Effort underway to make apt. renovations less noisy and dusty

Worker doing dustless masonry cutting through an air conditioner opening (Photos courtesy of Empire Core)

By Sabina Mollot

At Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, about 275 apartments are gut renovated each year, with 35-70 going on at any given time, depending on the season.

While this can boost the value of the property for the owner, for residents of adjoining apartments, the apartment transformations just mean weeks of ongoing noise from power tools and dust clouds that permeate the air.

Fortunately, Empire Core Group, the company that oversees the gut renovation of apartments in ST/PCV, done by contractors, has, within the past year primarily, begun using new tools aimed at reducing both the noise and dust levels as well as the time needed to complete the jobs.

Rick Hayduk, Stuyvesant Town’s general manager, said the effort came as a result of management getting bombarded with calls by residents who live in apartments near those being worked on.

While there has been an effort to lower the noise for at least the past couple of years, there were numerous additional changes made this year to how apartments are gutted, and Hayduk said it has made a big difference.

“It’s not 100 percent, but it is immensely better,” he said. “As a result there have been far fewer complaints.”

Some residents may still hear the same amount of noise, however, since the subcontractors haven’t yet completely switched over to the new kinds of tools, which can range in price from $1,500-$6,000 a piece, according to Florim Lajqi, principal and CEO of Empire Core. However, he said his company has contributed to the contractors’ investments. Additionally, “noise maps,” indicating when there will be loud noise in a particular building, have been getting placed in lobbies 10 days prior to the project’s start.

A contractor working under Empire Core, the company overseeing gut renovations in Stuyvesant Town apartments, uses a dustless wall sander.

“So you can plan around that,” Lajqi said. “Some noise there’s no way around. You have a lot of tenants who work from home so we’re sensitive to that. It is construction so there will be noise and dust, but we’re trying to be innovative to make it as seamless as possible.”

The projects tend to be especially complicated in apartments that are still in their original 1947 condition, which means they’re not yet wired to handle air conditioning. At this time, there are 1,400 units that are still not wired for air conditioning. Those apartments get renovated when a resident dies or moves away and it’s the replacement of the wiring, which first requires removal of plaster walls, that can be the most brutal part of the project for neighbors.

Changes that have been made to how this gets done include the use of tools that cut through walls at an angle, which apparently, does the job much more quietly. “Because you have a blade instead of a jackhammer,” said Hayduk.

Cutting through the walls to rewire the electric system used to involve sawing through the walls along two angles with another worker then chiseling out the plaster between them and the work would take a full day to two days, depending on the size of the apartment. With the new tool, a dustless circular saw, the work is now easier because the plaster that once needed to be chiseled can be removed by a worker by hand. This, said Lajqi, cuts down on dust by about 80 percent and noise by over 50 percent. Noise and dust are also cut down with a masonry cutting tool that’s used in apartments for the installation of air conditioners below the apartment windows. Another new tool is a dustless table saw, used when a floor is in poor condition and needs to be replaced. Other floors get sanded using a dustless sander. Some of the tools now being used were suggested by EmpireCore’s vendors and contractors with a few requiring a bit of modernization.

Other changes include an extra ziplocked plastic sheet barrier that gets placed at the entrances of apartments. Previously only one sheet would be put up at an apartment’s door to keep dust clouds inside, but somehow the fine powder would still end up getting tracked out, finding its way into elevators and neighboring units. The addition of another sheet on a barrier placed inside the apartment has helped with this problem. Additionally, now sticky mats and wet towels are placed inside of doorways, alongside a bottle of water to keep the mats west and hallways are mopped twice a day. Dust inside apartments is also now caught through an air pressure device, which then gets filtered. Dust that isn’t caught in the filter gets blown through a window of the apartment and the filters, said Lajqi, get checked every day and changed every few days. “So it’s not going out to the next apartment,” he said.

Lajqi said since changes have been implemented, complaints that have come his way have dropped from a few a week to about one a month.

Sealed doorway during renovation

In related news, Beam Living, a subsidiary of Stuyvesant Town’s landlord, The Blackstone Group, has recently created its own construction division and will be overseeing construction projects in ST/PCV in the near future. However, management still expects to be working with Empire Core on various projects, Hayduk said.

The construction of the new gym in Stuyvesant Town, a $3.5 million project, was overseen by Empire Core as were the building of roof decks on one building in Peter Cooper Village a few years ago. The annual budget for apartment renovations overseen by Empire Core exceeds $30 million, with the projects focused on being as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Susan Steinberg, the president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, said she wasn’t able to say exactly how many complaints she hears and doesn’t believe it is a lot. However, the Tenants Association still does hear some with regards to noise, more recently because work is getting done in apartments over the weekends.

“The work is supposed to be quiet work, but even painting involves the sound of ladders being dragged, spackle knives being scraped against the wall and drop cloths being dropped,” said Steinberg. “The noise is magnified in an empty apartment and, consequently, disturbs neighbors.”

4 thoughts on “Effort underway to make apt. renovations less noisy and dusty

  1. “it’s the replacement of the wiring, which first requires removal of plaster walls, that can be the most brutal part of the project for neighbors”

    No, rewiring doesn’t require ripping out walls. They just choose to go that route so it looks cleaner.

    Did Met rip out walls when they began rewiring in the 90’s? No. The conduits and outlets were mounted along the walls externally.

  2. “It’s not 100 percent, but it is immensely better,” he said. “As a result there have been far fewer complaints.” Well, nothing is 100 percent except death and taxes. Hayduk knows this and is doing the creative spin again. As to residents not complaining as much, perhaps they have given up. I called about a dozen times about the carpeting in the hall, which is stained and looks awful. Though the cleaning gets done afterward, when the carpeting dries, the stains turn up again. Nothing helps except either replacing the carpeting or going back to the old ways of no carpet, and any mop will do. But, no…. At this point, I’ve given up calling. I suspect I’m not the only one who has just given up. Same holds true for the noise. What’s the point, residents ask eventually?

  3. I seriously wonder how many renovations these buildings can take before walls and floors just start to crumble. These buildings were built as tough as they come, but those days are long gone with each wall they rip down.

    The safety of fireproof apartments is gone. The elevators are heavily abused with mass move ins/outs. The pipes and electrical wires are worn thin with the cramming of students in apartments.

    These buildings have probably aged more in the past 10 years than they did in the first 65, and Rick is doing nada to slow down that process. Churn churn churn, that’s all management cares about.

    • You said it, Steve. There is only so much these old buildings can take and I suspect that they are very close to their breaking point. They were not built for the kind of wear and tear they are getting now. At some point, there will be a catastrophic event and then it will be too late for excuses and apologies. There will be funerals, hospitalizations and lawsuits. Lots and lots of lawsuits. Blackstone is noted for being a greedy and uncaring landlord that has vultured-in on distressed properties. We are going beyond the point of being financially distressed to literally bricks and mortar and flesh and blood distressed.

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