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Free Classes for Building Operators Can Cut Costs by 20 Percent

Ann Farmer in Building Operations on March 1, 2019

New York City

Building Operator Training II

Instructor Mark Russo (right) of the Building Operator Training Program (photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio).

March 1, 2019

A free training program for building operators – including members of co-op and condo boards – can help slash a building’s energy costs by as much as 20 percent

The 30-hour Building Operator Training Program (BOT) , now in its third year, was 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. It’s tailored to buildings with 5 to 50 units. 

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 James Lane, the project manager 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. Such hands-on experience has produced results. When one student, Diane Orr, checked the roof system on her East Village co-op, she discovered a shoddy flashing job by workers who’d been brought in to repair damage caused by a construction crew next door. “I wish I had taken the course 20 years ago,” says Orr, a documentary filmmaker and corporate trainer. 

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 if the classes are making a difference. “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.” 

For information about upcoming Building Operator Training courses, call 212-650-7069 or email

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