Zero Brownstone

The term Zero Brownstone is an idea I came up with during our experimentation of making the greenest brownstone renovation possible.

The Zero Brownstone is based on two concepts during the deconstruction and renovation of the brownstone as well as in the finished home:
Zero Waste and Zero Consumption

During Construction:

Zero Waste – During the deconstruction (aka demolition) process we create zero waste. Nothing goes to the landfill. Everything is either cleaned up and put back into that brownstone or another one. Wood, stones, brick, and metal is reused. Glass and plaster is recycled or used as fill. The exceptions are things that deserve to be thrown away such as formaldahyde laden fiber board or things that need to be remediated such as lead or asbestos.

Zero Consumption – During the rebuilding process we consume zero new materials. Everything we put back into the brownstone is salvaged or recycled. Flooring, insulation, studs, joists, sheet rock, paint, screws, doors and counter tops are all reused. The exceptions are items we are absolutely not able to salvage such as most plumbing and electric as well as items we need to buy new for energy efficiency reasons such as appliances or air circulators.

After Construction:

Zero Consumption – The home is built so that it requires very little resources to run and what resources it does need are captured on site. These resources are electricity, water and food.

A Zero Brownstone uses no energy. It is built with such good insulation and design that it does not require heating or cooling. The on-site solar panels provide water heating and electricity. Appliances are electric and thus no gas is needed for the home.

The rain water capture provides household water. Gray water irrigates the gardens and feeds water to the toilets, further reducing the need for water.

Along the same lines, the garden is an edible garden with fruit and vegetables to provide some food. A chicken or two and bees further increases the bounty.

Zero Waste – The waste that the house produces is processed and reused on site. This waste is water from the house and rain, gray water, black water and compost.

Gray water is consumed on site. Rainwater is used or diverted to a dry well. Black water is decomposed and used as compost. Food scraps are composted or fed to the chickens.

The end result is a house that during use and construction has a much smaller impact on its surroundings. Instead of taxing the world by consuming too much and creating too much waste the home “grows up” and becomes a productive member of society – clean and self sufficient.

The Zero Brownstone once built takes the concept of Net Zero Building further. With Net Zero you are concerned with the net energy consumption of a house over time. It has on site energy production such as solar panels that produces the same amount of energy that it consumes over say a year. Some days the house may consume more, other days not, but the net balance is zero.

With a Zero Brownstone we are not only looking at energy consumption over time but the amount of waste and material consumption too, both during the renovation stage as well as over the life of the house.

The overall quality of the building is high which means materials do not have to be replaced for at least a hundred years. The hundred year benchmark is chosen because that is usually how long it lasts in its first round.

A Zero Brownstone is the goal.  We still haven’t gotten there yet but with each house we get closer. We still create some waste, mostly because a lot of what we take out of the brownstone is crap. Linoleum tiles, lead filled paint, formaldehyde filled cabinets, energy hog appliances, water hog toilets and faucets, single pane aluminum windows, vinyl flooring…the list is long.

This is stuff that we can’t reuse.

When we rebuild there are things we need to buy. Energy efficient appliances, solar panels, gray water systems, good windows and exterior doors. These things are not in the waste stream yet for us to salvage.

And the house is not net zero yet. The roof space and south wall are not sufficient space to provide all the solar panels needed. The panels and appliances are not efficient enough yet. But as they increase in efficiency the space will become enough to power the whole brownstone. We also have to deal with ignorant code laws that prohibit how much space we can use on the roof.

Striving for a Zero Brownstone is very exciting. We feel we are doing something good and powerful in the world. It is part of our Build It Forward ethos where anything we build is a gift to the future.

Brooklyn Brownstone Design

Here is a design our architect intern Matthew Pethley sketched up for a row house we are designing in Bed Stuy. it is not what we eventually designed for them on but I wanted to share it because the ideas are really cool. It would make for a beautiful space. It addresses the issue that row houses have which is they are dark in the middle. I thought the idea of taking off part of the roof was a good one too.

Design Build scetch

Matthew’s comments:

Attached are some ideas I had. The biggest 2 are to open up a
courtyard in the building using the footprint of the boiler room in
the basement. This will allow more light and air penetration into the
inner part of the building, while giving an outdoor dining room on the
1st floor (something you really dont see). The second portion is to
open the roof on the 3rd floor and reducing the covered portion. By
leaving a lot outside and leaving the skin intact, you create a unique
space with lots of outdoor entertaining potential. This also allows
the master bedroom to have a large patio as well. I am going to try
and sketch some of these ideas in perspective and put the whole thing
in autocad today on my day off, but I wanted to get you this quickly.

The stairs would be open to allow air to circulate within the building
better (that is also why they are stacked in the same place). I added
in a row of columns within the first floor to carry the load from the
open air dining on the first floor. This also defines a circulation
and storage portion to the floors (the load is carried from the top
floor through the walls on the second). The outdoor dining on the
first floor is designed to open to allow the area to become one full
space in the center through sliding doors (it does create a water
issue, but it is just an idea). On the garden apartment I put in a
shared laundry for the 2 different groups and added a 2 bedroom in the
basement. The rooms arent huge but they should be able to fit a queen
size bed (I also sketched in the windows that are needed for egress).

Here is another take on the design:

Brooklyn Green Design Build

Earthship Videos

Here are some of the latest earthship videos sent to me from the folks at earthship.com

Comments on earthships and the Copenhagen summit.

Here is another cool one:

The one peeve I have with this last video is “What the world needs now is one Billion earthsips, immediately.” That sounds too much like old school consumer thinking. We’ve got too much building already. Granted most of it is crap and would be better torn down and reused. But we need to be really careful about building anything, earthship or not. But this is a small point. On the whole, the more earthships we build the better.

I think earthships and their variations are the only viable new construction available. As a green contractor in Brooklyn earthships in their current form are not feasable. We don’t have the space, we need more than one story and it is an urban environment.

But a lot can be learned from earthships. We at Eco Brooklyn are actively researching how we can make a “Brooklyn Earthship”.

What would that look like? Would it be a brownstone with earth pockets all over it that supported plants? We don’t know yet. But we are asking the questions.

Convert Partner To Green Building

I got an email recently with a funny title: Need Help Converting Husband. What fuel does he run on now?! The sender of the email, the wife, was not aware of the humor though. She was asking me for info to convince her husband, who from the sound of it seems like a lost case. But who am I to judge.

So I asked some colleagues for resources. I share the wife’s email and their answers.

If you feel inclined to evangelize green building these resources are a good start. I never feel so inclined since I can’t stand trying to convince others. However these same resources are great for self education too. Enjoy!

Original Email:

Hi,
I am about to buy a wood frame house in Brooklyn with my husband and really want to use green building practices when renovating it. My interests are primarily about indoor air quality. My husband however is not concerned about the environment or indoor air quality and his main philosophy is, “If the majority of people are using toxic chemicals to build and are not dropping dead on the spot, then all these toxins can’t really be that bad for us.” I’d like to give him material to read or better yet a film to watch that can convince him otherwise. He is particularly susceptible to anything published in mainstream publications. For example, I have been telling him not to buy anything “flame retardent” for a while and he just thought I was crazy until he saw a tiny little article in the Economist magazine linking PBDEs and infertility. So can you recommend any viewing or reading material that is NOT fringe in any way that can convince my husband? I really don’t want to keep arguing with him, but I also don’t want to live in a toxic home and contribute more garbage to landfills.

