Eco Brooklyn is a Natural Pool Installer

For the past couple years we at Eco Brooklyn have invested a lot of time learning how to create natural ecosystems in the New York environment. Our work has paid off with the near completion of the gardens at the Eco Brooklyn show house.

Here is a sneak preview of our front yard pond and back yard natural swimming pool. With these two showcases we hope to provide natural swimming pool installation and pond services for the New York area.

We have been doing a lot of building with salvaged materials and low energy design in an attempt to reduce the footprint on the world. We gradually moved into the gardens of the brownstones because as a green builder it all becomes connected.

The gray water and compost from the house goes into the gardens. The rain from the green roof passes down the living walls and into the dry wells in the yards. This kind of design reduces the footprint on the world but also very directly on NYC. If everyone built like this we would not have sewage running into our waterways and we would be able to swim in them.

Keep in mind the pictures below are taken in a “normal” Brooklyn brownstone front and back yard….add a little green building knowledge, some hard work, inspiration from Manahatta and Presto! you get this:

Show House back yard pool
Back Yard pool
Back yard pool. Honestly, it is more of a dunking pond but it’s a pool by NY standards!
Front Yard pond

Green Building and Food

In my ongoing self education on green building I watched a movie tonight called Forks Over Knives. Food and building are intimately connected, just like fast food and habitat destruction are connected and healthy food and green building are connected.

Keeping our “temple”, our body, healthy is so important. What kind of building you live in, what kind of food you eat, and the people you associate with will for the most part determine your health.

I liked Forks Over Knives a lot. It was a powerful argument for eating a plant based diet. The argument was not moral in terms of animal rights. It was purely health related. Simply put the movie showed conclusive evidence that if you eat a plant based died you will be significantly healthier than if you eat an animal based food.

The movie dispelled a lot of myths about food:

Myth 1: Meat is needed for health and protein. Actually meat is not healthy and not needed for protein. They show a vegan cage fighter as an example and also provide lots of others where meat causes cancer.

Myth 2: Cows milk is healthy and needed for calcium. Actually cows milk is not healthy and not needed for calcium. It actually can sap the body of calcium.

Myth 3: A plant based died does not provide you with the protein you need. Actually it does.

If you are wondering why there can be such contradictions you guessed right: corporate interest. The government scientists who proclaim what is healthy (and thus determine menus in schools, army, hospitals etc) are also working for large corporations who sell food….

Who created the 4 food groups? Corporations lobbied for it to sell what they were selling.

I read a book called Nourishing Traditions, that made a huge impact on me. It argued that most traditional cultures actually ate large amounts of animal fat. It condoned eating butter, eggs, and organic meat. The book made a lot of sense to me so I followed the died.

Two months later I was 15 pounds fatter and my cholesterol had gone too high. “Duh!” you say? Well maybe but the book was pretty amazing. Despite that I backed off the diet and began searching elsewhere. Forks Over Knives is the direction I’m going.

The facts are very clear. Watch the movie. It is empowering.

 

Biophilia in Brooklyn

ny green builder

As I was walking to the subway after work today, I passed a man who was leaving a few belongings on the sidewalk in front of his house. He is moving to DC tomorrow and, instead of just throwing the stuff away he couldn’t bring with him, he was leaving it out for passerbys to take. There were a few books, some old records, half broken appliances, but the prize giveaway was this massive pot of aloe vera plants.

ny green builder

I quickly grabbed the plant and continued to the subway. As I was riding the J train out to Bushwick, everyone in my car was eying my plant. People were pointing and whispering. When I got off the train and commenced the two block walk to my apartment, I kid you not, everyone on the street stopped to tell me how beautiful my plant was.

A young latino man who was working outside an appliance repair shop stopped me to talk about my plant and asked if he could take one of the baby aloe vera shoots extending from the mother plant. I happily gifted him a young sprout.

I continued walking and was again stopped by a group of Jamaican men who were barbecuing outside their newly opened thrift and clothing store next to my building. They too asked for a shoot, which I gladly relinquished.

