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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
We at EcoBrooklyn engage in a number of exciting green building projects and experiments throughout the year, but with the hot months ahead at the top of our list is the natural pool for the show house and with its completion so close we can almost feel the cool, energetic, life infused water on our toes.
A “Natural pool” is more about incorporating nature into the design and functions of the pool, harnessing natural processes to maintain quality, swimable water and blurring the line between built and naturally occurring.
A healthy body of fresh water has a number of checks and balances that keep it in balance. A Natural Pool simply recreates these elements. Nature does the rest.
A Natural Pool has the swimming area and then another area called the regeneration zone. This zone contains plants and, most importantly, surface area usually in the form of gravel that microbes can live on.
The plants and microbes compete with algae for food and since you pack it with surface area the microbes beat out the algae. In essence you create an environment where food (leaves, soil, bugs, and other organic matter) is scarce, so what food there is becomes eaten by plants and microbes instead of algae.
The process is fairly flexible and can be as simple or complex as you like as long as you have a few basic elements:
-No chemical fertilizers/ pesticides used adjacent to the site
-Natural filtration system
-A variety of different plants, surface area and microbes to promote a balanced ecosystem
The primary appeal of a natural pool is the absence of the typical cocktail of harsh chemicals designed to kill pretty much everything in the water, except the swimmer more or less.
The second attraction is the positive ecological effect; this is something you can build with salvaged and recycled materials while helping to reinstate local/native ecosystems.
As with most things green there is a degree of time and thought investment not usually associated with the typical energy sapping, chlorinated eyesore.
Maintenance is still simpler and less expensive, but one needs to learn and follow a set of steps and rules, which as one grows with the pool these steps become second nature, or perhaps first nature…
Thankfully there are always pioneers braving new frontiers and providing the general populace with valuable resources and tools to implement in their own projects. The Europeans especially have been at the forefront of the natural pools race for over a decade now. They have built massive public natural swimming pools that cater to thousands of people with great success.
Below is a list of websites and organizations specifically geared towards natural pool construction; they provide excellent technical suggestions for all types of designs and constraints as well as helpful trouble shooting for any problems that may arise. Also they can provide you with competent local green contractors and builders in your area familiar with this sort of construction.
In my early twenties I was a vegan for ethical reasons. It only lasted a year because I did not know how to eat a good vegan diet. But ever since then I have been a vegetarian who eats meat….Yes I know that makes no sense.
Anyway, now as a New York green contractor I revisit the dilemma of eating meat constantly.
The facts overwhelmingly show that a vegetarian diet is better for everyone – people, animals, the planet. I spend my days improving the ecology of New York and thus can’t help but ignore that a vegetarian diet furthers my efforts.
At this point I only eat meat from the Farmer’s Market and a local butcher who sells grass fed meat. If you ignore the whole killing part these animals have a pretty good life. I get my eggs from a local farmer and at this point I practically know the free range chickens by name. And I only eat meat sparingly – maybe once a week.
But I still look forward to the day I can eat no meat. The reasons are too compelling.
Below I share with you two powerful videos on this topic. I prefer to focus on positive things since it is much more satisfying than focusing on what is wrong with the world. But it is important to educate oneself and this sometimes requires taking an in depth look at what is wrong.
These videos are not pleasant. They point out the horror of the animal cruelty industry – meat, milk, fur….
I suggest you watch them when you are centered, honest and strong. Moving to a vegetarian diet does not happen overnight. To be effective it must happen over time in order for your lifestyle and body to adapt and lock it in for the long run.
I do believe a vegetarian diet is a good thing to move towards and it makes the lives of so many – animals and humans alike – much better.
After checking out these videos you may want to watch Food Inc.
I spent the day in the Eco Brooklyn garden with seven interns today hauling salvaged blue stone around and working on the natural swimming pool. Typically we are working around the pool so they have their shoes off.
But today I had them wear shoes to protect them from the heavy stones they were hauling.
I know the garden very well and can navigate the many native plants and stones with my eyes closed. For the most part the interns have been pretty good at where they put their bare feet as well, even if it is more to protect their virgin feet than to protect the garden.
But today they were like a herd of elephants. Carried away with their work, they forgot what was beneath their shoes. And asking them to be more aware didn’t lessen the damage.
Considering they were so intelligent in other areas I expected a much higher level of awareness from them and I found myself getting frustrated. And it wasn’t like they didn’t care or had physical disabilities. These college level athletes were mortified when I pointed out the damage their feet were doing.
It made me think about intelligence in general and how different societies value different things. In mainstream North America intelligence is measured in college test exams. In the Jungles of the Amazon intelligence is measured in whether you step on a snake or not.
But more importantly I had this profound realization that these seven intelligent college grads had spent the vast majority of their lives walking on dead materials – concrete, tile, car carpet, varnished wood – with shoes. They were completely illiterate when it comes to talking to the alive earth with their feet.
99% of the time they don’t need to be aware of where they are stepping. They have to navigate dead objects like getting out of a car, running on a track or walking up stairs but these things are all standardized – hard, flat, lifeless – so the process requires minimal awareness. The worst that can happen is they step in dog crap and never do they worry about killing anything.
The Eco Brooklyn back yard, however, is full of life and far from standard. There are little piles of stones to be toppled, plants of all sizes to be trampled, snails and bugs to be crushed, and all sorts of other life forms like mushrooms, moss, lichen, and berries that a Nike shoe easily kills.
This lack of connection between our feet and the soil is powerful. I saw these kids with great intentions slowly trampling their surroundings and it brought up in me much more emotions than what was at hand. It reminded me of the many times I see environmental destruction due to a lack of awareness of and connection with the earth.
People are good. But disconnect them from their surroundings and they become killer monkeys.
This was a real learning experience for me as I work with them as a mentor. I have extra wide feet because I spent most of my summers as a boy barefoot. I remember crying from the pain of trying to put my feet into shoes at the end of summer for school. Maybe this gives me good connection between my feet and the soil. It isn’t much compared with so many people on this planet who live closely with nature but in NYC’s concrete jungle I’m an exception.
It drove home in me that more important than understanding the ecology of a natural pool or eco garden is having the awareness of where we step, both physically and metaphorically. An awareness of ourselves as we move on this planet and impact other life forms is the height of environmentalism. This has been a valuable lessen for me both in my own life and in my teaching.
As a green NY builder we are very interested the possibility of harnessing the massive tidal energy that surrounds Manhattan. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) program began in 2002 with the goal of building an underwater tidal farm. Four years later in 2006 the installation of the first full scale (5m diameter rotor) turbine was planted into the East river.