Thanks, Wife
————————————————————

Green Building Comments:
===========

the film Blue Vinyl comes to mind.
=============

How about the shocking increase in children born with Autism (1 per 166 and 4 to 1 boys to girls I just read)
http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/07/28/autism.overview/index.html All the toxins and chemicals…not just in our homes, but in the air, water and food. Like pesticides and fertilizers. Preservatives and maybe even growth
hormone engineering?

or the rising rate of Asthma? (Pollution is the likely culprit…bad air)

============
Husband sounds most toxic to me. I advise eliminating him and all related fumes from the home’s environment. I guess you could call my suggestions related to male infertility…. or is it male futility…. Do you want cites to some lesbian feminist publications on the euphoric potential? Sorry folks…couldn’t resist.

=======

Search at: http://google.com – or: http://scholar.google.com/

– or: PubMed – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez

Search for:

infertility + “Bisphenol A”
infertility + Phthalates
infertility + Xenoestrogens
infertility + “Environmental Estrogens”
infertility + “Hormone disruptors”
infertility + “Air fresheners”
infertility + “Cleaning products”

Add the term “review”, to find comprehensive medical journal articles
at PubMed, or Google Scholar.

Also try adding the term “construction” – or “renovation”, etc..

=========
Without getting too technical, explain simply that there is acute toxicity (people dropping dead like hubby is picturing) and chronic or long-term exposure risks. This page wraps it up (National Cancer Institute report that most cancers are caused by environmental causes):
http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/benchmarks-vol4-issue3

Also, I bet hubby will listen to cha-ching dollar signs–building green will ALSO cut his payments to Con Ed if they plan and execute the project right.
So you can both be happy, healthy and richer.
Here’s a rundown of financial reports:
http://www.pca.state.mn.us/oea/greenbuilding/cost.cfm

==========

The NCI report is very interesting, but they are using a much broader definition of “environment” to include diet, occupation, infection, etc. I think they are mainly looking at differentiating genetic from other causes. The table at the end states the proportion of cancer deaths from pollution (air, water, food) is between 1% and 5%, compared to much higher percentages for tobacco and diet. So it may not be the best argument for her case.

=========

Well hopefully, if the United States Environmental Protection Agency is
mainsteam enough. They have many papers on indoor air quality and I believe
they coined the term “sick building”.

In a form digestible enough for a husband is:  http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html

Now this does not actually say that indoor air quality can have a
detrimental effect on a woman’s libido, but it does specifically allude to
headaches, and that is close enough for her to get seriously convincing.

Plants Attractive to Native Bees

Now that beekeeping is legal in NYC we are going to have a lot more bees! And that is a good thing. Here is a list of plants that bees like. If you ask me the list has pretty much all the plants in the world, but I didn’t make the list (USDA did) and I’m sure they know what they are talking about (at least here, I wouldn’t trust the USDA on many other food issues but that’s not something I want to bother the bees with).

So plant these in your gardens so that the bees can feel welcome in their new home!

Sorted By Genus

Blue plant names are widely cultivated & broadly attractive to bees.