Just outside my apartment I was stopped yet again by a young woman. She saw that I had given the two men a sprout and she asked if she could have one too. She didn’t know what kind of plant it was or how to care for it so I taught her a bit about both. She walked away thrilled.

Now the plant, which is still quite sizable, is sitting on my balcony overlooking the J train where commuters can easily look out and see it.

I felt compelled to write about this because I was so impressed by how a green action like donating items instead of throwing them away led to a whole chain reaction of community engagement. It’s incredible that a mere plant can stir up so much intrigue among city dwellers! This especially struck me because earlier in the day I was reading about E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis. Biophilia is a love for living things. The Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between humans and living systems (i.e. plants and animals). Wilson suggests that as humans were evolving we developed a love for nature because it sustained us and because our love for nature sustained it.

After my experience today, I have no doubt that Wilson was on to something.

 

By Malone Matson

Bioswale Basics

Do you ever think about where all that water goes when it rains?

In a natural system, most rainwater gets absorbed in the ground where it falls. It gradually flows, or percolates, through the soil until it reaches the water table (the point in which an underground area is saturated with water.) As the water percolates through the soil, it gets filtered of contaminants like pathogens, pollutants, and silt. Gravity slowly pushes the groundwater to a retention area, a place that holds the water like a river, lake, or the ocean.

Managing stormwater

In an urban environment where rainwater falls on impermeable surfaces, surfaces that water cannot pass through like parking lots, the rain becomes runoff which flows over the impermeable surfaces picking up pollutants like lead and then directly into a manmade drain. This water flows through a city’s sewer system where it is eventually treated, which takes a lot of energy and money, and is then released (usually not entirely clean and with harmful chemicals like chlorine that are used to treat the water) into local waterways. During times of flooding, which are becoming more frequent in the Northeast, sewer systems become overwhelmed and cities are forced to release untreated, raw sewage into nearby rivers and oceans.

urban runoff

 

To reduce the damaging effects of flooding and wastewater overflow, urban dwellers should create more permeable surfaces like gardens, specifically ones with bioswales. A bioswale is a low-lying area designed to remove silt and pollution from runoff and to manage flooding.

Many considerations need to be taken when designing a bioswale:

  • Location: must be in a low-lying area where water tends to collect.
  • Gradient: flat areas or areas with a slope greater than 5% are not practical for bioswales.
  • Drainage: use highly permeable mediums like gravel or coarse sands. Do not build a bioswale in an area with a high water table.
  • Plants: choose plants that are both flood and drought resistant. Native plants are better because they do not need fertilizer, will handle the climate more heartily, and will increase biodiversity.
  • Purpose: design your bioswale to solve a specific problem like flooding, high levels of nitrogen/phosphorus, pollution mitigation, or lack of biodiversity.

As an NY green contracting company with landscape design services, Eco Brooklyn can help you design and install a bioswale that will effectively resolve flooding problems, reduce the amount of contaminants entering local waterways, increase groundwater volume, and aid local biodiversity all while adding beauty to your backyard.

backyard flooding brooklyn
This is an example of a bioswale designed specifically to reduce the effects of flooding. It is placed at the lowest point in the yard and is sloped downward to move water to either a drain or retention area. The gravel allows water to enter the ground quickly to stop flooding. We would add more plants to this one if it were ours.
NY green builder
Rain Gardens are a type of bioswale. They tend to have a more aesthetic focus while still redirecting stormwater back into the ground and away from sewer systems.

As part of the city’s plan to retrofit New York, a number of 5 x 20 ft bioswales will be built along city streets.  Read more here.