This became the world’s first grid connected array of tidal turbines. Benefits of this underwater farm are that they are, well, underwater, thus avoiding the visual issues associated with massive wind turbines or black rows of solar panels.
Tidal power is predictable and reliable, flowing with the everyday force of the moon moving water in and out of the East river. Because the East river is next to underground transmission lines, the turbine generated power could easily be plugged into the existing power grid, allowing for the tidal energy to be sent directly to customers.
The density of the water is greater than air which means that fewer turbines are necessary to produce the same amount of electricity as wind turbines at a higher rotational velocity. If the project is successful, the East river could host 300 turbines, providing 10 MW of renewable energy for the city, enough to power up to 8,000 homes.
That power could displace the equivalent of 68,000 barrels of oil, or 430 million cubic feet of natural gas per year. Like all renewable energy, it isn’t the solution in itself but is part of a solution where energy comes from many local sustainable sources instead of it all coming from oil.
Another benefit to this power source is that it is an on-site power generation source, unlike coal power plants which are built away from cities to prevent their heavy air pollution from affecting the population. Along with the coal plant’s expensive transmission lines and relay stations needed in order to deliver the electricity to where it is needed, the total farm is an attractive part of the solution.
Conversely tidal turbines will enable the city to obtain a distributed energy source. Distributed energy systems generate power on a small scale ranging from 3 kW to 10,000 kW, the usual problem with this is that these generators are expensive. However the city will reclaim the cost of these generators by energy savings in just a few years.
Now the city will have the capability of generating power close to if not in the same building it will be used. The effect of this will be the revenue saved by not having to build and maintain transmission lines and relay stations. In addition these renewable sources will easily be able to integrate into Con Edison’s future smart grid.
We are excited to see this project progress. It makes a lot of sense on many levels. The size of this project is much larger than the sustainable jobs Eco Brooklyn does, since we typically work on residential brownstones. The idea is that all green builders, large or small, help build decentralized energy infrastructures in their own area, some large enough to feed a whole town, others so small they feed a fish pond. But added together they create an intelligent grid of energy that isn’t too big to fail or dependant on one centralized source.
Eco Brooklyn’s director, Gennaro Brooks-Church will be giving a presentation at New York’s 2012 Passive House Symposium. The topic of his presentation is “Radical Sustainability and Passive House.” The all day event is filled with interesting speakers and is a must for anyone interested in the worlds most cutting edge energy efficient building technique.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – June 8 – The 2012 Passive House Symposium is a one day exploration of the many Passive House projects underway in the New York area. With over forty Passive House buildings currently in the process of being designed and built, New York is a leader in the US for Passive House construction. The symposium will demonstrate how architects, builders and owners are meeting the demanding Passive House standard, making a substantive contribution to New York’s climate change mitigation efforts.
Presentations will include 6 retrofit projects and 9 new building projects that span every phase of the process. Rowhouses, multifamily, commerical and institutional buildings will be presented – located from eastern Long Island to New York City to Upstate New York. Attendees will be eligible to earn 5.5 hours of Professional Education Credits for NY State.
Passive House Project, NYC
Tomas O’Leary, Director of the Passive House Academy, will provide an international context for New York’s efforts. Tomas will describe how this global standard is evolving while growing exponentially. He will show examples that include Brussels Belgium where Passive House will be required for all new and retrofit construction in 2015.
Certified Passive Houses: Orient Point by Ryall Porter Sheridan Architects with Right Environments, and Omega Institute by North River Architecture + Planning will be presented.
Passive Passion, a 20 minute documentary on Passive House in the US, featuring New York practitioners and Dr. Wolfgag Feist, by Charlie Hoxie, will be viewed during the day.
Round Table Presentations: A variety of practitioners, each focusing on a different essential aspect of Passive House design and construction, will provide observations about the complexities and possibilities of this exciting new building standard for the New York area.
Saturday June 23, 2012 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM EDT
141 Convent Avenue
Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture
The City College of New York
New York, NY 10031
Passive House is an international building standard that affordably achieves the very highest levels of comfort and indoor air quality while reducing heating and cooling energy costs by up to 90%. Passive House was formalized in Germany in the early 1990s by Dr. Wolfgang Feist and the Passive House Institute. Passive House, with a proven track record of accurately predicting and delivering building performance, offers a clear, sustainable and affordable path for combating climate change.
NY Passive House (NYPH) is an independent non-for-profit trade organization working to promote a healthy, comfortable and energy-efficient built environment through the promotion of the Passive House building standard. Formed in 2010, NYPH is supported by member dues and industry sponsors. NYPH facilitates the exchange of information and experiences, among practitioners of the Passive House building standard.
Many Brooklyn homeowners have inherited a common problem: contaminated backyards. This is a result of over 100 years of garbage incineration, car fumes and toxic paint. In New York, soil is deemed contaminated if there are more than 400 ppm of lead present in the soil (in Euro the maximum is 100ppm!).
A few months ago, Eco Brooklyn wrote a blog about soil tests and remediation jobs they have done. The results from the soil analysis were staggering…the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse backyard had 3,500 ppm of lead!
Lead, and other heavy metal contaminated can be very harmful to health. Especially children.
There are the few steps you can take to test your own backyard!
A soil test is an analysis of a soil sample to determine the content of nutrient, contaminates, composition, acidity and other characteristics of the soil. Contaminate elements usually include arsenic, barium, cadium, copper, mercury and lead. By performing a soil test we are attempting to indicate the deficiencies that need to be remedied and the toxicities from excessive fertility.
How to test your soil for contaminates:
Method for Garden Soil Sampling
Use a spade or trowel and take samples of soil from 10 or more random locations distributed throughout your area of interest. Place all the sampled into a clean container. For small areas, a minimum of 3 samples is recommended.
Grass-Sampling depth should be the top 3-4 inches deep
For other plants, the sampling depth should be the top 6-8 inches.
Mix up the container and remove pebbles, leaves and plant roots. Transfer at least one cup of the soil into a .5 lb plastic bag and seal it. Try not to fill the entire bag because it will be flattened in the mail.
Place the plastic in a mailing envelope or a small box. If the samples are wet, dry them at room temperature. Drying the soil by using a stove or radiator may change the readings.
Lead Test – $10.00
Heavy Metal Test – $35.00
Basic Soil Quality Test – $45.00
Soil samples are screened for (1) pH, (2) salt content, (3) soil class using jar test, (4) NPK levels using field kits, and (5) lead, chromium and zinc using XRF analyzer. Results available within one week.
Soil samples are analyzed for (1) total organic content, (2) nitrate, phosphate, ammonia contents, (3) potassium and micro-nutrients with modified Morgan extraction method, (4) soil class using hydrometer method, and (5) heavy metals using wet digestion-ICP-MS method.