FAMILY GENUS COMMON NAME Notes
Caprifoliaceae Abelia abelia
Fabaceae Acacia acacia
Aceraceae Acer maple
Asteraceae Achillea yarrow A. millefolium weedy
Ranunculaceae Aconitum monkshood
Lamiaceae Agastache hyssop
Lamiaceae Ajuga carpet bugle
Malvaceae Althea hollyhock not doubled
Liliaceae Allium allium
Rosaceae Amelanchier serviceberry
Boraginaceae Anchusa wild forget-me-not
Apiaceae Anethum dill
Ranunculaceae Aquilegia columbine not doubled
Ericaceae Arctostaphylos manzanita
Papaveraceae Argemone prickly poppy
Plumbaginaceae Armeria sea thrift
Asteraceae Aster aster not doubled
Fabaceae Astragalus locoweed
Asteraceae Baileya desert marigold
Fabaceae Baptisia false indigo
Berberidaceae Berberis barberry
Boraginaceae Borago borage
Brassicaceae Brassica mustard B. kaber and B. nigra weedy
Lamiaceae Calamintha calamint
Malvaceae Callirhoe wine cups, poppy mallow
Ericaceae Calluna heather
Onagraceae Camissonia camissonia
Campanulaceae Campanula bell flower
Fabaceae Caragena Siberian peashrub
Aizoaceae Carpobrotus ice plant some weedy
Asteraceae Carthamnus safflower
Lamiaceae Caryopteris blue mist spirea
Fabaceae Cassia senna
Rhamnaceae Ceanothus buckbrush
Asteraceae Centaurea bachelor’s button, corn flower not doubled, some weedy
Caryophyllaceae Cerastium snow-in-summer avoid chickweeds
Fabaceae Cercidium palo verde
Fabaceae Cercis redbud
Rosaceae Cercocarpus mountain mahogany
Rosaceae Chaenomeles flowering quince
Bignoniaceae Chilopsis desert willow
Asteraceae Chrysanthemum chrysanthemum simple flowered
Asteraceae Chrysothamnus rabbit brush, chamisa
Cucurbitaceae Citrullus watermelon
Rutaceae Citrus grapefruit, orange, lemon
Fabaceae Coronilla crownvetch
Cucurbitaceae Cucurbita squash, gourd, pumpkin
Onagraceae Clarkia clarkia not doubled
Asteraceae Cosmos cosmos
Apiaceae Coriandrum coriander
Asteraceae Coreopsis coreopsis
Lythraceae Cuphea false heather C. hyssopifolia
Rosaceae Cydonia fruiting quince
Asteraceae Cynara artichoke, cardoon
Boraginaceae Cynoglossum comfrey
Apiaceae Daucus carrot some weedy
Ranunculaceae Delphinium larkspur not doubled
Scrophulariaceae Digitalis foxglove
Asteraceae Echinacea cone flower
Boraginaceae Echium pride of Madeira E. fastuosum
Asteraceae Erigeron fleabane
Hydrophyllaceae Eriodictyon yerba santa
Polygonaceae Eriogonum wild buckwheat
Apiaceae Eryngium eryngo, button-celery, coyote-thistle
Brassicaceae Erysimum wallflower
Asteraceae Eupatorium joe pye weed not E. capillifolium
Euphorbiaceae Euphorbia spurge some weedy
Cactaceae Ferocactus barrel cactus
Apiaceae Foeniculum fennel F. vulgare
Rosaceae Fragaria strawberry
Sterculiaceae Fremontodendron flannelbush
Asteraceae Gaillardia blanket flower not doubled
Onagraceae Gaura gaura
Gentianaceae Gentiana blue gentian
Asteraceae Geraea desert sunflower
Rosaceae Geum avens
Polemoniaceae Gilia gilia blue or violet
Fabaceae Glycyrrhiza licorice
Asteraceae Grindelia gumweed
Boraginaceae Hackelia wild formet-me-not
Lamiaceae Hedeoma sweetscent, mock pennyroyal
Fabaceae Hedysarum sweet vetch, french honeysuckle
Asteraceae Helenium sneezeweed
Asteraceae Helianthella sunflower
Asteraceae Helianthus sunflower not doubled
Boraginaceae Heliotropium heliotrope
Malvaceae Hibiscus rose-of-sharon, hollyhock not doubled
Asteraceae Hieracium hawkweed
Rosaceae Holodiscus cliff spirea, mountainspray
Asteraceae Hymenopappus false cosmos
Asteraceae Hymenoxys alpine sunflower
Lamiaceae Hyptis desert lavendar
Aquifoliaceae Ilex holly
Malvaceae Iliamna mountain hollyhock
Zygophyllaceae Kallstroemia Arizona poppy
Scrophulariaceae Keckiella bush penstemon
Lamiaceae Lamium dead nettles incl. Lamiastrum
Zygophyllaceae Larrea creosote bush
Fabaceae Lathyrus everlasting pea
Lamiaceae Lavendula lavendar
Asteraceae Layia tidytips
Fabaceae Lespedeza bush clover esp. L. cuneata
Brassicaceae Lesquerella bladderpod
Asteraceae Liatris blazing star
Limnanthaceae Limnanthes meadowfoam, fried egg flower
Polemoniaceae Linanthus mountain phlox
Scrophulariaceae Linaria toadflax L. dalmatica & vulgaris weedy
Linaceae Linum flax
Fabaceae Lotus birdsfoot trefoil, lotus
Solanaceae Lycium wolfberry
Berberidaceae Mahonia mahonia
Rosaceae Malus apple
Malvaceae Malva mallow
Fabaceae Medicago alfalfa, medic
Fabaceae Melilotus sweet clover can be weedy
Lamiaceae Mentha mint
Loasaceae Mentzelia blazing star
Boraginaceae Mertensia bluebells
Scrophulariaceae Mimulus monkey flower
Lamiaceae Monarda bee balm not red
Myoporaceae Myoporum myoporum M. laetum
Hydrophyllaceae Nemophila blue eyes
Lamiaceae Nepeta catmint esp. hybrid N. x faassenii
Lamiaceae Ocimum basil
Onagraceae Oenothera evening primrose
Cactaceae Opuntia pear cactus
Lamiaceae Origanum oregano
Ericaceae Oxydendrum sourwood
Fabaceae Oxytropis locoweed
Fabaceae Parkinsonia Mexican palo verde
Scrophulariaceae Pedicularis lousewort
Scrophulariaceae Penstemon penstemon not red, consider P. strictus
Lamiaceae Perovskia Russian sage, filigran P. atriplicifolia
Fabaceae Petalostemon prairie clover
Hydrophyllaceae Phacelia bluebells, scorpionweed
Ericaceae Phyllodoce mountain-heath
Solanaceae Physalis groundcherry
Rosaceae Physocarpus ninebark
Lamiaceae Physostegia obedient plant
Ericaceae Pieris fetterbush
Papaveraceae Platystemon creamcups
Polemoneaceae Polemonium Jacob’s ladder
Pontederiaceae Pontederia pickerelweed
Fabaceae Prosopis mesquite
Lamiaceae Prunella henbit
Rosaceae Prunus cherry, plum not doubled
Fabaceae Psorothamnus dalea
Rosaceae Purshia cliff rose
Lamiaceae Pycnanthemum mountain mint
Brassicaceae Raphanus mustard
Asteraceae Ratibida Mexican hat
Rhamnaceae Rhamnus buckthorn
Anacardiaceae Rhus sumac
Grossulariaceae Ribes currant
Fabaceae Robinia black locust
Papaveraceae Romneya Matilija poppy
Rosaceae Rosa rugosa-type and wild roses not doubled, some weedy
Lamiaceae Rosmarinus rosemary
Rosaceae Rubus raspberry, blackberry, brambles some weedy
Asteraceae Rudbeckia black-eyed susan
Salicaceae Salix willow not weeping willow
Lamiaceae Salvia salvia blue or violet
Caprifoliaceae Sambucus elderberry
Dipsaceae Scabiosa pincushion flower not doubled
Crassulaceae Sedum sedum, stonecrop
Asteraceae Senecio senecio
Malvaceae Sidalcea checkermallow
Asteraceae Silybum milk thistle
Solanaceae Solanum nightshade some weedy
Asteraceae Solidago goldenrod
Malvaceae Sphaeralcea globemallow
Rosaceae Spiraea spiraea
Lamiaceae Stachys lamb’s ear
Brassicaceae Stanleya prince’s plume
Boraginaceae Sympytum comfrey can be weedy
Portulacaceae Talinum flame flower
Apiaceae Tanacetum tansy
Bignoniaceae Tecoma yellow trumpet bush
Lamiaceae Teucrium germander
Fabaceae Thermopsis false lupine, golden pea
Lamiaceae Thymus thyme
Tiliaceae Tilia basswood
Asteraceae Tithonia Mexican sunflower
Lamiaceae Trichostema bluecurls
Fabaceae Trifolium clover
Ericaceae Vaccinium blueberry, cranberry, huckleberry acid soils required
Valerianaceae Valeriana valerian
Verbenaceae Verbena verbena not red
Asteraceae Verbesina golden crownbeard
Scrophulariaceae Veronica speedwell, veronica
Caprifoliaceae Viburnum arrowood, snowball bush
Fabaceae Vicia vetch
Asteraceae Viguiera showy golden-eye
Violaceae Viola violets not pansies
Asteraceae Wyethia mules ear
Asteraceae Zinnia zinnia not doubled

Health Benefits of Green Roof Study

Check out page six on this pdf “Health & Horticultural Therapy“, it mentions some studies concerning the restorative attributes of green roofs and living walls in hospitals and nursing homes.

-Decreased patient healing times – Given that many hospitals are located in highly developed areas, green roofs are a good way to expose patients to nature and improve the healing process. A study that compared post-operative recovery rates for patients with a natural view to those without found that the former made quicker recoveries, had fewer negative evaluations from nurses, and lower rates of medication than those without.

As green roof installers we don’t need a study to confirm the health benefits of a green roofs in Brooklyn. But for those die hard people who need those kinds of things this study is quite informative.

Building Integrated Prayer Wheels

You’ve got the efficiencies of building mounted wind turbines and then you’ve got the efficiencies of karma.

In response to a recent Environmental Building News feature story about the inefficiencies of building-integrated wind turbines comes this subtly hilarious examination of the efficiencies of building-integrated prayer wheels.

Now of course if you are a Tibetan Buddhist, and there are many, increasing the efficiency of good karma through making prayer wheels more effective is a very serious matter. I’m all for anything that makes more good vibes.

A building integrated wind turbine is mounted on the roof and turns with wind. A building integrated prayer wheel is mounted at street level and is turned by people’s hands. With each turn of either wind turbine or prayer wheel you generate energy. Whether it is electricity or good karma, its all just energy.

db_prayer-wheel-9f1

Earthship

Michael Reynolds is one of my favorite visionaries. He is doing what Eco Brooklyn aims to do with eco brownstone renovations in Brooklyn – Build net zero homes out of trash – only he does it with earth ships in the Midwest and beyond.

Check it out. Really cool. These are the only justifiable new construction homes on the planet in my opinion.

Eco Brooklyn Show Garden Seeks Participants

We are planting our front and back gardens at the Eco Brooklyn show house and welcome anyone who wants to be involved.

The gardens are edible gardens as well as aesthetically beautiful. Drawing from horticulture, permaculture, feng shui, xeriscape, gray water and Biodynamic gardening we seek to redefine the definition of a Brooklyn brownstone garden.

It is a low maintenance, low impact, bounty of beauty, nurturing space and food.

The front and back gardens are currently what some dismissively call “Italian gardens.” They are concrete slabs.

