New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Hands-On Training

About six years ago, Diane Orr’s nine-unit co-op building in the East Village developed a major wall crack while a construction crew was preparing to build on an adjacent lot. The co-op’s roof also sustained damage. What Orr didn’t realize at the time, though, was that the roofers who came and repaired the roof flashing left open-ended flaps. This can cause leaks, something Orr understood only after enrolling in the Building Operator Training (BOT) Program administered by the city’s Department of Small Business Services.

“I wish I had taken the course 20 years ago,” says Orr, a documentary filmmaker and corporate trainer, adding that if she had, she would have noticed the faulty flashing immediately. Not only did the BOT instructors show her what a properly installed roof should look like, the curriculum required her to go up to her own roof and assess it. That’s when she discovered the bad flashing.

Now in its third year, this no-cost, 30-hour training program, is offered in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and designed by the Building Performance Lab of City University of New York’s Sustainable Building Initiative. It has provided about 400 people – building staffs, property managers, and co-op and condo board members – practical advice on preventive maintenance and energy efficiency. Tailored to buildings with 5 to 50 units, the classes can help boards cut their energy costs by up to 20 percent.

“We really want front-line managers to learn the ways that their buildings’ systems use energy,” says James Lane, the project manager of the Building Performance Lab. “Also, the way that their systems waste energy – and what to do to improve performance.”

Taught by operations and maintenance experts (mostly mechanical engineers) at locations throughout the city, the 10-week course covers the building’s envelope, its ventilation, heating and electrical systems, plus resilience, safety, and water conservation.

“We’ve learned to troubleshoot issues with our boiler,” says Annabelle Heckler, treasurer of her eight-unit co-op in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “It’s been incredibly useful.” Heckler even took in photos of her building’s roof and boiler, which the instructor used to help her understand the terminology of repair and maintenance.

“Another great piece was information about the [electrical] ballast,” adds Orr, her co-op board’s secretary, who is spearheading a hallway lighting renovation in her building. She learned that the ballast, which regulates the electric current in fluorescent fixtures, determines her lighting options. “You could end up getting the wrong lighting fixtures if you don’t know what you’re doing,” she says.

Because water and energy conservation are paramount, the instructors show how to seal doors with weatherstripping and floor sweeps, and they explain the benefits of switching out fluorescent tubes for LEDs. “We go through slides to show how many watts you’re saving,”says Lane of the Building Performance Lab. Instructors also demonstrate the proper way to insulate hot-water pipes. “That’s one of my favorites,” Lane says, “mainly because it’s low-cost but a big energy saver that’s missing in many buildings.”

In order to receive the course’s certificate of completion, the participants have to complete at least five checklists on their building’s systems. “That kept me on my toes,” says Orr, who ran a water flow-rate test on her building’s plumbing systems. “Our flow is good,” she says. “At least we’re doing something right!”

Tom Sahagian, an energy-efficiency consultant, has been teaching BOT courses since their inception three years ago. “I think the program’s heart is in the right place,” he says, adding that the students arrive with widely varying levels of experience. “Some are very sharp and already know some of the material,” he says, “while others are not as knowledgeable. It’s a challenge.”

But the biggest challenge, in Sahagian’s view, is figuring out how effective the classes actually are. “Do the supers actually change what they’re doing in their buildings after taking the course?” he asks. “If they do, does management support them?”

To make sure that the answer is yes, Sahagian believes it’s crucial to win over property managers and co-op and condo boards. “To make sure management supports the protocol,” he suggests, “we should add a condensed, single-session course for property managers and board members. That way they’ll see what we’re teaching and why – and why it’s important for them to support it.”

He can count Diane Orr and her fellow East Village shareholders as ardent supporters of the program. After rehabilitating their abandoned, fire-damaged building in the 1980s and turning it into an affordable Housing Development Fund Corporation cooperative, they’re determined to do what’s best for the building while lowering its greenhouse gas emissions. That determination led Orr to take the BOT course. “That’s what we want to do,” she says, “sustain the building for a long life.”
For information about upcoming courses, call 212-650-7069 or email

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