The utilities in the State Tower are often outdated and in many cases as old as the building itself.
The wiring to many suites, especially unrenovated suites, is as originally installed during the building’s construction, with 2-pole 2-wire ungrounded, unpolarized receptacles.
Distribution panels on each floor have a mix of plug fuses and circuit breakers.
Like the building’s electrical wiring, much of the building’s telephone infrastructure dates back decades. In its heyday, the State Tower had its share of medium to large offices which had complex electromechanical key telephone systems. The thick bundles of wires needed for these key systems still snake above the wall cornices on unrenovated floors. Some longtime tenants continue to use their decades-old key phone systems, so the wire bundles have remained undisturbed, slowly being buried and wrapped by newer wiring and cables. Unused wiring is often abandoned in place to avoid the trouble of having to distinguish between active and inactive lines.
A convoluted network of punchdown blocks and wires has often created problems for tenants that have taken Verizon days or even weeks to diagnose and repair. Verizon technicians sometimes had to make repeated visits to check up to four separate splice panels (punchdown blocks) located in various locations in the building in order to isolate a problem. Every phone line in the building passes through at least two such panels. DSL broadband Internet service can be even more problematic. DSL drives phone lines at their limits, with data transfer rates dictated by distance to the nearest phone company switching center and the age and condition of the lines. The advanced age of the wiring inside the State Tower along with multiple patch points and circuitous routing of the cable offsets the advantage of the building's proximity to the Verizon building, two blocks to the southeast. Some lines had such poor performance that customers have cancelled the DSL accounts as unusable, although others have experienced acceptable performance.
The building’s cold water is stored in a steel tank on the 22nd floor. Because it is impossible to suspend running water to faucets, toilets and urinals for several days, the tank has not been drained and cleaned in decades, if ever. The inside of the tank was caked with rust, sediment and scale. Leaks in faucets can deposit thick rust stains on sinks in as little as 24 hours. The water has a strong metallic taste and, at times, took on a yellowish appearance, Some tenants find their employees refusing to drink the tap water, prompting them to order bottled water from companies including Crystal Rock, Poland Spring, Culligan, Deer Park and Vermont Pure, each of which served multiple accounts within the building.
Original wall-mounted porcelain water fountains installed in 1928 still exist in many upper floor hallways. Many no longer work, having their drains clogged and needing to be labeled like the one at left. Others have been removed entirely, leaving empty alcoves, but the few working fountains shoot water straight up, so the water spills straight back down onto and into the opening in the porcelain nozzle. This makes for unsanitary conditions as water mixed with saliva can sit stagnant inside a nozzle for hours, conditions conducive to bacterial growth.
Tenants have complained that there’s no hot water in the building. At its warmest, the water from the “hot” taps above the first floor average between 85 and 95º - lukewarm to most people and well short of what many localities require to kill Legionella bacteria. In order to meet health codes, a supplemental water heater had to be added for the restaurant’s dishwasher, but this has no effect on any other water in the building.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) in the building is antiquated. Most of the building relied on the original steam radiators that were installed in 1928. Many of the radiator steam valves were balky. Stories of tenants needing to run their air conditioning during the winter to compensate for steam valves stuck wide open were common. There was no central HVAC system. A select few floors were tied into the cooling towers on the 10th floor roof via a closed water loop, while a handful of renovated suites have unitary air conditioners tied into the loop. Many suites lack any internal air conditioners and must rely on 1950s vintage room air conditioners permanently mounted in place of the hopper windows.
Suites that do have unitary air conditioning usually have the newer, non-operable windows. Even in mild, 65-70º weather, such suites often overheat when exposed to sunlight without the air conditioners running. Ventilation with fresh outside air is also impossible without operable windows, leading to some complaints of stale air.
The State Tower’s elevators use some of the original equipment installed in the late 1920s. The DC hoist motors are original, as are the motor generators that convert AC electricity to DC to run the hoist motors. In the 1950s or 60s, the now familiar relay logic automatic controls were installed, eliminating the elevator operators that stood in each elevator until then. Four decades later, those controls have broken down on a regular basis, which is not unexpected since elevator companies quote an average lifespan of 20-25 years for elevator systems. The State Tower elevators are at double the recommended lifespan. Some weeks, service calls were placed every day. The elevators use exposed electromechanical components (pictured at right) like relays and selectors which loosen with use, get dirty, and at times even catch fire. Compared with modern, computerized controls, these are grossly inefficient, very unreliable and cannot accomplish more than rudimentary functions. For example, unlike modern systems, the unmodernized State Tower elevators are not hooked up to the fire alarm, so they do not have a Fire Service mode where they automatically go out of service and proceed to the lobby when the alarm is triggered, the proper procedure to prevent people from using them and possibly being trapped if the fire damages the machinery. Currently, in the event of a fire, it's the responsibility of building staff to manually disable elevators as each opens in the lobby.
Likewise, the generators themselves have sometimes caught fire, as well as regularly shorting out due to buildup of graphite dust from the commutator brushes. The motors are very robust, having been designed and built in earlier times when sturdiness took precedence over cost. (The Empire State Building reportedly still runs with its original 1931 vintage hoist motors as well, although those are much larger and more powerful because of the ESB's height.) They likely have decades of life remaining. However, problems with their field coils crop up as well.
Around the end of 2004, four of the six passenger elevators were simultaneously down for at least a week with generator problems, a 66% failure rate. Had either of the remaining elevators failed, ten floors of the building would have been without elevator service. Tenants have complained about one elevator on the side servicing the lower ten floors being out of service since the beginning of 2006, with few expecting that it will be restored to service soon.
The management has reluctantly begun to modernize the elevators with new computerized controls and silicon-controlled rectifiers replacing the problematic generators, but at a snail’s pace. By the beginning of 2006, some two years after the program began, only one elevator had been modernized. The completion of the last elevator is not expected to take place until sometime after 2010, assuming no further delays. The building owners plan to modernize only four of the six elevators, citing high costs that the low rental income cannot justify. Because the new computerized controllers cannot be interconnected with the old controllers, the two unmodernized units will not be able to respond to call buttons on any floor. They are planned to be for employee use only and as manually operated backup units held in reserve should the new elevators experience problems. Response time during peak periods such as the lunch hour and the beginning and end of the work day will likely suffer as two elevators per side will have to carry the passenger load that three once did.
As part of the lobby renovation, the elevator cab interiors were also replaced. Particleboard wall panels inside the elevators were removed and refaced with new wood veneers. However, while the panels were removed by Schindler Elevator technicians as required, the carpentry company which did the veneer replacement handled reinstallation of the same panels, a possible violation of the National Elevator Code. Functionally, the flawed installation has caused some problems. One of those panels in each elevator opens with a key to allow emergency workers and elevator mechanics to transfer passengers to an adjacent elevator during a worst case scenario when an elevator is trapped between floors and cannot be moved at all, such as in the event of a generator or motor failure. Each rescue panel has a safety switch that prevents the elevator from operating when the panel is open. On occasion, an improperly reinstalled rescue panel lost pressure against the switch, stalling the elevator and temporarily trapping passengers inside.
In each elevator is an emergency phone with a single button autodialer to call for assistance. When the button is pressed, the intercom dialed the main State Tower telephone number. If no State Tower personnel picked up after four rings, the intercom hung up and dialed the toll-free Schindler Elevator company number. Unfortunately, Schindler has a centralized dispatch service and after normal business hours, may turn phone calls over to an answering service. A call from the elevator may be placed in a queue waiting for a live attendant.