Reasoning that existing buildings will improve naturally over time when they undergo renovations, a task force on building resiliency in New York City, formed after last October's Superstorm Sandy, is recommending building-code changes mostly for new construction and substantial renovations.

"Recommendations are intended to minimize interruptions to building functionality while allowing the market to dictate the need to implement resiliency measures," says the Building Resiliency Task Force in its 42-page report to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn (D).

The task force's 33 proposals for commercial and multifamily buildings, houses and hospitals address myriad topics beyond recommended code changes. But for commercial buildings, code requirements for new buildings and renovations would include relocating and protecting building systems and adding backup fire-safety communication, among other measures.

Some actions "are so important" that the group recommends requiring them retroactively for existing buildings, says Russell Unger, task-force chairman and executive director of the Urban Green Council, which directed the $1.5-million project. These include a communal, pressure-fed water fixture for all multifamily buildings that have water pumps and five-day stairwell and hall emergency lighting.

"There has been a shift in thinking about what emergency preparedness means," says Unger. Life safety is not enough, particularly in residential buildings. Living areas need to remain habitable so occupants can return quickly.

The tie between resiliency and an insulated, airtight building envelope is "quite important," adds Unger. In winter power outages, for example, residences need to be habitable even without heat.

The report was issued on June 13, two days after Bloomberg unveiled a resiliency plan for the city that would cost nearly $20 billion to implement (see p. 8).

The report represents the consensus of more than 200 stakeholders, including design professionals and the buildings and planning commissioners. Private-sector volunteers donated $1.25 million worth of pro bono work, says Unger.

Robert D. LiMandri, the city's buildings commissioner, thinks other jurisdictions are likely to use the task force's work as a model. He expects the City Council to begin considering legislation for building-code changes this fall.