Eco Brooklyn is planning on building a 5 x 13 ft tree planter that will act partly as a bioswale in the sidewalk outside the Green Show House. We are getting our applications in and revising our design so we hope the project will be underway shortly! More on that as we progress…

 

ADDENDUM: WATER CONTAMINANTS 101

  • Silt: Silt is made up of fine particles of soil, sand, and dust. It is easily transported by runoff because it is so light. When silt enters a waterbody it tends to linger at the surface of the water and eventually settles at the bottom. Not only is the cloudy effect of silt unattractive, but it also blocks sunlight from reaching the aquatic plants inhabiting the water body. Without sunlight those plants will die, diminishing habitat and food sources for aquatic animal life. Aquatic plants also play a major role in adding oxygen to the water. Without them, water bodies can become anaerobic, devoid of oxygen, which makes them inhospitable to plant and animal life and undrinkable for humans.
  • Phosphorus and nitrogen: These are the two elements that drive plant growth. Excess nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) enter groundwater mainly from fertilizer that gets washed away as runoff. Large amounts of N and P in waterbodies tend to support large algal blooms. Algae is microscopic and lives at the surface of the water. With enough sunlight, N, and P, blooms can become so large that, like silt, they can block sunlight from entering the water, starving the aquatic plants. When the algae eventually dies, it sinks to the bottom of the water where it will be decomposed, a process that uses up oxygen, thus subtracting further from the water’s oxygen levels. Further, some algal blooms can be toxic, harming the animal life around it, or can be ingested by fish then making them toxic for humans to eat. If you use fertilizer in your yard, consider using plants that have high-phosphorus absorption.
  • Pathogens: A pathogen is a virus, bacteria, or other microorganism that can cause disease. Pathogens are most commonly introduced to water through agricultural runoff of manure and animal wastes.
  • Pharmaceuticals: When we ingest drugs, traces of them are excreted in our urine. These chemicals make their way through the sewer system and into local water bodies. Scientists are not entirely sure how much of an impact pharmaceuticals really have in water systems. It has been suggested that increased levels of estrogen, which come from birth control pills, may be effecting sexual development of some aquatic animals.
  • Heavy metals: Heavy metals enter the hydrosphere mainly through industrial practices like mining and smelting. Heavy metals are dangerous because in large quantities they can be poisonous to humans and animals. If your backyard has a lead problem, for example, use plants that absorb metals. Eco Brooklyn also offers soil remediation services.
By Malone Matson

 

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Split AC vs. Window AC Revisited

Last week I wrote a blog post after I calculated the energy savings per year and the payback period for a Split AC/heat pump versus a Window AC. The results were interesting. It should me that the price differential between the two alternatives would only be around $47 a year. This would mean the payback period would be over 40 years! I sincerely hoped this was not true!

I published the post on Eco-Brooklyn’s website and Gennaro sent the link out to his circle of green building friends hoping to get some feedback. What we received back in a few short days was an overwhelming amount of feedback and recommendations.

Here is a picture of the Mitsubishi Split AC that we installed.

The split AC/heat pump cost $2100 to cover the cost of the unit and installation. It has a 9000 Btu/h output and a 26 SEER rating. For this exercise I used the most energy efficient, Energy Star rated, and most purchased window AC unit at Sears that costs around $210. The unit has an output of 8000 Btu/h output and a 10.8 EER rating. I converted EER to SEER in the exercise below.

The group of green builders voiced their opinions and came to the conclusion that it was too difficult to determine specific solar and internal heat gains for this type of calculation. Also, there is an indeterminable amount of air leakage through window and wall sources. These provide large questionable variables when trying to determine which system to implement.

Our friend Lee Wang installing the split AC.

During the conversation on the thread I discovered that I had the wrong formula to determine the cooling load for the area using the different AC systems. In the original formula I divided the (Btu/h x cooling degree days x 24) by the change in average high and low within the month. I then divided that number by the SEER to get the total kWh needed for cooling.