In many ways they represent the worst of current Brooklyn gardens, which is great because we can show the transformation from a barren dead zone to a living organism.

There are hurdles to get over, like testing the soil and probably getting positive tests for heavy metals and chemicals. Our neighbor has used toxic pesticide on his yard for 30 years. Engineers have found that the Gowanus canal toxic sludge has traveled uphill via an underground stream that passes right under the back garden.

But “Bring it on!” we say. The nastier the better since it will just make the results look even more splendid.

Feel free to contact us if you are interested in being involved. You can do it for the exercise, the learning or the just kinship. We welcome everyone.

Gowanus Superfunded

After conducting our own evaluations and consulting extensively with the many people who have expressed interest in the future of the Gowanus Canal and the surrounding area, we have determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway.

These are the words of Judith Enck, Regional Administrator for the Superfund on March 2 2010.

The Gowanus Canal is now a Superfund site!

To date, there have been 1,620 sites included on the Superfund list. Of these sites, 341 sites have been deleted, resulting in 1,279 sites remaining on the list. There are a total of 1,340 final and proposed sites around the country.

Not a great track record on the face of it, although you have to look into the details to really know. What are their standards, how long, etc.

I for one am satisfied with the decision.

I know a couple people who have property on the canal and they fought hard to not have the Superfund. They had million dollar deals with Toll Brothers developers and it was their ticket to retirement. But now all development bets are off. Who wants to buy a luxury condo with a view on a Superfund site. Anyway you can’t develop on it if it is designated.

For me this fight was clear when you looked at the players. On one side you had politicians, developers and wealthy land owners. Right there my alarm bells went off. But what really confirmed my personal belief was who made up the other side: local residents with nothing to gain financially.

The residents simply did it because they thought it was the best long term decision for the community.

This one was very clear for me and I am very happy the community won.

If it takes 10 years or if it takes 30 I am willing to wait. I am sure that they will do a much better job than anyone else would have. They don’t have vested financial interest to hurry up and make the place look good for investors. They are paid to do a good job. Or at least that is the understanding.

I own one property a half block from the canal and another property two blocks from the canal. I understand that the Superfund may dampen the values of my properties. I even understand that once the site is cleaned up and the designation is removed that my properties may never fetch the same prices they would have had the city quickly cleaned the site up and put luxury condos there.

But I put more weight in community value and ecological value. It might not have a dollar amount but it is much more valuable to me than any wad of bills. Community and ecological value makes me happy. It is something I can physically experience in my neighborhood. I see it and feel it when I go for a walk with my family. It is priceless and why I am a green builder.

As a Brooklyn green contractor I get to focus not only on dollar profit but on ecological and community health as well. It makes my job so much richer.

Solar powered attic fans

The following info to chew on was compiled by Martin Holladay, former associate editor at the Journal of Light Construction, former editor of Energy Design Update, currently senior editor for Green Building Advisor. GreenSpec recently delisted powered attic ventilation fans, to which the powered attic fan manufacturers have taken great exception.

– – – – –

www.dom.com/customer/efficiency/res/pdf/attic_ventilation.pdf

Effective Attic Ventilation

Increased attic ventilation has long been promoted by roofing material and attic ventilator manufacturers as a way to increase shingle life, decrease attic temperatures and lower cooling costs. Unfortunately, there is no scientific data to validate any of these points and mounting evidence and research to the contrary.

Attic ventilation was added to the nationwide building codes to prevent/eliminate roof damage caused by trapped, moisture-laden air migrating into the attic during winter. This code change followed the widespread introduction of indoor plumbing and central heating systems. As the use of attic insulation increased, ventilation proved valuable in controlling another problem, ice damming. Ice damming occurs when certain areas of the roof become warmer than others, causing a thaw- freeze cycle that allows accumulated snow to melt, then re-freeze on colder portions of the roof. This re-freezing creates an ice dam that works its way under shingles only to later melt and create roofing leaks. Ventilation ensures the roof deck temperature remains consistently cold so ice damming cannot start.

At some point, the original purpose for attic ventilation was forgotten and/or replaced, in cooling climates, with the belief that it was to reduce roof and attic temperatures, thus lowering cooling expenses and increasing shingle life. This was further compounded by the leap of faith that increased or powered ventilation would be even better. While sounding logical, there is simply no research to validate it. In fact, scientific testing has shown that attic ventilation has almost no effect on roof surface/ shingle temperatures and very little effect on attic temperatures.

There is however, a growing list of research, computer modeling and field data that indicates powered attic ventilation can be a detriment to health and safety and actually increase cooling costs. The latest and most compelling findings by Natural Florida Retrofit and the AEC Applied Building Science Center found that in all the homes they studied, powered attic ventilators (PAVs) offered no benefits and sometimes caused serious health and safety problems. Their research found three reasons why PAVs are not a good energy investment:

1. PAVs can create negative pressures in combustion appliances causing the backdrafting of flue gases such as carbon monoxide in the living space. These same negative pressures can also draw increased levels of moisture and soil gases, such as radon, from the crawlspace.

2. PAVs can draw conditioned air out of the house and into the attic, causing the air conditioning to run more. Conditioned air is then replaced with moisture laden outside air, creating increased humidity levels inside the living space.

3. PAVs can increase utility costs substantially because of the increased energy necessary to run the fan and cool/dehumidify the outside air being drawn into the home.

The most effective strategy for minimizing the effects of summer attic temperatures and eliminating the potential for winter ice damming is as follows:

1. Eliminate air leakage between the attic and living space. Common leakage points are penetrations made by plumbing and electrical fixtures, top plates of interior walls, attic pull downs/ doors and plumbing chases. Use expanding foam or caulk for plumbing and electrical penetrations and weatherstripping for doors or pull downs.

2. Seal ductwork located in the attic using a commercial grade duct sealer or mastic and insulate with a minimum 2″ insulated duct-wrap with vapor barrier.

3. Insulate the attic floor to a minimum R-30.

4. Use light colored shingles to reduce roof surface temperatures.

5. Provide ridge and soffit or gable and soffit passive ventilation to building code specifications to remove moisture and prevent ice damming.

– – – – –

www.advancedenergy.org/buildings/knowledge_library/ventilation/solar_powered_attic_ventilation.html

Solar Powered Attic Ventilation by Arnie Katz

Q: My sister Louise cut an article out of the newspaper about solar powered ventilation fans for attics. Do these things really work? I could install it myself, since no wiring is required, and the article said it would save money by cooling off the attic.

A: Ask Louise what she’s doing hanging out in the attic. And if she’s not spending time up there, why does she want to make the squirrels and bats more comfortable? If I wanted a powered attic vent fan, a solar powered one would be a good choice. But in my opinion, powered attic ventilators are generally not a good idea, whether they’re powered by nuclear electricity, burning water buffalo dung, landfill-generated methane gas, or directly by the sun.

I happen to think that using photovoltaic (solar) cells to create electricity to power our houses and businesses is an excellent technology that is proving itself both practical and economical in lots of different ways. But using the sun to power a marginal and even potentially dangerous item like a powered attic vent fan doesn’t make the fan more appealing.

Powered attic ventilators are promoted as doing three things: reducing summer air conditioning bills, removing moisture from the attic, and extending shingle life. Let’s look at each of these.

