Career Area: Construction, Installation, Maintenance, and Repair
Required Education, Credentials, and Licenses
- High school diploma or GED
- Licenses or certifications for boiler operations, stationary engineering, or refrigeration operations, if required by local government
- Mechanical aptitude for operating and maintaining equipment
- Manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination
- Physical abilities (standing, crouching)
- Complete written documentation
Stationary engineers manage the operation, maintenance, and repair of boiler systems and other related mechanical systems and equipment, including HVAC and refrigeration. This role is also sometimes called a boiler operator.
Stationary engineers routinely inspect these building systems and need to be detail-oriented to follow complex instructions, accurately monitor the equipment (e.g., indicators, water levels, fuel) and adjust the system. They perform preventive maintenance such as cleaning equipment, lubricating parts, and replacing system components to ensure safe and efficient operations. Stationary engineers need strong analytical and problem-solving skills to identify damaged units, troubleshoot the issue, and complete necessary repairs. As property owners aim to increase their building’s energy efficiency, mechanical systems are more frequently being connected to building automation systems and require stationary engineers be able to use computer interfaces and controls. Electricity-based HVAC/R systems are also becoming more common and stationary engineers who have experience working on central boilers, furnaces, and chillers used in fossil fuel-based systems will need retraining to be able to operate and maintain heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow systems, or other clean energy HVAC/R technologies.
Stationary engineers need good eye-hand coordination to precisely operate and control machines and manual dexterity to use tools. The job may require standing for long periods of time and working inside tight spaces, so workers should be able to bend and crouch. Following safety protocols is important to avoid injuries; in addition to working with tools and mechanical equipment, conditions on the job can include exposure to heat, noise, electricity, and dangerous materials.
Stationary engineers need to keep operation and repair records, so strong writing and organizational skills are necessary to accurately document their work. Small buildings often need one stationary engineer or boiler operator, but large buildings may require a team of workers and the ability to collaborate is important. Within a team, a stationary engineer may have the opportunity to advance to a chief engineer title, a role that includes management and leadership responsibilities in addition to technical expertise.
Stationary engineers are typically employed full-time at worksites. Most have shifts during regular hours, but work schedules can include overnight shifts, weekends, and holidays in buildings such as hospitals and hotels that need to operate twenty-four hours per day.
According to the New York State Department of Labor, there are approximately 4,100 stationary engineers or boiler operators in New York State and opportunities for employment are expected to be favorable through 2028 – they project this occupation to grow by 570 jobs between 2018 and 2028.
Entering the Field
Stationary engineers need to have a high school diploma or GED, and additional education can help land a job or advance in the field. It takes more than one year of on-the-job training to become fully skilled as a stationary engineer, so employers may prefer to hire workers who have learned the necessary skills through a four-year apprenticeship program or other post-secondary training in building trades or systems (such as that from a vocational school). Obtaining related certifications that cover air quality control, environmental control, electrical power systems, advanced digital controls, and building management systems can also be used to demonstrate competence and may be preferred or required by some employers. Stationary engineers may need to take continuing education courses to update their skillset and be able to work on modern, clean energy HVAC/R systems.
Local governments may require stationary engineers and boiler operators to be licensed or certified. The specific qualifications workers need depend on the type of equipment they work on. In New York City, some jobs may require workers to obtain a High Pressure Boiler Operating Engineer License from the city’s Department of Buildings or certification from the fire department as a Refrigerating System Operating Engineer. The city of Rochester has three different classes of licenses for stationary engineers and refrigeration operators that demonstrate increasing levels of knowledge.
Check local job advertisements and government requirements for more information regarding working as a stationary engineer or boiler operator.
In New York State, the median wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators is approximately $78,500. Entry-level workers earn about $54,900 and experienced workers earn about $100,300.
Annual Wage (Q1 2021 dollars, rounded to 100s) – Statewide and by Labor Market Region
|New York State||$54,900||$78,500||$100,300|
|Central New York||$54,700||$65,200||$71,300|
|New York City||$77,000||$110,700||$120,900|
|Western New York||$43,700||$59,000||$65,200|
Source: New York State Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics Survey, SOC Code 51-8021 (Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators)
Many people who work in this field are employed by large commercial property owners and management companies, local government agencies, or institutions such as hospitals and schools, including colleges and universities.
Job openings across New York State in 2020 were most often advertised online with either the job title stationary engineer or boiler operator. Use those job titles and keywords such as “HVAC,” “heating,” or “refrigeration” when searching job advertisements online to help identify opportunities for employment.
(Note that jobs for operators of mechanical systems may be underrepresented in online job ads. Check with nearby institutional employers and local union or government websites for additional opportunities to gain employment as a stationary engineer or boiler operator.)
The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) includes members who are either heavy equipment operators (also referred to as operating engineers) or stationary engineers. Some local chapters have members in one of those lines of work, while others have members in both categories.
IUOE Local 30 offers an apprenticeship program in stationary engineering and offers courses that train members on current technologies and enable them to enhance their skills. The work of members in Locals 94 and 295 is also focused on HVAC/R systems; Local 94 has a three-year training program that is open to its members of certain employers and Local 295 offers HVAC/R and safety-related courses for its members. Locals 409 and 891’s members are school custodial and stationary engineers working in Buffalo public schools and New York City Department of Education buildings, respectively. Local 17 and Local 158 represent both operating and stationary engineers in the western and northern parts of New York State. IUOE’s International Training and Education Center offers courses that supplement the training available through local chapters with topics such as building automation systems and sustainability and emerging technology as part of their curriculum.
A full list of IUOE local unions is available on their website. Search for chapters in New York designated with an “S” to signify stationary engineer locals or “M” to signify mixed locals that include stationary and operating engineers. Also check with local communities to see if there are other unions for stationary engineers.
Education and Training Programs
Working as a stationary engineer does not require a formal education beyond a high school diploma or GED and schools in New York do not offer advanced degrees in this line of work. However, workers can benefit from preparatory classes and training for the licensing or certification exams that are required by some local governments or employers (described in Entering the Field).
Trade associations that offer certification exams may also provide preparatory coursework. For example, the National Association of Power Engineers (NAPE) has courses available on boiler operations, controls, and electrical systems (among others) that prepare workers to take the NAPE certification exams or obtain licenses required by local governments. Other organizations do not directly offer training but can be contacted to find training providers, such as the American Society of Power Engineers, Inc. and the National Institute for the Uniform Licensing of Power Engineers, Inc..
Stationary engineers looking for training opportunities specific to environmentally friendly HVAC/R technologies may benefit from courses offered by manufacturers and distributors in the industry, some of which partner with NYSERDA through Clean Heat Connect. Check with individual manufacturers and distributors for a complete list of online or in-person offerings. Steven Winter Associates, Inc.’s Building Electrification Training Series includes engineers and building operators among its intended audience; the program’s seven courses include topics such as heat pumps and managing refrigerants in commercial and residential buildings.
Check with local licensing authorities and employers to see what their specific requirements are to work as a stationary engineer or boiler operator, and then look for relevant courses through certifying organizations, the International Union of Operating Engineers (training is available to members as described in the Labor Unions section), and vocational programs.