoping this starts to move the needle.”

All images courtesy of DEXTALL.

Author: Mary James