Theoretically, these fans reduce attic temperatures by pulling outside air into the attic. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell that to the air. In most of the houses we’ve tested, the attic fans were drawing some of their air from the house, rather than from the outside. In other words, they are cooling the attic by drawing air-conditioned air out of your house and into the attic. Air conditioning the attic is not recommended by anyone I know as an effective strategy for reducing your bills. Effective strategies include sealing the air leaks between the house and the attic, and making sure there is enough attic insulation and it is installed properly.

Another problem is that a large fan in the attic that is pulling air out of the house can create a negative pressure in the house. This negative pressure can suck the flue gasses out of a water heater or other combustion appliance. In one house we tested, we measured substantial levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the daughter’s bedroom in the basement. The CO was coming from the water heater next to the bedroom, which was backdrafting. The daughter had been suffering from flu-like symptoms for some time. The backdrafting was caused by the powered attic vent fan.

Vent fans are also promoted to remove moisture from the attic. In our part of the country, the humidity is typically high in the summer, when we’re advised to run the fans to “cool” the attic. To the extent that the fan is pulling outside air into the attic, that air will tend to have a high relative humidity, so it’s unlikely that it will reduce the moisture level in the attic.

If there’s an air conditioning unit with a leaky cabinet or leaky ductwork in that attic, there’s a chance that the moisture in the air will condense on the cold spots and cause moisture damage. Rather than solve moisture problems, the powered attic vent fan may, in fact, cause it.

Finally, powered attic vent fans are promoted as a strategy to extend shingle life by reducing the attic temperatures. Shingles are heated up by radiant heat from the sun. It’s possible that ventilating the attic can reduce the temperature of the air in the attic, which could reduce the temperature of the roof decking, which could reduce the temperature of the back of the shingles. I’ve seen no research, however, that supports the idea that powered attic fans actually increase shingle life.

If you are in a climate where you can be comfortable in your house without air conditioning, an attic fan won’t have the drawback of pulling costly air conditioned air out of the house. Also, if there is no air conditioning, there is little likelihood of having cold condensing surfaces in the attic, so moisture problems are unlikely. In these circumstances, a powered attic fan may be helpful. But be sure to check that the water heater is not back-drafting.

If you’re in a warm, moist climate where you need air conditioning, I would tell Louise that you’d much rather get a solar-powered outdoor lighting system or a solar hot water system. But a solar-powered attic fan? It’s like smoking cigarettes made with vitamin C.

– – – – –

www.askthebuilder.com/printer_236_Powered_Attic_Fans_-_Attic_Insulation_Facts.shtml

Ask the Builder

DEAR TIM: I am trying to make my house more comfortable and lower my air conditioning bills at the same time. It seems to me that a powered attic ventilation fan will help. Will such a fan exhaust enough air to lower my attic temperature significantly? If not, what is the best way to exhaust hot air from an attic and lower cooling costs? Amy V., Magnolia Park, FL

DEAR AMY: This is a classic example of where common sense does not always prevail. I used to think like you that powered attic ventilators (PAVs) are a great way to get hot air out of attic spaces. It turns out that these rooftop and sidewall mounted attics fans can actually suck air conditioned air from your house into your attic space. What’s more – in extreme cases – they can actually create serious life safety problems by back-drafting combustion gases into a house living space. I used to recommend PAVs for houses, but I don’t anymore.

This is a powered attic ventilation fan. If it doesn’t have excellent intake air around the soffits, it can actually vacuum air from inside your home.

When a PAV is turned on to exhaust hot attic air, it begins to move massive quantities of air. Smaller fans can easily move 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm). More powerful or multiple fans can extract thousands of cfms of air.

This movement of air creates a natural low pressure inside your attic space. To equalize this pressure difference, air begins to rush into the attic space from multiple points. If you have many passive roof vents, large side gable vents, and/or excellent unobstructed soffit vents, then there is a good chance that most of the makeup air will originate from outside your home. If you have few passive attic ventilation inlets, then most of the replacement air will come from the inside of your home.

If you have your air conditioner running at the same time your PAV is operating, you are sending expensive cool air from your living space into your attic. This air seeps into your attic through the attic access panel and hidden holes in the interior wall top plates where plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires enter the attic. Air also can easily slip between the space between bowed wall plates and drywall. To complete the circle, hot and humid exterior air enters your living space. Your air conditioner now has to work harder and longer to keep you cool while that PAV is merrily spinning away up in the attic!

Recently completed studies by the Florida Solar Energy Center have proven that as the sun heats up the wood roof sheathing and framing members in your attic they quickly and invisibly send this heat directly to the top layer of your attic insulation. The insulation in turn re-radiates this heat into the attic airspace. PAVs can lower the overall attic temperature to a slight degree but the secondary effects of sucking cool air from your house and possibly combustion gases into your living spaces offset this benefit. The danger of sucking combustion gases from hot water heaters and any other combustion appliance is real. This is especially true in tighter, newer homes. To feed the voracious appetite of the PAVs, air will enter your home at the point of least resistance. This point is often a chimney or hot water heater metal B-vent pipe.

Your desire to lower energy costs and keep cool should begin by boosting the amount of attic insulation to offset high attic temperatures. Not only will the added attic insulation help you in the summer, it will also help you to lower winter heating costs. Remember that you must maintain at least 2 inches of air space between insulation and the roof sheathing. At the same time, you must be sure that air can easily enter the attic space through the lower portions of your roof or soffits and travel unimpeded into the attic space. Once there it can be gently vacuumed from your attic through continuous roof ridge ventilation systems every time Mother Nature exhales across your roof.

– – – – –

www.homeenergy.org/archive/hem.dis.anl.gov/eehem/95/951103.html

Drawbacks Of Powered Attic Ventilators

Powered attic ventilators, already suspected of using more energy than they save, can also create excess moisture, structural problems, discomfort, and combustion safety problems for home occupants, according to a recent study. John Tooley of Natural Florida Retrofit, and Bruce Davis of Alternative Energy Corporation’s Applied Building Science Center in North Carolina, presented “The Unplanned Impacts on Houses by Powered Attic Ventilators” at the 1995 meeting of the Energy Efficient Building Association.

The paper describes research conducted on eight homes over a period of three months. As a result of this research, Davis said that he wouldn’t recommend the use of powered attic ventilators. He emphasized, “If someone chooses to use a powered attic ventilation strategy, they need to do additional performance tests and take responsibility to be sure that it won’t cause other problems.” The potential for hazardous conditions is particularly high in homes with combustion gas appliances, because the ventilators can create negative pressures that cause backdrafting.

Tooley and Davis took measurements from July through September 1993 at eight homes in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Each attic contained passive ventilation in addition to a powered ventilator. All the houses had some depressurization when the ventilator operated, with pressures ranging from -0.5 to -2.5 Pascals (Pa). The tests showed that the powered attic ventilators, on average, drew 231 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of conditioned air out of each house and caused, by themselves, 0.72 air changes per hour (ACH). This flow from the house to the attic ranged from a low of 104 CFM to a high of 646 CFM, and ACH ranged from 0.38 to 1.2.

The houses had air volumes ranging from 13,000 to 32,000 ft3. The high figures above were for the largest house in the study, which had two ventilators and noticeable air leakage paths between the house and the attic. Tooley and Davis concluded that all eight of the sample homes wasted energy due to the high leakage of conditioned air into the attic.

