Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ultimate Amenity This Winter: Heated Sidewalks

As heavy, wet snow blanketed New York City then quickly turned to slush, the sidewalks in front of some luxury apartment buildings remained pristine. As if by magic, snowflakes melted as they touched the ground in front of these upscale addresses thanks to what is turning out to be the ultimate amenity this winter: heated sidewalks.
Common in ski resorts out west, heated sidewalks are a rarity in New York City. But during this winter season, the feature is drawing new attention. Suppliers say interest and inquiries have picked up recently from homeowners sick of shoveling.

Developers looking for a new way to stand out from an already amenity-laden crowd have taken note, as the immaculate condition of entryways with heated sidewalks has emerged as a clear distinguisher amid the harshest winter in years.

“It’s a big plus for us,” said a well-groomed doorman in a double-breasted overcoat at 535 West End Avenue, where the heated sidewalk is going on its third winter.

“It cuts the work down.” Meanwhile, across the street, at 530 West End Avenue, the sidewalk was equally clean, but the doorman and superintendent were nursing sore backs from shoveling.

High-heeled residents aren’t the only ones who enjoy the warm walkways. Dogs love it too, as there is no need for salt, which can be irritating to tender paws.

Ubiquitous in luxury ski resorts out west; heated sidewalks are a rarity in New York City. That may be partly because the wintry mix the city typically receives is more manageable than the relentless battering of snow, ice and sleet experienced this year.

With a heated sidewalk, not only is the doorway clear, but people aren’t dragging as much snow into the lobby, reducing the probability of slips and falls, he added. Plus, it frees up building staff to focus on other duties. Instead of chopping up ice on the sidewalk, for example, they can make sure that basement pipes are not freezing.

Heated sidewalks can also cut down on winter wear and tear.

Snow melt systems come in two basic varieties. Electric systems, which rely on electric coils under the pavement, can be easy to install but costly to run -- at anywhere from $9,000 to $14,500 a year for 1,000 square feet of sidewalk.

Hydronic systems, which rely on plastic tubing looped beneath the sidewalk and contain a mixture of antifreeze and water that is heated by a boiler, have a higher upfront cost but can be less expensive to operate, averaging between $2,000 and $3,000 per 1,000 square feet a year.

Advanced snow melt systems can be programmed to automatically turn on when sensors in the sidewalk detect precipitation combined with temperatures below freezing and have different zones and sensors capable of responding to runoff and other factors.

Cost-wise, it’s expensive, with installation costs in the six-figure range for a large sidewalk. The application process can be onerous, requiring a public hearing and substantial fees for the use of space underneath sidewalks. Not to mention the risk of damage if, say, the city needs to dig up the sidewalk for any reason.

Indeed, heated sidewalks are a luxury; but during this winter season, the feature is drawing new attention. Suppliers say interest and inquiries have picked up recently from homeowners sick of shoveling.

Everybody is looking to differentiate their new developments or conversion from one another. So many things have been done —playrooms, gyms, sky lounges, media rooms. But now developers are looking at the experience of entering the property.

But first, property owners must apply for “revocable consent” from the Department of Transportation for the right to construct and maintain a snow melt system under the sidewalk, as it is city property.

As the name implies, the department retains the right to revoke consent at any time.

On top of this, an annual fee is associated with the use of the sidewalk that is based on factors ranging from the volume of the installation to property values.

The costs for residential developments have annual fees anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000. And that doesn’t count how much it costs to operate.

Ultimately, a huge amount of energy is required to accomplish what one person can do with shovel in 20 minutes. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Electric Shock Causes Bizarre Eye Damage

An electrician's eyes were damaged, leaving star-shaped cataracts after he received a tremendous shock from a work-related incident in California. The 42-year-old electrician's left shoulder contacted 14,000 volts of electricity, according to a report. The current passed through his entire body, including the optical nerve.

It’s what you’d expect when your favorite cartoon character gets electrocuted, but not a real man: jumping in the air, body convulsions, drooling, and stars in their eyes.

But in a case reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, a 42-year old electrician in California developed star-shaped cataracts in his eyes after being shocked by 14,000 volts of electricity while on the job. The case was featured because of the images of the eye damage.

The man's left shoulder came into contact with 14,000 volts of electricity, and an electric current passed through his entire body, including the optic nerve — the nerve that connects the back of the eye to the brain. A retinal detachment eventually developed.

"The optic nerve is similar to any wire that conducts electricity," said Dr. Bobby Korn, an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego, who treated the patient. "In this case, the extreme current and voltage that passed through this important natural wire caused damage to the optic nerve itself."

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of your eye. People who have cataracts usually view the world as if they’re looking through a severely fogged up window. Though it normally develops slowly, eventually it impacts people’s eyesight.

Symptoms of cataracts include clouded vision, sensitivity to light, seeing halos around lights, and double vision in a single eye. Most cataracts develop either as part of the aging process, or as a result of an injury like the one reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove the cataracts from the eye and implant a new lens.

The electrician underwent cataract extraction and implantation of an interocular lens, which was followed by improvement in visual acuity to 20/400, but he could only count fingers. Although legally blind, he is now able to independently commute on public transportation.