The Green Spotlight on BE NYC: Henry Gifford

September 29, 2013

Countdown to BE NYC! With only17days until the conference, Greenhome NYC is shining the spotlight on the experts who will be making the BE NYC an exceptional industry event!   One of the professionals participating in the conference is Henry Gifford.   GiffordH-e1378907428751Henry Gifford is director of mechanical system design at Architecture and Energy Limited, a Manhattan firm that designs buildings that are very energy efficient, yet cost no extra to build. He is a longtime practitioner in the Building Science and energy efficiency fields, specializing in multifamily buildings, and thinks one good measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.   Henry is a speaker in the “One Pipe, Two Pipe” workshop in the Smaller Buildings track.   How did you become focused on this particular area of sustainability? When I was 20 years old I bought two apartment buildings in the Lower East Side.  They were expensive to run, and I knew I couldn’t lower the mortgage payments, taxes, or insurance; and I couldn’t raise the rent.  So I started to see what I could do about paying less to Con Edison.  I could see that my bills went up and down, jumped around a lot – even in summer.   I called the service company for them to send someone out to check the boiler.  He barely stepped into the boiler room, glanced at the flame and said “Yeah, it’s efficient.”  I knew that he knew more than I did, but that there had to be more to it than that.  Pretty soon I became more interested in spending time in boiler rooms than in housing court.   What or who have been sources of inspiration and learning for you? A book that influenced how I think is “Bicycling Science: Ergonomics and Mechanics” by Frank Rowland Witt and David Gordon Wilson (MIT Press), which I first read when I was 14 years old and a serious bicyclist.  It presented, in a very scientific but practical way, concepts like the “cooling rate” – the way in which the rate of cooling of human skin influences how fast and long someone can bike or run.  I realized that the math of scientific formulas is only as good as the measurement that you put into them.  Two people who inspired and taught me about apartment buildings and heating systems were Tommy Gambetta, my former landlord; and Frank Gerety, an engineer who worked for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.   What can a conference member expect to learn by attending your workshop and track? We’ll be covering heating, cooling, and domestic hot water systems in small to mid-sized buildings – from steam, hydronic, central, PTACs, sidearm coils, indirect, direct, tank, tankless, single boilers, staged boilers, atmospheric, sealed combustion, and window units to ductless splits.  Attendees will be able to understand the many options themselves, in terms of comfort, energy use, and reliability.   How is your track important to the sustainability field at large? I believe in focusing on measured vs. modeled energy; you only get somewhere by measuring actual energy use, rather than by rewarding predicted energy use, as ratings systems like LEED do.  Steps you can take that measurably reduce overheating in apartments, and improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems – whether one-pipe systems, two-pipe, or whatever – save money, improve comfort, and reduce our impact on the environment.  Cost-effectiveness is also extremely important to me.  The residential buildings that I have designed with Chris Benedict use the lowest amount of measured energy of any apartment buildings in NY State, and two are expected to achieve Passive House standards, with dramatically lower energy use than other comparable buildings, at no extra cost.   What is your past experience presenting at industry conferences, and what do you like about them?   I’ve presented at lots of conferences.  I am about to participate in a conference at the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Buildings, and Behavior Symposium; and later this month I’ll attend a Passivhaus conference in Vancouver, CA.  I enjoy inspiring and enlightening people.  I enjoy making people see that they too can understand stuff that may have seemed too complicated, and out of their reach.   Interested in learning more from Henry Gifford?  Look for him at the Smaller Buildings track at BE NYC.      

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Interview conducted by Sarah Hovde.

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