Five toxic metals (Pb, Cr, As, Cd and Ni) are analyzed for plant tissue samples with acid digestion ICP-MS method. Please note that these samples cannot be sent through mail (i.e., must be dropped off in person). Results available 2-4 weeks.
Advanced Soil Quality Test – $75.00
Tissue Analysis: Heavy Metals in Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs – $30.00
You can conveniently send your soil to the testing lab at Brooklyn College. Dr. Cheug, a Professor of Earth science and soil analyst has upgraded his techniques so that the process only takes an hour!
What do you do if your soil is contaminated?
There are two different routes that you can take. The first is to depend on the power to plants to do most of the remediation. Ideally you would use plants that are not used for food or medicine.
After the plants have grown and absorbed the contaminates, the plants need to be removed from the contaminated area. This process would have to occur multiple times over a few years.
The second possible route is a complete soil remediation, where a company, such as Eco Brooklyn comes in and removes the top 6-8 inches of soil, places a barrier down and then covers the void with new soil. There is potential for contamination as the workers walk through the house creating opportunities for contaminates to be brought into the house.
Eco Brooklyn recommends that a complete soil remediation is the best way to react to soil contamination. Although there is a potential to contaminate a home, we believe that with our careful procedure, the results are safer and more effective.
Earlier this week, Eco Brooklyn received an email for a South Park Slope resident who operates a community garden. She explained that the community garden on the corner of 6th ave and 15th called 6/15 Green is being threatened by the construction of a new building. The developer plans to build a 4-story structure adjacent to the south side of the garden, which would cut off the some of the direct sunshine that the garden currently receives.
The shadow cast by the building, will not only threaten the lives of the plans but also the environmental and solar education programs as the garden is also equipped with solar panel and a pond. The solar panels power both the pond pump and an electrical outlet, which is intended for residents to use their laptops pond-side.
The garden organizers have launched awareness of this community problem through this site. 6/15 Green asked Eco Brooklyn to do a solar analysis to determine the shadow cast at different times of the year.
Developers often do not realize how the shadows cast by their new buildings affect the contextual community. Residents of the existing communities are concerned about the changing environments for their gardens, flowers, pond etc. and they should be. Here, I will try to explain how we can calculate the shadow a building will project. There are three things that you will need to accomplish this.
A scientific calculator
The height of the building.
Altitude of the sun
The sun’s altitude in the sky changes every day and every season. These observations are relative to us observing the sun here on earth whereas the sun itself isn’t changing its position. The earth is changing its location and angle in its revolution around the sun, which causes the sun to appear to change its position.
Length Of Shadow (LOS) = Height Of Building (HOB) / Tan (Sun Alt.).
The sun altitude can be obtained from this website this site. If you’re having trouble with the equation this site will do it for you this site.
For the analysis for the 6/15 Green we used Google Sketchup, a 3D modeling program. We were able to construct a simple box representing the new structure then imported the geographic location from Google Earth into Sketch Up. Here is a youtube video which is a depiction of the shadows cast throughout a day in October. As you can see, a very large portion of the garden will be affected by the shadow. As the year progresses, the shadow will length and eventually shade the solar panel from direct sunlight, which will affect the pond pump and the electrical outlet.
If you believe in voting with your dollar, then Green America wants to be your ballot box. The organization is like Consumer Reports’ older brother that joined the Peace Corps and goes to protests on the weekends. It evaluates businesses that aspire to sustainable and
ethical perfection with their Green Certification system, posting those they deem exemplary on their National Green Pages website, offering a directory of consciously minded businesses for the concerned customer.
Green America also engages in activist work in causes that affect consumers. As this includes the vast majority of everyone, their range of campaigns is as broad, spanning from sweatshops to the banking system. In addition, they put on events, including Green Festivals across the country in conjunction with the fair trade certifier Equal Exchange, offering a bazaar of Green Certified businesses along with speakers and workshops, and The Green Business Conference to allow business owners to learn and network.
The company was founded in the 1982 as “Co-op America,” a name jettisoned for its hippie connotations in favor of the trendily ubiquitous yet amorphous “green.” Back in the day, it produced a physical catalog of approved businesses. It was founded on the principle that if people are going to spend money, they should be using it to fight for a vision of a world they believe in.
This is definitely a step in the right direction from blind consumerism, but it should be noted that our major ecological crises are caused by consumption and overuse of resources, and thus a logical solution to the problem should be a massive reduction in our consumption habits.
This would require a change from our current “consumer society” to a “custodian” one- looking after and mending what we already have, repurposing older objects into new forms, and actively caring for our environment. Apart from simply consuming less in the first place it would involve a lot more Cradle to Cradle design where products are designed from the get go to have multiple incarnations.
The core issue with Green America is that despite all the great green companies it showcases, the core message encourages continued consumption. Redirected consumption to “ethical” companies rather than any old corporation is still a push to consume the planet’s resources no matter how green.
Further, the ethics at the heart of “voting with your dollar” are inherently off. It implies you need a dollar to be part of the game. The unequal distribution of wealth leads to an unequal distribution of votes. Who is doing the voting and what interests do they represent? The answers are easy to guess. It isn’t that family in Bangladesh.
Because of this core flaw Green America is not a solution, but a stepping stone, transitional approach, easing our current whacked out economic systems into versions that take into account people and the environment over mere profit. It’s a little like the patch for cigarette smokers – if you didn’t smoke you wouldn’t ever buy the patch but it sure beats cigarettes if you are trying to quit.
In the end, Green America’s message boils down to “keep buying stuff,” not quite a revolutionary concept. If you truly want to make a difference, decreasing, rather than shifting, your consumption patterns is the way to go. But for what you do find necessary to purchase, check out Green America, it may connect you to someone trying to make a difference as they make a living.
Last week students from the International Center of Photography came by to photograph the show house green roof and back garden. Here is what they came up with.
Eco Brooklyn NY green roof service is doing well and we are now expanding to provide natural swimming pool construction services for New York residents with small back yards. We feel this is a great thing that adds to the ecosystem and quality of life. Our first one is being built in the Eco Brooklyn green show house. We are making all the mistakes we can to perfect the process.
The natural pool is common in Europe but Americans are still stuck on keeping nature and humans apart, and this applies to chlorinated pools as much as it does to other things. But as we learn that nature (bugs, microbes, dirt) actually can help keep us healthy it makes a lot of sense to swim in a natural swimming pool.
With time we hope more and more people will see that chlorinated pools are actually lass sanitary that natural swimming pools due to the connections between chlorine and health issues like cancer, rashes and breathing disorders.
