BlocPower Challenge: Columbia Impact 2017

This following post details the challenge for Columbia Impact 2017.  BlocPower is a proud sponsor and looks forward to seeing the great ideas generated by the teams. Good luck and have fun!

Problem

Bronx AsthmaWhile performing energy audits on New York City buildings, BlocPower has learned a great deal about the environments in which people live and work. A huge issue we’ve discovered, outside of our energy efficiency work, is indoor air quality (IAQ).

Humans spend most of their time inside, and the air we breathe has enormous impact on our health and ability to be productive. Air quality problems are especially prevalent in low-income communities like certain parts of the Bronx, where the rate of hospitalizations for asthma are 21 times higher than in more affluent parts of the city [1]. The increase in hospital visits strains an already delicate and expensive healthcare ecosystem, as well as impacting peoples’ ability to work and go to school.

This is a problem the city government is aware of, and a bill was introduced this week to collect more data about asthAthsma hospitalma rates within the city [2]. While measures like this are important, the government alone is not equipped to solve the problem. For example, government funded public housing in Red Hook is still suffering from mold that originated from flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 [3]. As climate change continues, and the severity of storms increases, this problem can be expected to get worse.

This problem encompasses a large population of the city, and a solution would provide clear economic gains from infrastructure improvements as well as increased worker productivity and wellness. BlocPower is hoping to inspire innovative business and product ideas to improve IAQ and quality of life for the citizens of New York, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Traditional Solutions

The current strategy for addressing IAQ problems in these areas is through 311 complaints. Contractors will come to remove the mold and plaster omoldver it. These repairs are done through the New York City Housing Authority, and are sometimes incomplete or totally unaddressed. The entire process can be time consuming and frustrating for tenants.

In addition, many of the buildings are old and underserviced, meaning that the building standards at the time may not have been as strict on ventilation. The ventilation required in more modern buildings makes them better equipped to prevent these issues in the first place. 

Some Approaches

One of the big tech developments that may help is the decreasing cost of air quality sensors. High resolution air quality data, both indoors and outdoors, could help diagnose air quality issues and make source management more seamless. Some strategies attempt to involve and empower the community to make change, often through education and local events.

In 2010, a toxic mold task force commissioned by the city issued a report on mold conditions in the city [4]. The report is filled with data and recommendations for standards and actions to be taken by the government, which might help with idea generation.  The city also publishes all of the 311 calls it receives, and the dataset for IAQ calls may give insights on both the types of complaints and the areas of concentration [5]. You are also encouraged to find your own sources and information, as there is a lot of available insight on the topic!

Sources

[1] http://www.icisnyu.org/south_bronx/AsthmaandAirPollution.html

[2] http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/09/26/constantinides-will-introduce-bill-requiring-city-to-provide-schools-with-nebulizers-114716

[3] http://rhicenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ImpactofMold_RHI_-FINALREPORT_10.27.16.pdf

[4]https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/mold/task_force/docs/final_toxic_mold_task_force_report.pdf

[5] https://nycopendata.socrata.com/Social-Services/311-Indoor-Air-Quality/udax-ixue/data

Mentor Info

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask one of the three BlocPower employees who will be attending the event:

Michael Burton
Electrical Engineer
michael@blocpower.io

Alessandro DiMarco
Software Developer
alessandro@blocpower.io

Boya Yu
Data Scientist
boya@blocpower.io

Prepare for Heating Season with Community Retrofit NYC

In preparation for the fall heating season, BlocPower’s Community Retrofit NYC team has been all over Brooklyn this summer helping building owners and contractors prepare. The team canvassed weekly throughout East New York, Bed Stuy, and Bushwick meeting nearly 200 new building owners along the way. Whether installing a new boiler, upgrading a thermostat, or navigating the vast world of government incentive programs, the Community Retrofit team is eager to tackle the complex problems facing New York City’s building owners.

Michel + Henry Keilmanowitz

Margarget Smith + Tyler

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 10.35.54 AM

Our team collaborated with Brooklyn Assemblywoman Latrice Walker to host an event on July 27th for building owners at Marion Hopkinson playground in Bed Stuy. We met 23 new building owners who were connected with our free energy assessments and consulting services. These building owners were able to access a wide variety of services from our partner organizations including free LED lighting from Con Edison, free low flow water fixtures from National Grid, and the Green Housing Preservation Program.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.22.51 PM

 

On August 10th we hosted a contractor training event to educate contractors about energy efficiency and help them expand the scope of their business. We brought in industry experts including Grundfos, Rathe Associates, and Venco to discuss new building technologies and energy efficiency best practices. This event helped grow our pool of qualified and experienced contractors to assist our clients with retrofit projects.