Two houses had combustion safety problems resulting from the ventilators operating in conjunction with other mechanical equipment. At one, the water heater, located inside the conditioned space, stayed in a complete backdraft mode when the ventilators were operated with other equipment. During the seven minutes of the testing cycle, the area containing the water heater reached 40 ppm (parts per million) of carbon monoxide, and at five minutes the water heater flue contained 700 ppm of carbon monoxide. The study also reports anecdotal cases of combustion safety problems, including a Colorado family of three who died from carbon monoxide poisoning when an attic ventilator caused the furnace to backdraft.

Another two houses had moisture problems resulting from ventilator-induced negative pressures. At one house, a chain of events started with the repair of a leaky return duct for the air conditioner. Condensation occurred on the tighter (and colder) duct, which was located in a framing cavity, and moisture began to appear on the ceiling Sheetrock of the first floor. The suggested remedy was to increase the powered attic ventilation and turn on bath fans to remove moisture from the structure. This actually exacerbated the problem by increasing the pressure difference, moving more humid outside air through the building cavity, which created more condensation on the sheet metal duct. The moisture saturated the Sheetrock, which eventually fell to the floor. Discomfort problems were found in two study houses, one of which also had safety problems, while the other had moisture problems.

Tooley and Davis concluded that if a powered attic ventilator is to be used, the installer should provide a good air barrier between the ceiling and the attic, and ensure that adequate net free vent area is provided in the attic. The amount of air the fan moves must also be considered so that it can be properly sized (a bigger fan is definitely not better in this case), and pressure measurements should always be used to confirm safe operation. Powered attic ventilators are commonly used in some regions of the United States, such as the Southeast and the Midwest, and they have a positive reputation. They are actively promoted by builders, roofers, HVAC contractors, ventilator manufacturers, do-it-yourself retailers, and even some utilities, although few utilities are sponsoring installation programs as they once did. Davis said that ventilators are sometimes used as a quick fix to meet attic vent codes in homes with an unusual roof structure or design. Most powered ventilators are thermostatically controlled, with variable settings. Davis said that some manufacturers are also promoting these or similar products as crawlspace ventilators to help remove moisture, but this use can also cause other problems if it is not properly evaluated.

– – – – –

The Office of Energy Efficiency, part of the Ohio Department of Development, produced a leaflet called “Office of Energy Efficiency Debunks Myths about Energy Efficiency.” That leaflet states, “Myth #4: Powered attic fans will reduce your air conditioning costs. Under ideal circumstances, attic fans would increase the air exchange in your attic, reducing the attic temperature. … However, in most homes, attic fans do not work this way because unsealed air leakage paths connect the attic and living spaces. When the attic fan exhausts attic air, conditioned air is actually drawn from the home and out the attic. This loss of conditioned air will increase your air conditioning costs. To add to the problem, as air is drawn from the house, warm and humid air from outside is drawn into the living spaces. Your air conditioner will now have to work harder to cool the air and remove the moisture.”

– – – – –

Energy Design Update, August 1997

“Ventilation is like a little boy who goes around the house looking for a job,” notes Bill Rose of the University of Illinois Building Research Council. “He can do some things well, but can’t do anything really well.” The point, he says, is that people expect ventilation to solve more than its share of problems.

The solution for ice dams is not to place a fan in the attic, but to use adequate insulation and to seal leaks in the building envelope.

“In terms of dealing with ice dams you have a point,” admits Stanley, “but that doesn’t address the summertime issue of heat buildup.” Unfortunately, researchers have yet to accurately document the effect of attic ventilation on cooling load. In fact, says Rose, research suggests that the energy to run the fan for a powered attic ventilator can be higher than the savings in cooling energy.

The biggest potential problem, says Rose, is that power venting can cause a negative pressure in the attic. Since you can’t guarantee the airtightness of the ceiling, this could draw humid air from the house into the attic, causing moisture problems in winter. “There’s nothing that guarantees wide open soffit vents,” he says. “One of the worst things that can happen is to draw quantities of indoor air into the attic, and powered equipment is more likely to do this.”

– – – – –

http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/bldg/pubs/pvfan/

“Based on the matching period analysis, estimation of annual space cooling savings are on the order of 460 kWh. These savings have a value of approximately $37 at current Florida energy prices. Given that the costs for the two units was approximately $600, or about $850 installed, the payback of the ventilators is not very favorable at over twenty years.”

Also:

Attic vent fans

Powered attic vent fans ventilate just the attic and not the interior of the house.

Frequently, attic vent fans are thermostat controlled and run only when the attic gets hot.

Attic vent fans operated by a manual switch are also available.

Data measured at FSEC and elsewhere show that attics with nominal natural ventilation and R-19 ceiling insulation do not need powered vent fans. Such fans cost more to operate than they save in reduced cooling costs, so they are not recommended.

Consider the following alternatives in place of attic vent fans:

1. In new houses, install R-19 ceiling insulation with an attic radiant barrier. In existing homes, install an attic radiant barrier. See FSEC publications DN-6 and DN-7 for tips on using and installing radiant barriers.

2. Use continuous soffit vents at eaves and ridge vents at the roof peak to increase natural attic ventilation. For gabled roofs, gable bents may also be used. In all cases, use vents near the peak of the roof (either well-installed ridge vents at roof peak or strip vents near the roof peak). Avoid wind turbines. They work when new, but often become noisy and leaky after a few years.

Vernal Equinox

Happy Vernal Equinox!!!!

Today at 10:33 PDT, 13:33 EDT, 18:33 CET is the Spring Equinox.

The moment when the relation of the Sun and the Earth are in equipoise.

Our planet hangs in perfect balance for one brief flash of a second…all balanced, the day and night everywhere, for all of us in San Francisco, New York, Santiago, Australia, Milan and Ibiza are of  equal length.
Twelve hours of day, twelve hours of night.

And then the tilt happens, as it has for billions of years, and the Sun brings its Light to us in the North, and the long nights of winter begin for those of us in the South.

This tilt is what keeps us alive. Otherwise one half of the globe would be hot and barren and the other half would be in perpetual ice age. With this tilt we get the seasons, the ebb and flow of life from dark winter to bright summer and back again.

All green builders make homes around this cycle. We design for more sun in the winter and less sun in the summer. We position the houses so that they worship the rays of the sun and turn their backs on the cold.

Whether we know it or not in our daily chaotic scramble we are part of a long pattern of logic. The heavens have been flipping the earth back and forth in the sun’s rays for longer than humans existed. And I suspect it will go on way beyond our short stay on earth.

Turning Work Down

I had an interesting call just now. A developer called me wanting me to go check out a brownstone he had just bought and wanted to renovate. He buys a lot of properties, renovates and sells. He didn’t know about Eco Brooklyn but somebody had given him my number and said we did good work.

I pointed out that before we meet he should probably check out our web site. I explained we weren’t your typical contractor. We were a green contractor and that meant a different way of doing things.

He said, “Green is good these days, it is a good selling point. I’m open to that.”

I pointed out that we also like making money but that wasn’t the only thing. We were doing it to make the world a better place.

He said, “I too want to help the world but I need to sell these things. This green stuff costs more right?”

I said it didn’t necessarily cost more but it might take more time to build.

I finally told him that I didn’t think Eco Brooklyn would be a good match for him.

I have mixed feelings about this. Some would say that I should have taken the opportunity. He does volume and it would be a good chance to influence him and make more of an impact on turning Brooklyn green. I would have to work hard to show the benefits of green and I know there would be times where I would have to compromise. The hope is that I make enough of a difference for it to be worth while.