12×12 is the maximum dimensions a shelter in North Carolina can be before it legally becomes a house, subject to property taxes. For this reason it is a hallowed number among the off-the-grid set, and the title of a popular book on one man’s foray into the world of tiny houses.
It is also the name of a new exhibit of contemporary furniture. New York designers were challenged with creating something beautiful out of the remains of demolished New York City buildings. 12×12 is the innovative result.
The exhibit aimed to draw attention to the potential of materials abandoned to the trash from the many buildings demolished daily in New York. Eco Brooklyn fully supports this goal, as New York’s demolition sites are our preferred resource to build new structures or renovate older ones without requiring any more trees to be felled. In fact, as a New York City green contractor, we have never bought new wood, including all our joists, studs, floors, subfloors, stairs, and doors, with the exception of FSC formaldehyde-free plywood for kitchen cabinets.
By using wood from our very own Gotham Forest, we can help protect living forests by reducing the demand for deforestation, a major driver of climate change and habitat destruction.
The designers sourced their lumber from landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island, as well as buildings from another era and another New York, such as a warehouse from 1832, one of the last of the 19th century’s dry goods district. One of the most glorious aspects of buildings is their ability to serve as witness to countless events and histories, and so the transformations of these storied buildings into furniture allows the sleek, contemporary pieces a depth and richness in their mysteriously alluring backstories.
Some of these stories inform the new pieces, infusing them with a thoughtfulness and humor found in the continuation of a theme, such as a “Vice box” made from the floors of a Prohibition-era dance hall, or a liquor cabinet made with wood sourced from the East Village Mars Bar. You can discover the buildings that became the furniture here.
Perhaps best of all, the unique pieces were sold at silent auction to raise money for Brooklyn Woods, a woodworking training program for low income and high risk New Yorkers, helping to pass on the tools and inspiration to keep New York’s buildings flowing into reincarnations that pay homage to the city’s history while providing for some truly green design.
The intent of Bergman’s book was to give perspective on what sustainable design is and where it is headed versus where we want it to go. He reminds us that before the Industrial Revolution people designed with what nature provided but after we started looking at nature as an obstacle, something to overcome. As Szenasy pointed out, people wanted to subdue nature and we always referred to nature as “her.”
Green design, in many ways, is an attempt to return to the pre-Industrial Revolution way of thinking in order to sustain our natural resources long into the future. Bergman argues that it has evolved into several stages from “Design as Usual” to “Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Usual”. In a nutshell, designers first started doing unusual things in response to the environmental movement– this got labeled as green design– which eventually became more commonplace in the design world, or “usual.”
Now Bergman asks if we should be heading toward a new stage called “Design as Usual” where the green element of design becomes transparent. “Transparent green” is the idea that green thinking should be integral to all design and not a separate category. It sounds good but Bergman poses this question: if green is implied in design, will consumers stay aware of sustainability issues? This is where the panel started.
It seemed to be unanimously agreed that sustainability must be achieved through redesigning systems, not just products. Milne stated that government has the ability to create sustainable, closed systems and that there is an opportunity there to change market demands and standards, unlike within the private sector, which seldom stays in a closed system and has different motivations.
Joachim asserted that there is a need to reform education so that systems-thinking is better incorporated. He was opposed to the idea of specified majors that restrict students to only thinking about the world in one sense. Bergman agreed and said that that is why he loves architecture so much, “It is one of the last generalist fields.”
There needs to be a shift in society’s mindset toward consumption. Product designers shouldn’t be working with perceived or planned obsolescence in mind. Architects shouldn’t be wasting tons of materials and energy on decorative features. The public should divorce itself from such things as the idea of shopping as recreation. How do we do this?
Szenasy wonders why these issues haven’t gotten better PR. Why, for example, isn’t New York City prouder of its green efforts? City planners across the country look to New York as a leader in green design. Milne applauded the city’s efforts toward “active design,” which is where city infrastructure is built to engage the public and force them to exercise. But how many people are even aware that the city is doing that? How many people would be upset that the city is doing that? Look at the High Line. Cities around the country are starting projects to mimic New York’s great park yet the panel wondered, how many New Yorkers are aware of the sustainable implications of the park, how it’s revitalized a neighborhood, how the use of native plants has reduced water and energy use while also increasing native biodiversity, and so forth?
Someone suggested one reason is because when people think of “green”, they think of the apocalypse. People don’t want to think of the possibility of humanity ending, especially if it is because of their own irresponsible behaviors. Joachim said many people see green standards as a loss of liberty. Living sustainably often means giving something up and no one wants to be forced to do that.
In the end, it seems like the solution lies somewhere between education and redesign. Society needs to better understand how and why to live green and the systems we live in need to be reorganized.
In the past decade there have been a flood of green building certifications developed as guidelines for contractors, architects, and developers to follow in order to build a “green building”. Just in the U.S. there are half a dozen very popular ones. If we focus on a world scale there are even more. Here is a list of the most prevalent green building certifications in the U.S. and the world:
United States: International:
-LEED -BREEAM: Great Britain
-Living Building Challenge -HQUE: France
-Energy Star -CASBEE: Japan
-Green Globes -Green Star: Australia
-National Green Building Standard -BCA Green Mark: Singapore
-US Passive House -DGNB: Germany
This might be a little bit too much information to handle. There are more than twelve green building certifications?! How could you possibly choose which one to use? Should you use the American certifications or try to break through boundaries and use the international ones? How can you possibly choose from a list like this? Is it even worth having a green building certification in the first place?!
I am planning on doing a series of blog posts that will demystify the confusion about the various green building certifications. All of my posts will attempt to follow the same format:
The viewpoint of the blog posts will make the assumption that we are going to be building a green building anyway- so what would be the repercussions of adhering to a certain certification process.
The main focus of the blog posts will be about United States green building certifications. I will post one blog entry of a summary and analysis of international certifications with their successes and faults. Even though the international certifications are important, I want to cater to a United States (particular New York) audience because they are the ones reading and interested in Eco-Brooklyn’s blog.
First, before we get into the specific rating systems, I think it’s important to take a holistic viewpoint on green building certifications and state their advantages and disadvantages.
At Eco-Brooklyn we do not put too much stock into the different certifications, but there is definitely some value in them. By gaining certain certifications you automatically open yourself up to different grants and funding opportunities. Certain certifications are known to the general public, which could potentially (not definitely) transfer to higher property value of the building. To the eye of a regular citizen, all buildings generally look the same, so having a green certification can point out the green features within the building.
For larger projects, such as a New York skyscraper, if certification is not pursued, your integrity can potentially be questioned and compromised. Green building certifications are also a huge public relation benefit for high cost projects such as stadiums and skyscrapers. In addition, certifications make the public aware of the burgeoning green infrastructure around them.
