Ann Farmer in Bricks & Bucks on November 21, 2018
About six years ago, Diane Orr’s nine-unit co-op building in Manhattan’s East Village developed a major wall crack after a construction crew botched the underpinning while 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 NYC Building Operator Training (BOT) Program administered by the city’s Department of Small Business Services.
“I wish I had taken the course twenty 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 and well-functioning 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, provided in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and designed by the Building Performance Lab of CUNY’s Sustainable Building Initiative, has provided about 400 operators – buildings 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 building’s systems use energy,” says James Lane, the project manager of CUNY's 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 coop 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, 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,” Lane says. Instructors also demonstrate how to insulate hot-water pipes with the correct thickness of material. “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!”
Orr was part of a group of East Village homesteaders who rehabilitated their abandoned, fire-damaged building in the 1980s and turned it into a functioning HDFC cooperative. She and her fellow shareholders have come a long way, and they’re determined to do what’s best for the building while lowering its greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s what we want to do,” she says, “sustain the building for a long life.”
For more information on the Building Operator Training program, visit their website here.
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