On June 20, 2012, GreenHomeNYC sponsored the Fourth Annual Patty Noonan Memorial Policy Forum. The topic: “Leaving Number 6 Oil Behind: Policies, Costs, & Savings.” New York City is one of the country’s last municipal users of Number 6 heating oil, whose harmful chemical composition has sparked new regulations requiring buildings to use more environment-friendly heating fuel. With over 10,000 buildings targeted for conversion by 2015, Kenneth Camilleri of ICF International, Robert Daly from the New York City Department of Buildings, and Michael Bendjouya from CC Controlled Combustion presented their insights at the Forum on a topic that impacts every New Yorker, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Number 6 heating oil contains heavy metals, which can pollute the air and cause asthma attack, other respiratory problems, and even death. For decades, it has been pervasive, particularly across the pre-war residential building stock on the Upper West and East Sides. But New York City law (signed by Mayor Bloomberg last summer as Int. No 194-a) now requires all buildings using Number 6 oil to switch to a cleaner fuel by 2015. Building owners have been given a few options for the conversion: they can switch to Number 2 or Number 4 heating oil, or use natural gas. But Number 4 will be banned by 2030 – at the Forum, the presenters all stressed that switching to Number 2 heating oil is the smartest – and cleanest – choice for both owners and the environment.
Number 2 heating oil is actually cleaner than natural gas. Although the conversion from Number 6 to Number 2 will cost the average building approximately $10,000, it is a permanent choice that will comply with New York City law for decades to come. Converting to Number 4 oil is cleaner than Number 6 but is a simple mixture of Numbers 2 and 6: this provides an inconsistent heating fuel that may contain more Number 6 depending on the batch. But this conversion is the cheapest. It requires only a cleaning of the tank to ensure the sludge left from the harmful Number 6 oil. And by 2030, all boilers will be required to use natural gas or Number 2 oil. So Number 4 oil is only a temporary fix.
Natural gas is the third viable option. But the infrastructure underneath some streets in Manhattan can’t deliver natural gas. Plus, as the Forum presenters stressed, when switching to natural gas customers must work through Con Edison and its inevitable red tape. Any delays are compounded by the period of time required to set up the delivery of natural gas, which requires additional pipes that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install.
The Forum speakers also stressed that, after the conversion from Number 6 to Number 4 or 2 oil, regular maintenance and inspection is imperative. These latter oils are less viscous: Number 2 and 4 oils need to be heated to a higher temperature to burn, making them move much quicker. And any spill of Number 2 or 4 oil will spread more quickly, making it more severe.
After comparing the options, all of the Forum speakers concluded that converting directly from Number 6 to Number 2 oil is every building’s best option. While converting to Number 4 is a less intensive process, it’s only a temporary fix; natural gas is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to implement. On the other hand, the conversion to Number 2 can cost less than $10,000 and be completed in just a few days. The speakers also stressed that building owners shouldn’t wait to convert: although there is a three-year window until 2015, there will be the inevitable last-minute crunch, leaving supplies scarce and conversions less thorough.