Another advantage of the certification process is that it takes a holistic (sometimes) standpoint on green building. All of the certifications have different environmental categories that you have to fulfill in order to achieve certification. This allows for architects, developers, and contractors to not focus on one green building aspect, but rather take a multifaceted approach that attempts to cover multiple green building characteristics.
The main disadvantage of the certification process is that they are expensive. Pursuing certification requires labor hours to collect and submit all of the required paperwork. Almost all of the certifications involve paying a few in order for it to be officially recognized. In some systems, such as the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) you have to pay an initial fee just to join the GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute) before you register your project. Also, costs can accrue if your project is late or if you want to repeal it.
Green building certifications are also timely and require meticulous record keeping. Many certifications require submission of all paperwork used in the procurement of construction materials. Before submission all the records need to be reviewed and revised to make sure they are in accordance with the certification guidelines. All of this takes time.
To certify a green building, you typically have to be extremely well versed in the process. Taking a class and a test to attain credentials for certification also costs time and money. As a NY Green Contractor, our mantra is to “turn NY green”. If we were to use time attaining certifications, it would detract from our important work in turning NY green.
Adversaries of green building certifications also point out that there is a certain rigidity of design that accompanies the certification through point earning systems. As mentioned before, the certification processes could potentially be beneficial by taking a holistic standpoint on green building. This also allows for the potential to neglect some vital green building practices. Therefore, the certifications have the ability to do well, but also the ability to do evil. For example, LEED focuses on topics such as indoor environmental air quality and water efficiency but fails to address important topics like user awareness/education and land-use/ecology.
Other opponents of green building certifications argue that the certification systems stifle innovation. They claim that green building should be a process that is organic and innovative, not something that entails endless checklists and requirements.
As a green contractor, Eco-Brooklyn believes in a form of radical sustainability that focuses on the use of salvaged materials and passive house standards. While most green building certifications are less radical, we still appreciate the massive steps that they have taken toward initiating a greener future. We also realize that not all buildings can implement the same strategies that we do with salvaged and reused materials. We would rather have building pursue a lesser green building certification than none at all. These are all preliminary steps to building a more sustainable future. But in order to solve the climate crisis at hand, we need to get a become more radical more quickly.
Cork comes from the bark of the Cork oak (Quercus Suber). It is the outer most layer of the bark that
is harvested when the tree is mature after about 25 years old. The tree grows to be about 65 feet tall and is and evergreen so is won’t shed its leaves in the fall. After it has reached its 25th year; large portions of the bark are stripped off. The Cork oak has the capacity to regenerate its outer bark an ability that most other trees do not have. Because of this ability it allows for the same tree to be harvested repeatedly.
Most of the world cork originated from Mediterranean forests in (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and northern Morocco). The cork oak grows in a humid climate with average temperature between 13-19oC. Cork harvesters are working the Rainforest Alliance to improve their social and environmental practices to achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
Is cork sustainable? Yes, cork is sustainable and biodegradable. These trees can live between 170 to 250 years. During this time it can be harvested about 16 times. The bark takes about 9-12 years to regenerate before it can be re-harvested. Cork is impermeable to liquids and gasses that’s why it makes good bottle stoppers it is also an excellent insulator. An important attribute cork has is that is takes carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it within its tissue structure. A tree that is stripped on regular intervals can absorb 3-5 times as much CO2 when compared to a tree of similar size left alone. It’s been estimated that cork forests can sequester up to 10,000,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. This makes for an excellent green building material.
One of the things we have realized is that if you build a green home but the inhabitants are not green you have lost half the benefit. As a New York green contractor we learned that educating ourselves and our clients in green lifestyle habits is an important part of the green building process.
One of the huge elements of green living is being in harmony with your surroundings – your neighbors, your community, the cycles of day and night and the seasons – very much like it is important for a green building to work in harmony with its surroundings – rainwater runoff, energy consumption, sewage discharge, heat island effect…
One of those things listed – the seasons – has a lot to do with died. There are benefits to eating local as most people know, but equally connected to this is the importance of eating seasonal. If you don’t eat seasonal there is no way you can eat local. For example if you live in New York there are no naturally growing watermelons in the winter. If you eat one they come from far away – Central and South America most probably, but possibly as far away as China.
The exception to this is the evolving art of greenhouse growing and/or hydroponics, a synergy between traditional farming and current science – plastics, pumps, plant food extracts, electric lights…not to say this can’t be green but it definitely is more carbon intensive than carrots in the old farmer’s soil.
The one pro greenhouse/hydroponics argument is that you can grow more food per square foot than traditional farming. Maybe. But at what carbon footprint cost? And compared to what? Certainly not compared to Permaculture.
Even so, it pays to eat seasonal and local whenever possible. The food is fresher and there is nothing more magical than eating in harmony with the season. A watermelon in the dead of winter just isn’t the same as one in the life of summer.
Here are two great graphics showing the availability of of fruits and another vegetables for a Northern Hemisphere location. They are not only beautiful but extremely helpful. The one caveat is that they aren’t locally focused. For example they list kiwi and pineapple as available in the winter….available from New Zealand maybe.
But nonetheless it just takes a little common sense to use the charts for local and seasonal eating.
I built a natural pond and stream in my Brooklyn front yard, inspired by the images from the book Mannahatta of New York in the 1600’s. On my roof I have a bee hive.
My friends from the roof come to the border of the pond to drink off a patch of moss. Check the video out below. It is SO cool! Watch it full screen.
For the past several jobs we have used salvaged mahogany flooring. We salvaged 15,000 square feet of it a while back. It is very pretty stuff. Here we are applying the tung oil to it.
We are applying two types of oil, simply because that is what we have left over from the previous jobs. The first coat is a mix of citrus solvent and tung oil. The second coat is a premixed natural oil from Land Arc.
Mahogany is a very hard wood and absorbs very little. It is amazing how important it is to understand the wood you are applying oil to. If you put too much it creates a sticky film, if you put too little it looks dry and dusty.
We’ve really become natural oil flooring experts when it comes to finishing salvaged wood. We learned through our mistakes. Pine, maple, oak, fir, and mahogany all have different absorption rates. Their age and condition also make a difference. If they are old and stored in the sun then they absorb more than new wood salvaged from a lower floor brownstone.
It is an art. You’ll notice the applicator in the video above is using a fluid sweeping motion combined with small jerky motions. The fluid motions spread the thin layer of oil over the wood in a uniform way, the jerky motions push it into the wood pores.
