When Glass Houses Become Hothouses

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A group focused on smart architecture is warning that the many glass towers that have been built in New York City in recent years are at risk of becoming heat traps in a summer blackout.

The Urban Green Council ran computer models for six common varieties of homes in New York City, to see what conditions might be like in an extended power cut — something many neighborhoods experienced after Sandy.

Apartments with those alluring floor-to-ceiling windows did not do well.

By day five of a summer blackout, the temperature indoors could approach 100 degrees, according to Russell Unger, the executive director of the Council.

"It's like being in a car," said Unger. "You know what happens when you turn off the air conditioning off in a car — it heats up really quickly. Well, that's happening inside a glass building as well."

By contrast, a less glamorous low-rise brick building would hit peaks in the mid 80s on day five of a blackout.

But it's not all bad news for glass towers in the sky. The study said they would retain heat reasonably well in a cold-weather blackout.

This article has been updated to correct a typographical error.


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Comments [6]

Stephen has it right: install white curtains, shades, or blinds, and the problem goes away (silvered shades would be even more effective.) Only that portion of the incoming sunlight that falls on dark surfaces is converted to heat, so the trick is to bounce it back out before that happens. Nobody's apartment needs to become a greenhouse. In my experience, offices that receive a lot of sunlight already have louvered blinds; in a blackout you might need to have building staff go from room to room, closing them all. Admittedly not a fun job when the elevators are out, but easily accomplished overnight.

Seriously, this is pretty much a non-issue.

Feb. 05 2014 05:29 PM
Belgium from belgium

if the windows are operable this is not a big deal.

Feb. 05 2014 11:29 AM

"Palaces made of glass, alas."
In addition to frying their inhabitants and melting cars, glass houses also cast baleful reflections, shining the sun into their neighbors' eyes and blinding drivers below. And, several years ago, in Boston, they even bombarded the streets with glass shards.

Feb. 05 2014 09:36 AM
Stephen Elston from Kingston NJ

Reporter Ilya Marritz's misinterpretation of the Urban Green Council's report is going to send hundreds of panicked condo associations out to obtain back-up power (probably from fossil fuel powered generators) for their buildings when in fact they should be obtaining something very simple and very green: get CURTAINS or close the ones they have during summer sun. The council's report only speaks to a very long-term solution to the problem of excessive heat in glass buildings during a blackout and that solution is to build a better, “high performance” building.

Your worried buyer of a condo in Long Island City should also buy some CURTAINS to keep excessive heat out of his condo in the summer and in case of blackout. The judicious use of curtains can make the difference between dangerous heat and mere uncomfortable heat. The whole south side of glass buildings should be curtained against summer sun. Cranking up the air conditioner to deal with heat from gigantic, south facing windows is a disturbing concept in the face of climate change.

I would love to hear Mr. Marritz, Mr. Unger and Mr. Riviezo come back on the radio to offer the simple, heat blocking solution they found for the problem. This might stem the stampede for whole building generators.

Feb. 05 2014 09:05 AM
Nina from NYC

These buildings are nefarious. Glass buildings also melt cars! See

Feb. 05 2014 08:16 AM
Miranda from Manhattan

The second paragraph and following line repeat in this post. Please edit.

Feb. 04 2014 09:42 PM

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