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Helpful incentive programs for NYC building owners to combat water pollution, scarcity, and 150-year-old sewer systems

NYC building owners can save money, save water, and save energy with the support of new incentive programs.

NYC building owners can save money, save water, and save energy with the support of new incentive programs. This is one of five articles in Unbuilt Labs’ Research Package “Incentive programs to help NYC building owners comply with the Climate Mobilization Act (2019)by Deven Malone. We recommend clicking on the link above to familiarize yourself with the four pillars of what the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability calls the “largest climate solution put forth by any city in the world”.

There are multiple water-related problems that cities face. Dense populations put immense pressure on water resources and watersheds, stormwater runoff contributes to property damages and environmental harm, and steam leaks waste water and heat. In addition, water is included with rent, enabling tenants to waste water without financial worry. While the provision of water to residents is more than necessary for health and justice, building owners must identify where they can control water and adapt to ensure that their buildings do not waste water unnecessarily.

New York City’s sewer system is over 150 years old and was therefore not designed to handle the pollution generated by over 8 million people (Chaisson 2017). While it’s been updated during its tenure, the waterways are nevertheless overwhelmed by stormwater runoff. As rain flows to sewers and bodies of water, it carries street pollutants- oil, cigarette butts, pesticides, and fertilizer. Unfortunately, these pollutants end up in New York City’s many rivers and other bodies of water. However, rivers are not the sole destination- flooding in basements of buildings is almost always the result of a flaw in the stormwater management system (Greene 2016). Said flooding opens the door for both property damage and potential litigation.

Communities and building owners concerned with water health should look for buildings to adopt surfaces that limit the flow of rainwater runoff. The impervious surfaces that most of us are accustomed to do little to mitigate the velocity at which runoff incorporates pollutants and flows into waterways. The NYC Green Infrastructure Grant program provides grants for property owners in combined sewer areas to create runoff management systems. The grant can be applied to both design and construction costs.

Furthermore, it is not just rainwater that draws attention. The scarcity of water is a twofold problem. Water is critical for not just life, but our modern systems of energy production. Steam is vital for the generation of electricity. However, water used for electricity is unavailable for other uses and for this reason it is imperative that the amount of wasted steam is mitigated (“How It Works: Water for Electricity | Union of Concerned Scientists” 2017). Often, outdated equipment is unreliable and permits steam leaks.

Not only do such energy leaks increase energy demands and therefore costs for buildings, but it diminishes the supply of water. Such leaks, especially when multiplied across buildings in a city, quickly add up. National Grid offers two programs aimed at equipment updates- for kitchens and for steam systems- that fund efficiency-oriented replacements. Building owners looking to save on water costs should look into National Grid programs in order to increase both efficiency and sustainability.


National Grid High-Efficiency Gas Commercial Kitchen Equipment

  • Restaurants that are National Grid gas heating customers are eligible for up to $1,000 in savings for each eligible piece of ENERGY STAR equipment.
  • Said equipment includes convection ovens, commercial fryers, conveyer ovens, and steamers.
  • Replacing aging equipment with high-efficiency commercial food service equipment can save significant amounts of money and energy on food service operators’ gas, water and sewer bills
  • Program details and application forms can be found here: https://www.nationalgridus.com/media/pdfs/bus-ways-to-save/ngrid_comml_kitchen_application-nyc_li-ee4597.pdf

National Grid Energy Saving Steam Survey

  • All facility and building owners are eligible for up to $18,750 for steam trap replacements and up to $7,000 for a steam trap survey
  • Steam traps prevent steam and water waste.
  • Further incentives include up to $4,000 for a steam system survey.
  • Incentives for equipment replacement fund up to $20,850.
  • Custom incentives can provide up to 50% of steam system project costs, to a maximum of $100,000,
  • National Grid’s Energy Saving Steam Survey incentive program is designed to help reduce energy consumption and improve reliability in steam systems and will fund half of the cost of a steam system survey.
  • Better steam improves central heating and electricity, created via steam engine
  • A list of eligible appliances and incentives and the application can be found here: https://www.nationalgridus.com/media/pdfs/bus-ways-to-save/ngrid_commercial-ci-steam-systems_application-nycli_ee4598_ext.pdf

NYC Green Infrastructure Grant Program

  • The program provides grants for private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City for design and construction of green infrastructure systems to manage 1 inch of storm water runoff from the contributing impervious area.
  • Grants fund the design and construction costs with a minimum of $35,000
  • An overview of the program, with reimbursement rates and application guidelines, can be found here: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/water/green-infrastructure-grant-program.page


Chaisson, Clara. 2017. “When It Rains, It Pours Raw Sewage into New York City’s Waterways.” NRDC. 2017. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/when-it-rains-it-pours-raw-sewage-new-york-citys-waterways.

Greene. 2016. “Common Stormwater Management Problems and Solutions.” GLE Associates, Inc. (blog). August 24, 2016. https://www.gleassociates.com/stormwater-management-property-owners-common-problems-solutions/.

“How It Works: Water for Electricity | Union of Concerned Scientists.” 2017. November 9, 2017. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/how-it-works-water-electricity.

Browse the research package “Incentive programs to help NYC building owners comply with the Climate Mobilization Act (2019)” by Deven Malone:

About the Author


Deven Malone, Summer Policy Analyst

Deven has long been interested in communicating for influence. He recognized the importance of social discourse for project momentum during his time as an Associate at Partnership International. There he has researched regulatory landscapes and written project proposals as well as grant applications on behalf of US bilateral and multilateral aid agencies. His focus has been on solar energy, water purification, and hydroelectric fields. At Unbuilt Labs, he is exploring behaviour change communication strategies in housing codes and climate-oriented legislation. Deven is also a beekeeper and a Board Member at Georgetown University’s Hoya Hive.

  • Georgetown University, B.S.F.S. Science, Technology, and International Affairs ‘22

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