Because it is mahogany we don’t use hardly any oil. If it were old pine we would literally splash it on and almost let it sit on the wood in puddles. Then after half an hour we’d soak up the excess. We’d do this to the pine up to four times over a week.
But with the mahogany we put two light coats one day after the other and that is all it needs.
Through our experiments with salvaged wood floors we are seeing that as New York green contractor we are developing a knowledge of the local woods. Compared to several years ago we have a deeper sense of the kinds of salvaged wood in NY, what neighborhoods or types of buildings have what species of wood, what different woods look like from different decades in the 20th century…
It is a little like being an investigative historian.
When Eco- Brooklyn hands over a renovated brownstone to a client our goal is to do more than a renovation. Our hope is that the new structure will change the way the inhabitants impact the world. We do this through the way we actually carry out the renovations a well as how the home is built.
City infrastructure changes through our renovations, paired with consumer and personal behavior changes as they interact differently to their home, and the closed loop economic practices during the construction (like the use of salvaged materials), all help to eliminate negative environmental impact.
We all know the developed world currently lives in a society of excess. We consume too much water, too much energy, and too much food. We produce too much pollution, too much trash, and way too many people than our world can handle.
People are not going to willingly give up the capitalist culture that they have grown fat in. From the mainstream media you could think there is a consensus that the free market democratic system is the best way to achieve optimum utilitarianism. And the striving for growth of consumer culture all around the world in places such as Egypt, Sudan, and Indonesia confirms that the American way of life is being adopted all around the world.
But there is a large group who are looking for alternatives to this excess. For example, Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet and founder of 350.org, organized the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind, with 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries, rallying a global movement to solve the climate crisis.
Despite these efforts, rapid consumer consumption and globalization are rampaging on. Not only are first world countries demanding bigger houses, nicer cars, and more stuff, but the whole world is too.
Or at least this is the main push, and has been for decades
But that era is slowing down due to environmental and economic hurdles.
American homes are not getting increasingly bigger any more. Over the last couple years people simply can’t afford them and even large builders are holding steady or even reducing home sizes.
Regardless of the reasons, these movements are all a step in the right direction.
I believe that the excess that we see today is slowing and will continue to do so because of political, economic, and natural disasters, slowing excess through force.
Until that really comes to a head, currently we have many companies creating business procedures that are trying to address our environmental problems now, but they are pretty shallow, arguably simply for the company’s image, and very small when compared to the larger picture.
There are three main facets in this corporate “greening”. The facets are mostly in the beginning stages of their development and need to be put into overdrive in order for us to really have an impact.
But for now it is at least a movement in the right direction, a bridge between the excesses of today and the sustainable future of tomorrow.
Behavior Change Campaigns
The most popular tool that companies use to change consumer behavior is campaigns. In 2010, consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble set itself an ambitious goal: by 2020, 70% of their washing machines worldwide will be done in cold water. The same year, Procter and Gamble implemented the “Turn to 30 Campaign”, which encouraged consumers of their product, and even consumers of other washing machines to reduce their washing temperature to 30C.
At 30C, a per-wash energy saving of up to 60% could be achieved. The Turn to 30 Campaign set out to persuade consumers through print, television, and other media channels that not only would they benefit from energy savings, but they would not have to compromise on the cleanliness of their clothes.
To a typical consumer this might seem like a good idea and a very ethical thing for such a large company to pursue. While Proctor and Gamble has good intentions, this campaign is insignificant when compared on a large scale. Procter and Gamble is just one producer of washing machines out of dozens in the United States, and hundreds worldwide.
In addition, companies like Procter and Gamble churn out consumer products that are extremely expendable and have planned obsolescence periods of 3 to 4 years. Once these products complete their useful lives they usually get down-cycled or thrown into a landfill. These products are also filled with dangerous chemicals such as PVC plastic.
The Power of Consumer Choice
I believe that the power of consumer choice is the most compelling economic tool when trying to achieve sustainable development. If consumers continuously pick the companies and products that are environmentally responsible, then they will prosper, augmenting further growth and responsibility. Consequently, companies that are not following such trends will suffer and ultimately fail.
Currently, the power of consumer choice is being executed on a small scale. Consumers that are willing to pay higher prices for eco-friendly products are doing so. In addition, local, organic food co-operatives are becoming extremely popular alternative to going to the regular supermarket that provides less healthier choices.
But in order to achieve any sort of success, consumer choice campaigns have to be implemented on an extremely large scale, and those that do not acquiesce are going to be forced to change because our environment is going to force them to do so. In order to have a thriving economy we need a multitude of local shops that specialize in selling particular local goods. This will promote community and foster sustainable development through wages.
Consumers also need to face the fact that they are not going to enjoy the luxuries that they are currently accustomed to. Environmental constrictions will force us have less, and do more with less.
Product Efficiency and Infrastructure Change
If companies progressively improve their products so that they consume less resources, require less energy to produce, and create less waste, while not changing the price, consumers will happily buy in.
Product efficiency can be achieved through intense analysis of the production process, and market research. There is still plenty of room for improvement weather it be automobile, construction materials, or furniture.
A way to improve product efficiency to require less energy is infrastructure change. Creating factories and stores that are extremely energy efficient and utilize renewable energy sources can mitigate the environmental and carbon footprint of the product produced. But again, this needs to happen on a much larger scale than what it is occurring at right now.
At Eco-Brooklyn we believe that we are a small part of the mosaic that can help solve this problem. Within the Brooklyn Area, Eco-Brooklyn has renovated multiple retail stores including this one.
Closed Loop Systems
Most of the consumer products that we buy today suffer the same economic system fate: cradle-to-grave. This means that fresh resources are extracted from our Earth, made into a product, used, and then thrown out in a “grave” (i.e. landfill).
Cradle-to-cradle design, on the other hand offers a framework in which the effective, regenerative cycles of nature provide models for positive human designs. Just as in the natural world, in which one organisms waste cycles through an ecosystem to provide sustenance for other living things, cradle-to-cradle materials circulated in closed-loop cycles, providing nutrients for nature or industry. Essentially, cradle-to-cradle recycles old products to create new products, such as the use of old sneakers to make rubber tennis courts, or recycled plastic bottles to make t-shirts.
As a small but important part of the large economic flow of goods, Eco-Brooklyn uses the cradle-to-cradle method by using disguarded construction materials in all of our work. As a New York green contractor, we believe that the city has everything we need via dumpsters, other job sites, and throwaways. Instead of buying materials that use up virgin resources we presume that the resources we need are just around the corner.
The aforementioned ideas need transform from small to large scale projects which will perpetuate us into a paradigm shift toward a ‘green’ economy. We have to realize the power that each individual consumer and company can have on the market. In theory consumers drive the markets and if consumers can begin to change then our economy will transition into a green and sustainable future.