But it is not easy being a green contractor in Brooklyn. There is a lot of resistance. People have a lot of reasons not to build green. I could spend my life trying to convince people of the benefits of green building.

I have decided not to try and convince anyone. I have too much green building to do to spend energy on that. I am very lucky that the green minded clients find us. We have plenty of work with very progressive clients who want exactly what we do. In fact they look to us for guidance on how to me more green.

I have found that if you are idealistic you can use it in two ways. You can try to convince others of your views or you can live out your views for yourself. Trying to change others is a loosing game. It is a road to frustration and bitterness.  But living out your idealism is a very satisfying path. You essentially create alternate realities. Yours and other peoples’.

With time people with the same views will find you and with more time your group becomes big. If your views are sustainable (i.e. are able to last) then it will become the dominant view. Unsustainable views (i.e. are not able to last)  will naturally go to the wayside.

This is the natural flow of life. It takes no effort. There is no moral judgment. It is just about doing what makes you happy.

So with this guy I don’t think his actions are sustainable. He is welcome to check out our web site and see how we do things. But over time I think he will not be able to continue doing what he does. I do think the way Eco Brooklyn does things is sustainable and over time I think it will grow, both the company and the movement.

New Construction Should be Outlawed

I think new construction is to building like heroin is to health. It should be outlawed as a threat to our well-being. There are enough old buildings for us to renovate. New construction is a needless act of arrogance and self destruction.

There’s really not much more to say. I could explain why I guess but simply put, new construction uses up energy and resources that destroys the planet. No sane person would knowingly do it.

The only acceptable new construction, if such an oxymoron exists, is a net zero earth sheltered home built of totally local materials. Read anything by Wells, for example his book, “Gentle Architecture”.

For example:

earth_shelter

As a green contractor in Brooklyn and NY I am happy to say nobody has ever asked Eco Brooklyn to build new construction. There are too many Brownstones to renovate into GreenStones. And as far as empty lots, they are not aching to be smeared by some architects futile attempt to be original. The plot should be given back to nature with trees, plants and fauna.

Haven’t we covered enough of the globe with our crust, and haven’t we destroyed enough of the rest of the world to do it? Enough already. The only reason to build new is arrogant ignorance.

Anatomy of a Brownstone Event tomorrow

The NY City College of Technology does this cool seminar series called Anatomy of a Brownstone.  I’ll be one of their speakers. For more info see below. It is tomorrow.

anatomy of a brownstone1
anatomy of a brownstone
Spring 2010 Offering: Layouts and Lifestyles
Course Code: BRNS 032
Date: Saturday 3/13 1 – 5 pm
Fee: $40
Directions: click here

When it’s time to renovate your Brownstone, there may be nothing like the original. But how do you create a floor plan that fits your lifestyle? During this edition of the popular Anatomy of a Brownstone series, we will mix a little history and a lot of examples of what your neighbors’ Brownstones look like inside and outside their old homes. Architects and designers will show you how to fit your family’s life and style into a classic Brownstone.

Speakers

12 to 1pm

Alexander Stoltz AIA, Vaidya Stoltz Architects, and Kenneth Conzelmann, RA are members of the City Tech Architectural Technology department.
They will share examples of recent projects and offer insights into the architectural process- from ideas to finished home.

1 to 2 pm

Gennaro Brooks-Church, is a Certified Eco Broker, LEED AP, National Sustainable Building Adviser and the founder of Eco Brooklyn, a company that focuses on green brownstone renovations. He will discuss passive design approaches for creating energy-smart brownstones.

2 to 3 pm

Interior Designer Judith Angel, Allied Member ASID, will show how to bring rooms into focus using principles of form and design. Learn to use the objects you own and love as the starting point for a room that is distinctly your own.

4 to 5 pm

Debra Salomon, Program Developer at City Tech Division of Continuing Education and owner of 408 Group Design, will share favorite sources for fixtures and furnishings that will fit your style and budget.

Download registration form here and complete. (Include course code)

Ways To Register:

By Phone: Call 718 552-1170
charge cards

By Mail:
Complete registration form and mail check or money order to:
NYCCT Continuing Studies Center, 300 Jay Street, Howard Building 4th Floor
Brooklyn NY 11201

Walk in: 25 Chapel Street, 4th Floor, Brooklyn NY 11201
Click here for directions

Go Green Expo NYC

Go Green Expo NYC is coming up next week. See below to get the $10 special rate. I went last year and it was ok. It is really a subsection of Architectural Digest Home Design Show, although I’m sure it will be bigger this year.

Go Green Expo NYC in my opinion is profit based. Green makes money now so it is a business driven enterprise. I’m sure many people see nothing wrong with that. But whenever the reason for doing it is primarily profit driven and not ecologically driven I see problems with it.

Profit will always take precedence over ecology with their business model. So although I am glad they are doing the event, I still see their paradigm as old school capitalism, the very same model that ruined the earth in the first place.

Go Green Expo isn’t alone. Most businesses are going green for profit reasons. If the profit fades so will their interest in saving the planet. Of course most people will say, “Uh, Gennaro, it’s a business and its sole reason for existing is to make a profit. Otherwise why have a business.”

My answer is, “Change the definition of ‘business'”.

I think the mentality that business is solely here to make money, although still dominant, will destroy us. In my eyes business is a tool for furthering our morality, so the drive for corporate growth exists to make a larger impact in restoring our earth.

And the end does not justify the means. The business activities themselves must improve the planet. Having a company that clear cuts forests and donates some profits to the environment doesn’t cut it (pun). In the new business paradigm the actions of the business are what restore the planet, not part of the business’ profit.

Right now there are very few corporations whose activities restore the environment. Many corporations donate money and they are very happy to advertise that but then they turn around and continue to destroy the planet.

Most of the time their activities are completely legal and socially acceptable. Take for example the durth of “high end” condos that up and coming professionals strive to buy. For me this means we have a real crisis. If corporations don’t become active participants in restoring the world through their actual day to day profit making activities we will destroy ourselves.

Obviously as a Brooklyn green contractor our daily activities improve the planet. Our goal of a zero brownstone (zero landfill, zero materials, zero energy use) really makes the world a better place. And the more we do it the richer we become.

As a green builder I set up the company this way so it is easy. How other corporations set this up is not so easy. I think many just have to cease existing. How could a diamond company become green for example? I’m not talking green washing. How do you turn a corporation whose job it is to tear up the earth using slave labor into a company whose activities heal the planet. I don’t think it is possible. Tell them that. I’m sure they will close up shop and give away their money in embarrassment.

No easy solutions here. I think the only way is to form more and more truly green corporations (i.e. their profit is derived from making the world greener, their purpose is to make the world greenert, not to make profit. The profit is just a tool. As we create more new economy businesses like this the non-green companies will slowly grow old and die. Hopefully they die before the planet does.

Anyway, see below for the invite I got to attend the Go Green Expo NYC next week:

You’re invited to NYC’s premier eco-friendly event, Go Green Expo, coming to Pier 92 next weekend March 19-21!

Sponsored by CBS Television and co-located with the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, this year’s Go Green Expo is not to be missed! Go Green Expo invites business leaders, eco-minded consumers and their families to explore the latest in every aspect of green living and sustainable business practices including energy, home and building, transportation, electronics, food, and health & beauty.

