New York’s Empire State Building (ESB), one of the world’s most iconic buildings, now attracts the attention of even more tourists with the light-emitting diode (LED) upgrade of its tower lights.

In 2009, the Empire State Building (ESB) announced its partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to implement a building-wide sustainability retrofit to not only make the building more energy-efficient, but also to reduce costs and increase real estate value. The ESB retrofit reduces the building’s energy use by more than 38 percent, with savings of $4.4 million in costs annually, once all tenant spaces are upgraded, and serves as a model that can be replicated around the world.

In 2011, ESB beat its year-one energy efficiency guarantee by a remarkable 5 percent, saving $2.4 million. 

E-J Electric Installation Co. of Long Island City, N.Y., a company that has been working in the building for more than 50 years, was selected as the electrical contractor on an exterior light-emitting diode (LED) lighting upgrade under the direction of project executive Ed Harley. The contract included an upgrade of the building control system, installation of one of the largest wireless networks ever installed in a building, and installation of sensors placed on air handlers, chillers, radiators, valves and louvers that now allow for constant monitoring and control of building systems.

“We started on the project with the installation of a new communications system up through the building and with a new metering system, which is part of the new building management system. Over 190 new meters communicate directly to the new building management system and report power, energy and demand,” said Greg Rosenberg, project manager, E-J Electric.

While that was proceeding, E-J prepared for the retrofit of over 200 air conditioning units, which were in tenant occupied areas. E-J provided weeklong training sessions for its electricians on a half-dozen units of JCI’s Metasys Building Management System (BMS) set up in unoccupied spaces provided by the building management. That system also had to be linked with JCI's Facility Performance Indexing System.

Once they had enough trained electricians, the work on the HVAC retrofit could start but there was a caveat: More than 20,000 people work in the ESB and some 3.5 million people visit each year, and none of them could be disturbed during the retrofit.

“The bulk of the work on that part of the project had to be done on weekends from Friday at 6 p.m. to Saturday night,” Rosenberg said. “On Sunday, we assisted Johnson Controls in commissioning and checking the installations. When we left on Sunday evening, the tenant suites had to appear as they had on Friday when we began.”

On Monday mornings, E-J Electric held brainstorming sessions with Rosenberg, the foreman, and weekend crewmembers with the aim of creating ways to streamline the process. As a result, E-J decided to color-code all of the cabling in the control panels, which were prewired with 50-foot tails. Their first task on Friday night was to identify the location of all of the new sensors to be installed on the HVAC units. Then they hung a “flag” out of the ceiling that identified the placement and type of the new device. Once identified. E-J provided each crew with paper plans showing the connections, e.g., the blue wire goes to flag that is labeled “return air temperature sensor.”

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The steps they took were important for another reason. Most of the tenant spaces had been altered over the 80-plus years of the building’s existence.

“Until we opened up the ceiling of a particular unit, we didn’t know how many devices we would find, so we often had to alter our installation plan,” Rosenberg said. “It was a situation that called for the foremen, Jim Santagelo and George Cabany, to make on the spot decisions. We tried to have everything prewired and set up for the worst case situation, but sometimes things were added at the last minute.”

The finished communications backbone now extends from a computer in the basement, where the engineers can log in and control all the HVAC controls, all the way up to the 80th floor.

“In every electric closet, we ran a new riser. Every three to five floors there is a main control panel which is connected to multiple wireless coordinators that communicate wirelessly to the HVAC control panels,” Rosenberg said. Since being installed, it performs continuous commissioning, with a tenant energy-management system that includes a tenant portal.

“The system had to work seamlessly together and will be further enhanced by JCIs Panoptix system when it is installed in the near future,” said Michael J. Ryan, JCI, Solutions Operations Manager, Building Efficiency.

While E-J Electric was still working on the communications backbone, the company then started on the chiller plant and then the steam station by removing the old copper pneumatic control system, and retrofitting it to be controlled by the new BMS system.

E-J Electric also handled waste disposal and recycling, a job that involved a lot of coordination because of the need to separate the waste.

In addition, E-J Electric was responsible for the upgrade of the entire security, access control, and CCTV systems on which they worked with Schneider Electric, the building security vendor. This entailed upgrading and installing new cameras, upgrading control panels, and running new cabling. Another challenge of the job was figuring out how to get to the cameras without doing damage to the building. For example, the lobby ceiling is 30 to 40 feet high and the control panel for the camera might be mounted in the subcellar, we had to get a wire from there to that camera without doing damage or limited damage. Logistically and planning wise, it was difficult, especially when we were pulling new cabling,” Rosenberg said.

“It was a lot more complicated because of the logistics and the amount of coordination with the building trades and with the tenants. It was a difficult job from that aspect,” he said, “but I love jobs like this. They’re one-of-a-kind. Who in their lifetime can say they renovated the lights on the Empire State Building? It’s exciting to be part of it.”

In 2012, the Empire State Building partnered with Philips Color Kinetics on the LED upgrade of the tower lighting.

"Philips developed multiple revisions of their proposal until an owner-approved system was designed that had a significant return on investment, mostly through energy efficiency," Rosenberg said. "During this time, we would periodically meet with the Phillips design team to discuss the installation and help develop installation methods that would keep costs low and help in the payback. Every light, every circuit to every light, and two 400-amp services had to be changed.”

The new Ethernet control system piggybacks on an existing fiber optic system on some of the lower floors and new fiber was run to the upper floors and to different lighting locations in the building.
“It was difficult,” said Rosenberg. “On a normal job, we’d shut down the north side of the building for a month and rip out all the old wiring, feeds, control system, lights, and conduits so that a new system could be installed in its place. But this wasn’t a typical installation.

"We really challenged E-J Electric with the electrical portion of this installation," said Michael Lay, Philips Color Kinetics project manager. “The building owners were insistent that no part of the building be blacked out during the lighting changeover.”

E-J Electric’s crew started by installing a complete temporary power and communication system for the lights. Once installed, they migrated all of the existing lights to the temporary services so they could remove the existing circuits and electrical service. At that point, the crew was able to install the new permanent power and lighting control system. For the tower’s mast and bands, the installation team replaced the existing fluorescent tubes with two columns of linear Philips LED luminaires, featuring RGB and tunable white nodes. The floodlights that made up the tower’s “halo,” a ring of circular lights above the mast, were replaced with Philips ColorBlastPowercore RGB wash lights used in a direct-view application.

The HID floodlights illuminating the top 30 stories were replaced with custom Philips ColorReachPowercore floodlights, featuring half RGB nodes and half 4,000K white-light nodes, washing the tower in both saturated color and neutral white light. The sides of the 72nd floor were retrofitted with both Philips ColorGrazePowercore and Philips iW Graze Powercore wall-grazing LED fixtures. 

With the HID lights it was possible to create 405 possible color combinations by topping them with colored gels of nine different colors—blue, red, green, yellow, white, black, orange, pink and purple—that had to be changed by hand. The new LED lighting system offers a possible 16 million color choices that can be easily changed using a computer.

Since one goal was to make the changes to the tower lighting a surprise until the official launch, E-J Electric had to keep everyone of the almost 600 lights lit every night.

“On the 72nd floor, there wasn’t that much room ,therefore we were only allowed to pull out whatever we thought we could get back on that night. If we pulled out five lights of the old system, we had to put in five new ones,” Rosenberg said. “Each afternoon when we were finishing, we’d do a rough aiming of the lights and once the sun went down, Philips would fine-tune them. If a tourist or a local looked up at it, the building had to look the same as it usually did. In some areas, we had to run temporary systems to retain that appearance, which took a lot of planning on our part with Philips.”