New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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The Greening of Supers

Marianne Schaefer in Building Operations on April 20, 2017

New York City

Super School
April 20, 2017

The nonprofit Urban Green Council is dedicated to helping co-op and condo boards make their buildings more energy-efficient, environment-friendly, and economical. In a word, more green. One tool is the council’s educational program for supers called Green Professional Training, or GPRO.

“Most of all we teach supers to think of a building as a whole,” says Ellen Honigstock, director of education at the Urban Green Council. “For the best performance, all the systems have to work together. You might fix one problem, and you have to know how it affects the other systems. One good example is drafts. Reducing air leakage around windows to improve occupant comfort can also reduce heating and cooling costs, and improve indoor air quality. Only when you look how things are connected will you get the best results and the most savings.”

GPRO works hand in hand with the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ, which offers classes for supers, as does the city’s new NYC Building Operator Training Program. 32BJ’s 11-week training program, which is open to any union members, is not confined to the classroom. “We do a walk-through in multifamily buildings. We’ve been to over 100 buildings around the city,” says Robert Muldoon, assistant manager for Green Building Training at 32BJ. “We look at mechanical systems, take a look at common areas, vacant apartments, and the exterior of the building.”

The main subjects covered by GPRO, 32BJ and the Building Operator Training Program include building-performance metrics, water and energy usage, the functioning of the building envelope, heat transfer, air barrier integrity, condensation control, sustainability in heating and cooling, efficiency and energy benchmarking, lighting, indoor air quality, interior retrofitting and renovation, and dealing with waste.

“And at the end of the class we have them come up with a green plan for their specific building,” says Muldoon. “They will list the top four things they would do to improve in their building, and how to best implement them.”

Continuing education is one of the free benefits for union members, based on their contracts. Non-union supers and building managers can take classes with GPRO at an average of about $275. The free Building Operator Training Program is open not only to supers, but also to property managers, building owners, and board members.

“In the end, it’s about an overall better performance of the building,” says GPRO’s Honigstock. “A building might be pressurized so that the air goes from the apartment into the hallway, and as a result, cooking smells travel. It’s supposed to be the other way around. So if you fix the ventilation system, not only do the cooking smells go into the exhaust fan, but it’s safer in case of a fire. It makes the building a better place to live.”

The supers themselves become more valued employees. “Supers earn certifications which are recognized by the industry,” says Muldoon, of 32BJ. “It makes them more competitive when applying for a superintendent’s job.”

“Supers also have to learn how to speak the language of the people who will ultimately have to pay for improvements,” adds Honigstock. “If a super can talk to a board about return on investment, then they’ll all speak the same language. This is a long way from fixing a problem in the building with a replacement part from the local hardware store.”

Maybe the most surprising thing is that supers actually like going back to school. “You know when you’re going to school and you’re bored?” asks Jerald Danenberg, a resident manager on Sutton Place South who completed the 32BJ course. “When I went to this class, I was actually excited to be there, and I really did learn something.”

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