I discovered that instead of dividing by the change in temperature within the month I had to divide by the design temperature difference which is the difference between the average outside temperature and the optimal energy you want inside. For this exercise I had to use 65 degrees Fahrenheit for the optimal indoor temperature because that is the temperature that the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) uses to determine cooling degree days. The average temperature in New York during the months of the cooling degree days (May-September) is 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Here is the new formula I used to compute the total kWh consumption per year for each system:

Cooling load =                 Btu/h x CDD x 24                                

1000 x SEER x design temp. difference

Instead of using the individual cooling degree days for each month I used the total cooling degree days in New York according to the NREL. With the new formula I re-computed all of my previous calculations to get the following results:

Split AC

Cooling load= 9000 Btu/h x 1096 CDD x 24 h/day  = 659 kWh

1000 x 26 x 13.8

1059 kWh x .18 cents/kWh= $118.76 a year

Window AC

Cooling load= 8000 Btu/h x 1096 CDD x 24 h/day   = 1059 kWh

1000 x 14.4 x 13.8

679 kWh x .18 cents/kWh = $190.62 a year

Payback period = ($2100 – $210) / $71 = 26 years

With the new formulas I discovered the payback period decreased from 40 years to 26 years. An improvement, but it is still not the best. But there is a discrepancy between the amount of energy consumed by the two different alternatives. On the market, there is no window AC that consumes 9000 Btu/h so I used the 8000 Btu/h alternative.

Our friend Lee Wang hooking up with compressor to the Split AC.

So then I decided to take the future into consideration. Because of the rapid advance of global warming we are now subject to a much hotter climate, which will result in the increased usage of air conditioners.

So now let’s use a hypothetical example that will probably become a reality in the years to come. I want to equate the cooling Btu/h equal to each other for the most realistic outcome. I will hold the type of split AC constant, but change the window AC to a hypothetical one with a cost of $250, a cooling load of 9000 Btu/h, and a SEER of 14.4.

Now, let’s assume that because of global warming the climate of New York City becomes like the climate of Washington DC. The amount of cooling degree days in New York will increase to 1317 and the average temperature will increase to 84 degrees Fahrenheit during the warm months. Here is what happened with the payback period between the two alternatives:

Split AC

Cooling load = 9000 Btu/h x 1317 CDD x 24 = 2399 kWh

1000 x 26 x 19

2399 kWh x .18 cents/kWh = $431 a year

Window AC

Cooling load = 9000 Btu/h x 1317 CCD x 24 = 4333 kWh

1000 x 14.4 x 19

4333 kWh xx .18 cents/kWh = $779 a year

Payback period = ($2100 – $250) / $348 = 5.31 years

Now, a payback period of 5 years is something to get very excited about. This means that currently in DC, the payback period for a split AC is only 5 years. Imagine if we go farther South: Richmond, Charlotte, Georgia, Miami?! It seems like the split AC should be the only option when compared to window AC’s.  In the coming years, we will see split AC’s becoming more efficient while the temperature will continue to get warmer, making them a more viable option for the average consumer in New York.

Close shot of the wiring required for the Split AC unit.

But as of right now this is not the case. 26 years for the initial calculated payback period is definitely quite a long time to wait. But there are definitely some discrepancies in my calculations and facts that would shorten this payback period. First of all, I do not calculate for any solar heat gains from windows or internal heat gains from people and electronic equipment. Also, I do not account for any air leakage from the building. Both of these factors will give off heat, requiring more air conditioning. In addition, window AC’s are highly expendable, and usually stop working after 3-4 years, so they will have to be replaced. Finally, I do not take into account that the Split AC is also a heat pump which will provide warmth during the winter months.

All of these factors are uncertainties that will most likely shorten the payback period for the split AC, making it an economically viable option for many. An added benefit of installing a split AC system is that you are hiring someone to do so. Consequently, the money that you pay to your local installer generates wages for that individual, which translates to spending, which revitalizes and perpetuates local economies.

Lee putting the finishing touches on the installation of the Split AC.

As a green contractor, Eco-Brooklyn loves split AC’s because they are extremely efficient, not energy intensive, and help reduce our customer’s carbon footprint. We have our own AC installer and have installed many split AC’s, both in normal houses and in the Passive House (in that case it was the only source of cooling and heating).

As of right now, green construction companies like Eco-Brooklyn are willing to pay the premium on split modal AC because of our belief in reducing our carbon and ecological footprint. We also like to think realistically about the future; global warming is currently upon us. It is only going to get hotter from here, so preparing for high energy costs and high temperature definitely seems like a good idea to us.