 

As the fall heating season approaches, Community Retrofit NYC is here to help! Contact us to learn more about the free services available for your building(s) at info@communityretrofit.org or 347-762-4792. 

Behind the Scenes: How Job Creation at BlocPower Impacted Me

My journey started during the harsh winter of 2015, I was just dismissed from college and I felt trapped. However, that wasKeith_Ford_Headshot just one new obstacle in my path. With no home, no job, and the pressures of college weighing on my mind, I was completely alone, fighting a battle without the proper equipment. Eventually, ​I was introduced to Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that hires residents of the NYC Housing Authority, and was given a second chance ​to finally fix my broken life. Continue reading Behind the Scenes: How Job Creation at BlocPower Impacted Me

BlocPower at Civic Hall Smart Cities Innovation Event in NYC on May 10

Where should innovators be focused on building the next generation of smart cities?  NUMA New York and Civic Hall recently invited the community to “Smart Cities NYC Recap Event” at Civic Hall. Key leaders and stakeholders gathered to share perspectives, participate in interactive workshops and connect with each other- watch the livestream now! Continue reading BlocPower at Civic Hall Smart Cities Innovation Event in NYC on May 10

Power to the People at Smart Cities NYC ’17

Look for BlocPower at the SmartImage uploaded from iOS (1) Cities NYC’17 conference this week. Don’t miss our CEO, Donnel Baird, on the “Power to the People” panel in Duggal I at 3:30pm on Thursday, May 4. And make sure to stop by and say hi to us at the Urbantech NYC booth inside the Duggal Greenhouse (10-11am on Thursday, May 4 and 12-1pm on Friday, May 5). Continue reading Power to the People at Smart Cities NYC ’17

How is this New York in Winter?

It’s difficult to ignore the moderate days. The out of ordinary days. The days where you step outside and think, “How is this New York in the winter?” Although in the coming weeks it seems as if the weather will return to its normal, icy self, one cannot ignore the chilling “anomalies” of warm weather that are growing in relevancy and concern. The primary issue with brushing off the ubiquity of climate change is that more often than not, it leads to inaction.  

Heatmap.CO2.Bronx school building
Carbon Dioxide Levels BlocPower Recorded in a Bronx School Building in 2016

In November 2016, the Environmental Blog posted an article titled “How Our Environment Can Affect Our Health,” a piece that highlights how bettering the environment affects humans in a fundamental way, our health.

The author, John Tarantino, includes notes that frequently reminding people that soil quality and the well-being of animals are negatively impacted by pollution and climate change is not enough to drive change or cause citizens to speak up. Tarantino goes on to discuss the way human health is altered by environmental contamination, including air quality. This is a problem because the emissions of carbon and fossil fuels create prolonged air pollution that can turn short-term effects like asthma attacks into long-term issues like shortened human life spans and cancer. Only recently have agencies and organizations begun to look into this matter, which is encouraging because now a deeper, more profound conversation is happening about greenhouse gas emissions and air quality.

Heatmap.Particulate Matter.Bronx school building
Particulate Matter Levels BlocPower Recorded in a Bronx School Building in 2016

BlocPower actively works to combat climate change and improve human health. We are creating the Bronx Healthy Buildings Fund, a program that will enable building owners in the Bronx to install energy efficiency retrofit projects that also improve air quality. These retrofits will protect building occupants from health risks like the asthma attacks that currently plague the borough. BlocPower does this through our holistic evaluation of buildings. For example, rather than replacing an expensive boiler in a building, our engineers calculate how multiple building systems like heating and cooling interact with variables like light entering through windows of a building. Our models maximize energy savings while reducing the total cost of completing a building retrofit.

Working at BlocPower is fulfilling for this reason, I know departments from finance to business development are working tirelessly on models and techniques to fund energy retrofits and aid those living in overlooked social and environmental conditions. If you would like to read more about Tarantino’s article, here is a link from his environmental blog page, and once again here is my own blog which I mentioned in my recent post.

-Kayvon Gorji, Technology Intern, BlocPower