The truth is this has never happened on a mass scale so who is to say that it is realistic. The system, where it is legal to be greedy as along are you can afford it is not conducive to rational consumer though. Which brings us back to shifting towards a green economy through choice but simply because we can not afford to consume like we used to.
This will not happen smoothly though, there will be people that are not willing to change their accustomed way of life. This will regrettably lead to social and political conflict. In the end, ecological disaster will be the motivation that kicks humanity into a drive to change the way that we live. The future is not all bad though. The new world that we will eventually live in will bring us back to find out roots and things that are important in life such as community, family, and friends. We increasingly need those things simply to get by.
In the last year or so cork has attracted more media attention than in the last 2,500 years of use. Beginning with the Egyptians, cork has been used as a stopper for vessels containing perishables like wine,
water, and olive oil. Since then the use of cork has expanded to use in flooring tiles, shoes, insulation, floatation devices, and even furniture.
Recently a misconception has been going around that cork producing oak trees are becoming endangered and the environmentally sound thing to do is to find alternate materials. This is largely due to a mass miss interpretation by the public on the decision many wineries are making to move away from using cork in their bottles.
The real reason cork is being avoided by most wineries is simple: to reduce exposure to a fairly innocuous mold that grows on the bark from which cork is made. This mold, if present on a bottles cork, will effectively spoil the contents of any bottle it is sealing, the term for this is “corking”. Though not hugely common, wine makers find it safer to switch to alternative methods like plastic corks or metal twist-tops.
The underlying issue is that this misunderstanding may have adverse environmental effects. If people continue to believe cork is endangered and that cork products should be avoided then obviously the demand goes down, which is already occurring in some areas of the market.
The process of obtaining cork is inherently sustainable and eco-friendly. The tree is planted and allowed twenty years of uninterrupted growth and, when mature enough, the bark is stripped in the spring time, not harming the tree. This process is repeated roughly every nine years when the bark has been sufficiently regenerated, and can continue for as long as 160 years.
A drop in demand would lead to diminishing cork forests and production as other crops become more profitable. It would also effect already fragile economies, especially in Portugal where the skilled process is a centuries old familial tradition and risks being being replaced by newer attempts to make money should the demand for cork not grow.
For the NY green contractor, using cork in projects, whether retrofitting an old brownstone or building a roof top addition, cork not only offers a great ecological option but contributes to maintaining an age old tradition. With its varied uses and applications and beautiful natural aesthetic it is a favorite of Eco Brooklyn.
We always try to salvage local flooring first, but in some cases where local wood does not work we love cork. It is especially nice in areas like bedrooms or closets where bare feet can appreciate the soft and padded quality of cork.
A graphic of a cork trees biological structure.
What the process of obtaining cork has looked like for centuries.
An example of the potential cork has as a flooring material.
The now extinct Kowloon Walled City, also known as the City of Darkness may be a perverse prototype for green, sustainable living. Eco Brooklyn is constantly searching for green building alternatives applicable to New York City living, so when we came across Kowloon we almost fell off our seats.
It was Gotham City on cheap crack right out of a Blade Runner movie.
The Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong that was once regarded as one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
It began as a Chinese Military fort and became its own enclave after the New Territories were released to Britain in 1898. Following the Japanese occupation during World War II the population increased dramatically and eventually contained 50,000 residents within 6.5 acres.
That averages 7,692 people per acre. The five boroughs of New York City, the most populous city in the USA, averages 41 people per acre. Manhattan, famous for being crowded, averages a mere 104 people per acre.
Another way of looking at it is how many square feet each
person gets on average:
* New York City five boroughs – 1062 sq.ft./person
* Manhattan – 419 sq.ft./person
* Kowloon – 5 ½ sq.ft./person!!
The city was largely under its own contained “government” as neither the Chinese nor the British wanted to assume responsibility for the development.
Controlled by the infamous Triad gang, Kowloon had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug use.
In terms of air and light in the narrow “streets”, residents were barely able to view the sky through the thick web of criss-crossing clotheslines and make shift electrical wires. Windows were a luxury.
As the city quickly grew, housing and factory blocks were added organically on top of each other using a mix of salvaged materials – cages, sheet metal and tarp – mixed in with cheap cinderblock construction. By the end, the Walled City had became a tall and near-solid cube of construction materials – over 300 interconnected 10 story buildings without any contribution from an architect, city planner or department of buildings!
Completely “off the grid”, the residents illegally taped into municipal electricity for juice and drilled 70 plus make shift wells within the city walls for water.
Another “sustainable” aspect of the Walled City is the transformability of the interior space. For example, bakery by day would change into a living room come night. Sixty percent of living spaces where smaller than 230 square feet (about 20’x20’), and as the numbers above show, an average of five people would share that space.
Kowloon is an example of anarchist building that, despite what it lacked in basic necessity, easy access to running water and waste disposal management, was a community that existed; it supported of about 50,000 for over forty years, from the 1950’s until 1992.
That is sustainable in it’s own weird way.
And it would have lasted longer if it hadn’t been forcibly demolished in 1992 and replaced with a park.
The Kowloon Walled City was obviously a dismal place full of prostitution, murder, corruption and drug use. You could argue the citizens of the Walled City only submitted themselves to these conditions out of desperation. Although this city emerged organically, it could be more a cancerous tumor than a blissfully natural city, sucking in every resource in its vicinity and essentially capturing its inhabitants.
But New York Green contractors can learn from it.
Despite the terrible conditions of human life, certain aspects are worth looking at from a green building perspective. This is cluster housing at the most extreme, reducing the amount of space a person needs to the bare bone minimum. The small, multi-use spaces is a key element of good green design.
As a whole, as the opposite of a sprawling suburbia, the city drastically reduced it’s physical footprint on the planet, giving an example of extreme cluster housing.
The fact that so much of the building materials were salvaged reduced the materials consumed to build. Poor people’s use of salvaged materials are acts of necessity but nonetheless are crucial components of green building.
Of course, the Walled City, as an un-planned, un-designed structure, could have gone very wrong but for the most part it stayed standing, a testament that logical simple building, using basic low cost materials does work.
I don’t have the numbers but I know the embodied energy to build this city was drastically less than a comparable city today.
Is it possible that if there was designed applied to these same ideas of small, transformable spaces that a livable, functioning community could exist? Perhaps with the addition of good design and planning The Walled City would be used as interesting model for future urban development. It has provided some very interesting examples of what is possible. Maybe not safe or even desirable, but we can now definitely say that such a city is possible and extract from that experiment elements that worked (or didn’t).