For more information and a full schedule of event, visit http://www.gogreenexpo.com and use promo code GGENYC for discounted tickets – only $10 for the weekend and it includes complimentary access to the Architectural Digest Home Design Show! (normally $25)

Joining the lineup of keynote speakers this year are actress Mariel Hemingway, award-winning actor / director Ed Begley Jr. (presented by Enviro-Energies & Water for Life) and award-winning actor / political activist Matthew Modine. Additional eco-celebrity speakers include nationally-renowned eco-friendly interior designer Robin Wilson, nutritional expert and world-class athlete Bobby Williams, Eco-Sex author Stefanie Iris Weiss, award-winning environmental journalist Dan Shapley, eco-author and -blogger Mindy Pennybacker, eco-fashion designer Linda Loudermilk, and more.

Go Green Expo offers a multitude of interactive seminars and speaker panels led by industry-leading experts including Watershed Program Director Craig Michaels, Senior V.P. Worldwide of Rainforest Alliance Ana Paula Tavares, eco-business leader David Kistner of Green Apple Cleaners and founder / CEO of Go Green Expo, Bradford Rand. NYSERDA will be hosting a panel discussion discussing Workforce Development Initiatives, Green Jobs Green New York, Green Multifamily Buildings and Photovoltaic (PV) Systems. Other topics will include Success Stories of Eco-Entrepreneurs, Creating an Eco-Logical Home, Younger Generations Going Green, The State of Our Environment, and Eco-Fashion and Lifestyle.

Key exhibitors include The Home Depot, which will showcase the array of Eco-Options available in its stores, automakers Volkswagen and General Motors, earth-friendly paper goods company Marcal, eco-responsible dental care company Aquafree, sustainable printers Print Responsibly and Linda Loudermilk’s eco-fashion line.

For more information and a full schedule of the show’s events, please visit
http://www.gogreenexpo.com

WHERE AND WHEN:
Pier 92
12th Avenue and West 55th Street – on the Hudson River
www.piers9294.com

Trade Day:
Friday, March 19 from 10am – 7pm
Tickets are complimentary to trade professionals, the press and corporate buyers (please bring business card for admission).

Open to Public:
Saturday, March 20 from 10 am – 6 pm

Sunday, March 21 from 10 am – 5 pm

$25 for a full-weekend pass–open to both business buyers and consumers–includes complimentary admission to the Architectural Digest Home Design Show located next to Go Green Expo. Use promo code GGENYC for discounted tickets.

Tickets allow access to the entire exhibit floor as well as all panel and speaker discussions. Go Green Expo tickets at the door or online at http://www.gogreenexpo.com

Looking forward to seeing you at the event!

insatiable hunger of growth vs nature

There is a myth in Western society that growth is a positive thing. If your company grows it is considered a sign of success. Growing ones wealth is thought to be a universal desire.

But growth is an energy without morality. We are the ones that make it moral. It is not good or bad. Or better said, it can be either good or bad, both or neither.

Cancer, where cells grow out of control, is the best example of bad growth. Hormone filled animals are bad growth. A sprawling city out of control is bad growth. Obesity, one of America’s “largest” problems, is unhealthy growth.

Yet we hold onto the notion that expansion, rising up, accumulating and growing is good for us and the world. We hold to the mantra that our growth in technology is a good thing that can solve our problems. Our growth in wealth as a nation is good for the world since we have money to help the poorer countries, right?

But the major flaw in this thinking is an ignorance of the whole. If something goes up, something else is going down. If we are growing, they might be decreasing. It is not that the two are necessarily connected but the world is an ebb and flow, a yin and yang, a black and a white. You don’t stay young forever do you?

There is no such thing as constant positive expansion. We need to wean ourselves of the tunnel vision that there is only one good way to go: up.

Expansion, growth, bigger, wider, longer, richer, and the holy grail of them all: more productive. These are part of life. But they are not better that contraction, smaller, thinner, shorter, poorer, slower, and god forbid, being less productive.

Since most of us are under a constant pressure to get things done, we have become obsessed with productivity. We believe and have good proof that if we just become more productive we can finally do all the things demanded of us in the day. Therefore productivity is good…

But being productive says nothing about the reasons BEHIND your productivity.

That is what we all forget about.

In our constant race to go bigger and more productive we loose track of the reasons BEHIND it all.

Have you ever gone on holiday and realized that 90% of the things in your life back home are not as important as you thought?

From your wider perspective on holiday it really seems trivial whether you organize the garage or not. Who cares! Or how about that thing you had to do at your job? Like it is going to really matter to the world!

And that is the irony. Most of our productivity is aimed at things that don’t matter.

In our quest to run faster than the rat next to us we forget the reasons behind why we started running in the first place.

The solution?

To step back and take a moment to look into the reasons BEHIND the actions you are about to take. Why would I want to open a new store? Why do I feel the need to clean the garage? Why do I want to build the extension on the house? Why do I want to grow the company?

It is not about self doubt or holding back your potential. It is about knowing what the solid foundation is from where you will jump. And it is about not forgetting it in the noise of the day.

That way when distractions come you will not mindlessly speed up.

Buddha is the most productive person in the world and he spends most of his day sitting with his eyes closed.

These thoughts came after I watched a private school here in Carroll Gardens quibble with the locals over whether the school could add an extension and decrease it’s front garden. The locals wanted to keep the garden. The school, in it’s quest to grow, wanted to expand it’s classroom size.

This fight of human expansion vs. nature is so primordial. Everywhere in the world we see the tension. So far nature has lost almost every time.

And the epic fight was even more symbolic since the school is Jewish and the locals are Italian. The expansion of one race over another. The expansion of one religion over another. These are such old themes.

One side sees it as simple growth, the other side sees it as encroachment.

In this case I am happy to say it looks like the garden will win and they won’t be allowed to expand.

Another example: My mother has a beach front property with a little beach cabin on it. The property could be developed to build six beach front condos. It could allow six families to enjoy the beach. It could make my mother rich. I’m a builder. I could do it…..

But then we sit back and look at the reasons BEHIND such an expansion. Do we really need that extra money? The extra work? Does the property need that extra housing load?

It would be a lot of work. The property would be ruined aesthetically IMO. Even though it is perfectly legal, we would piss the community off. In the big picture would we be helping the world?

In our insatiable drive to expand we might be tempted to build six condos on the lot. But is that drive to expand simply blind drive or is it a wise action with the interest of everyone including the world? Are we good enough as we are?

GOOD ENOUGH.

Are you good enough the way you are now? Good enough is a wonderful place to be most of the time. It is not about settling. It is about saying, this is good enough, now I will spend the rest of the day watching the sunset.

Brownstone: No Heat Needed!

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We just went away and left our brownstone for two weeks. We turned off all the heat. The only appliance making heat was the fridge. And while we were gone NY got hit with one of the worst snow storms in history.

How cold was our home when we came back? A balmy 60 degrees. Not bad considering there was ice on the door step. I believe it is because we insulated the house so well and designed for solar heat.

Green Spiral Staircase

Here is a spiral staircase we are designing for a client. We salvaged an antique round oak beam. It measures 14 feet long and is a solid 8 inches in diameter. The wood is so dense it takes four guys to lift it. We tried cutting it with a chainsaw and broke the chainsaw. It is really beautiful old growth wood.

We suggested we notch old joists into it to form a spiral staircase. The joists are 14 inch wide and 4 inch thick Douglass fir. We hope to salvage an old fire escape to do the railings.

Here is an image of the planned stairs. The rendering is by Architect Nick Liberis.

green stairs