New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Supers: They Will Be Green

At the William-Beaver House in downtown New York City, John Sarich represents the cutting edge of what all building superintendents will become in the coming years. Without a single major capital improvement in his building – through just the green operations and maintenance of his existing systems – he saves his property $32,000 every year. He made a one-time outlay of time and materials of $17,000 to hit this level of savings.

All too often, when building owners decide to go green the first thing they want to do is install solar panels. But it doesn’t matter how many solar panels are on a roof if the electricity they generate is wasted somewhere else in a building. Which makes more sense? Spending thousands of dollars on solar panels to keep lights on 24 hours a day, or having a green super implement strategies for efficient lighting and lighting controls?

After all, it doesn’t really matter how great the green technology is that you put in if the people who are required to operate and maintain that equipment don’t know what they’re doing. New green technology can get you only so far. To be truly effective that technology has to be paired with an equally sophisticated staff.

Indeed: the next critical step in the process to make our buildings more efficient is to change the role of the superintendents. Once viewed as basic personnel whose main task was to keep the heat running, supers today may be responsible for measuring and managing energy use, monitoring the use and performance of high-tech new green technology, and ensuring that all systems run at maximum efficiency.

This is not to say that cogeneration, solar, and other green technologies aren’t critically important. New York will need these technologies in abundance. Right now, however, few of the city’s apartment buildings are run well enough for a big investment in solar to make sense. To become a candidate for advanced green technologies and to keep the systems at peak efficiency, a property needs a trained super.

As a labor/management training program, 32BJ Training Fund, a joint labor/management partnership between 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, has, over the past two years, certified more than 1,500 union members in green operations and maintenance. The green supers training covers basic green strategies around the building envelope; lighting efficiency and controls; heating, ventilating, and air cooling system operations and distribution; and indoor environmental quality.

More aggressive building efficiency strategies are being introduced. New York City has pushed ahead with a series of innovative laws and regulations that require buildings to track their performance. Mandates for energy benchmarking, energy audits, and retro-commissioning now going into effect will force buildings to identify ways to improve their operations and maintenance.

More and more buildings are going for green certification such as LEED and Energy Star. These certifications continue to evolve, raising the bar by requiring best practices that will make buildings increasingly efficient. In the not too distant future, multifamily buildings in the United States may even start to embrace such innovative strategies as passive building design. That involves maximizing the building envelope and using heat and energy recovery to reduce heating loss by up to 80 percent. At the same time, good indoor environmental quality is established and maintained through low-toxic/nontoxic materials in construction, green cleaning, and more. Passive design is well established in parts of Europe. It is just being introduced in the U.S. but may catch on in the future.

Both of these trends – the changing role of green supers and more aggressive energy-efficiency strategies – portend the next revolution in green. In the coming years, we will worry less about the equipment and material we put on our buildings – for cogeneration, solar panels, green roofs, etc. – and worry more about reducing energy demand in the first place. After all, the cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use.




Robert Muldoon is director of the Green Building Initiative and Nick Prigo is assistant manager for program development at SEIU 32BJ’s Training Fund.


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