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A Green Building Means Nothing Without a Green Super: The Job Goes High-Tech

Robert Muldoon and Nick Prigo in Building Operations on May 10, 2012

William Beaver House, Manhattan, New York City

Green Supers Co-ops Condos
May 10, 2012

It doesn't really matter how great your green technology is 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 co-ops and condos 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.

Talkin' 'bout Cogeneration

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 condo and co-op 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.

Over the last two years, the labor/management training program called the 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.

LEED the Way

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 co-ops and condos increasingly efficient.

In the not-too-distant future, co-ops and condos 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.

Illustration by  Danny Hellman 


From Habitat May 2012. For more, join our Archive >>

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