Last week we installed a split AC in a yoga studio in Carroll Gardens. I was interested to see the price differential between the two in energy costs per year and how long the pay-back period for the split AC/heat pump would be. 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. I found out there was a $47/year price differential in energy costs. That would be a 40 year payback period for the split AC.
The model I used tries to find the cooling load using the cooling degree days. Here is the formula:
Cooling Load = (Btu/h x 24 x CDD) / change in temperature in the day
To compute the change in temperature I used monthly averages from The Weather Channel for Brooklyn.
Here are the results:
May- (9000 x 24 x 40) / 16 = 540,000 Btu/h
June- (9000 x 24 x 120) / 16 = 1,620,000 Btu/h
July- (9000 x 24 x 322) / 15 = 4,636,800 Btu/h
August- (9000 x 24 x 207) / 14 = 3,195,714 Btu/h
September- (9000 x 24 x 88) /14 = 1,357,714 Btu/h
Total = 11,350,228 Btu/h
(11,350,228 Btu/h) / (SEER= 26 BTU/ Wh) = 436,547 Wh/year
(436,547 Wh/year) / (1000) = 436.547 kW/year x .18 kW/hour = $78.57 a year
May- (8000 x 24 x 40) / 16 = 480,000 Btu/h
June- (8000 x 24 x 120) / 16 = 1,440,000 Btu/h
July- (8000 x 24 x 322) / 15 = 4,121,600 Btu/h
August- (8000 x 24 x 207) / 14 = 2,838,857 Btu/h
September- (8000 x 24 x 88) /14 = 1,206,857 Btu/h
Total = 10,087,314 Btu/h
Calculation from EER to SEER = -0.02 × 10.8² + 1.12 × 10.8 = 14.4
When the developer Voltaic Solaire finishes its nearly complete headquarters and showhouse named “The Delta” later this summer, New York will take one step closer to Eco-Brooklyn’s collective goal of turning New York green. The five-story Delta, located on Hamilton Avenue and Ninth Street, just a few blocks south of our Green Show House, will be independently off the grid.
The building utilizes most of its surface area for renewable energy sources. The Delta has three sides (ergo earning its name), two of which are completely covered by solar photovoltaic siding, regular solar photovoltaic panels, and solar thermal panels. On the front side there is a brick façade with energy efficient windows that optimize solar gains. On the roof, there is a solar photovoltaic awning and a small vertical axis wind turbine. Even with no southern exposure to the solar panels, the solar and wind systems generate enough energy to power the 2,700-square-foot property.
In addition to their office/showroom, Solaire Voltaic is currently working on a $1 million renovation of a Park Slope 19th-century brownstone on 367 Fifth Avenue. The brownstone will be covered with solar photovoltaic siding and have a solar awning on the roof. It is estimated that the panels will generate 18,000 kWh of electricity throughout the year, enough to power all six units in the 7,000-square-foot building.
Along with intense utilization of renewable energy, Solaire Voltaic also uses some of the same classic green building techniques that Eco-Brooklyn uses such as LED lighting, insulated pipes, energy-efficient windows and appliances, and foam barriers at the walls to prevent air from escaping.
As a NY green builder, we agree with everything that Solaire Voltaic has been doing thus far with green building and renewable energy. But there is some good and bad news.
Of course, let’s start off with the bad news. The Delta was constructed as a completely new building from the ground up. This
requires the use of virgin resources that require extraction, refinement, and transportation to and from the place of retail. All of these processes are carbon intensive, which contribute further to global warming.
Developers such as Solaire Voltaic solve energy problems with their renewable energy systems but fail to address problems such as water management, resource use, and ecosystem disturbance.
But on to the good news. According to the New York Times article, parts of The Delta employ reused and recycled materials such as the towel racks created with scrap metal, the recycled concrete flooring with bits of recycled glass, and the stairwell made with scrap mosaic tiles. This may not be much but it is a step in the right direction.
As a NY Green Contractor we strongly believe in the use of salvaged and recycled materials as a core element of the construction process because of the elimination of cost and negative environment impact.
Developers are often focused solely on profit, so they have historically not been interested in participating in endeavors that
would not garner a large profit. Over the past twenty years, the cost of solar panels has gone down seven fold. Therefore, creating and renovating building to become net-zero energy through alternative energy sources is undergoing economies of scale, causing endeavors such as this to become profitable and economically viable. If this pattern continues, the future is definitely looking less carbon intensive.
And now that the economy is not booming there is more incentive for developers to rent out their units instead of selling them. As the owner the developer has more of a vested interest in making a building that makes sense in the long run instead of building simply for the short sale.
Eco-Brooklyn’s main goal as a New York green builder is to focus on all green building aspects from renewable energy to the creation of ecosystems- and everything in between. Because the environment is such a complicated system, it is important to take a multifaceted approach when completing our projects. We focus on thinking of the impact of all our actions, and creating synergistic effects among multiple parts of our projects.
An example of this would be using rainwater to water the green roof, flush our toilets, water our garden, and fill our natural pool. Throw gray water into the mix and you have a complex ecosystem. Our talent and interest is understanding the many connections involved in green building.
The green building learning curve is steep for all of us, and trying to do it all alone is tough, so despite Eco Brooklyn’s broad scope we understand that there is a need for people to specialize. For example, the solar job done by Solaire Voltaic is really setting the standard in NY solar construction. For us that is their true contribution to green building.
Eco Brooklyn is an NY ecological landscaping company currently working on a project to build a natural swimming pool (read more here.) Natural pools are a new service that Eco Brooklyn is adding to our long list of amenities.
In an attempt to gain publicity for Eco Brooklyn’s green contracting services, we considered joining a few professional organizations. Here is a list of those organizations and the membership fees our company would apply for:
American Society of Landscape Architects– Affiliate Member (individual): $322 or Corporate Member (company): $1,950
Association of Professional Landscape Designers– Industry partner: $400 or Professional member: $240
Association of Pool and Spa Professionals- Builder/Installer membership: $575
The benefits of joining these organizations include having your company’s name posted on their website, being able to tout your membership on your website or to customers, and sometimes access to professional practice networks.
In the end, Eco Brooklyn decided these benefits weren’t for us. We already have enough business in our multidisciplinary field – a wide range of interconnected services from gut renovations, green roofs, gardening, ponds/waterfalls, and more.
Our jobs almost never fall only under one category – say landscaping – because green building is such an interconnected process, so we decided that advertising ourselves in any one specialty isn’t a thorough representation of the business we do.
However, this is a personal choice so if you are a green contractor, waterscaper, landscaper, or salvage and renovation company interested in pursuing such a membership, the above organizations are the ones we recommend.