Wood Certification

A little while ago we visited a green pavilion with “sustainable” oak floors. We were intrigued by the concept of sustainable oak since oak trees are protected by law and the meaning of sustainable is often skewed by marketers.

After some research we found that there are more than 50 certification systems worldwide, the two largest being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both are third-party certifiers in that they are independent and non-governmental.

In North America, the three additional certification systems endorsed by the PEFC are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. Currently only 10% of the forests in the world have been certified as sustainable.

The Forest Stewardship Council was the first established third-party certification system and many others followed suit. There is criticism that the abundance of certification systems results in consumer confusion in relation to standards, therefore allowing some systems to uphold laxer standards.

LEED only accepts certification systems that adhere to the USGBC Forest Certification Systems Benchmark. A draft is available here.

Currently only Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood is eligible for LEED points. FSC accredits its associated certification bodies and checks compliance through audits.

The FSC has 10 general principles for responsible forest management:

Principle 1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles – to comply with all laws, regulations, treaties, conventions and agreements, together with all FSC Principles and Criteria.

Principle 2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities – to define, document and legally establish long-term tenure and use rights.

Principle 3: Indigenous peoples’ rights – to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of ownership and use of land and resources.

Principle 4: Community relations and worker’s rights – to maintain or enhance forest workers’ and local communities’ social and economic well-being.

Principle 5: Benefits from the forest – to maintain or enhance long term economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest.

Principle 6: Environmental impact – to maintain or restore the ecosystem, its biodiversity, resources and landscapes.

Principle 7: Management plan – to have a management plan, implemented, monitored and documented.

Principle 8: Monitoring and assessment – to demonstrate progress towards management objectives.

Principle 9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests – to maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests.

Principle 10: Plantations – to plan and manage plantations in accordance with FSC Principles and Criteria.

The FSC certification promotes forests that are exemplary of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable management practices. Sustainability has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, so the certification ensures that forest managers ensure the long-term health of the forest in question.

FSC also provides chain-of-custody certification, which takes into account all companies that have touched the lumber before it is purchased by a consumer.

The detailed standards can be found at www.fsc.org.

The certification systems promote responsible building practices by allowing builders to work with sustainable materials. At EcoBrooklyn, we try to work mostly with materials salvaged from dumpsters, which is the most sustainable option available. It is rare we buy new wood any given year.

Certified woods offer an acceptable last option alternative. But as a green building company we are skeptical of certifications. Most of them are simply labels that allow the consumer to feel better about their purchase and allow the producer to sell more, but in reality not much has changed. Trees are cut down, habitats are destroyed.

It is impossible to reproduce that. Even when companies replant trees, they do it as a mono-culture with one species of tree. That is like saying elevator muzak and Mozart are the same. One is lifeless. The other is full of life.

Understandably our view is not main stream. If it were then most construction would come to a screeching halt and we would love that. But realistically certifications are a move in the right direction for mainstream builders. With time hopefully the certifications will get more and more stringent.

Are Illegal Drugs Green?

Are Illegal Drugs Green? The answer is no. Reason being anything that isn’t regulated is driven purely by monetary benefit without any rules or oversight. If you think big corporations are bad for polluting rivers, think what damage a large meth lab can do. Not only do they have a lot of chemicals to dispose of but they need to do it secretly – they aren’t going to pack the contaminants into barrells and send them off to an approved waste processing plant. They are going to dump it into a secluded river. “Secluded” being another word for no humans, meaning nature.

This occurred to me when I read the cool info on this Addiction Support site. They offer fantastic info on how drugs as they are made now are not sustainable.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it's almost impossible to stop illegal companies.
Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it’s almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

As a green builder in Brooklyn we work near the Gowanus Canal, a great example of what happens when waste is not regulated. Now we are paying for that big time. The millions they saved by using the canal as a dumping ground is many millions more that we have to pay to fix it. Thank’s guys! Next time just charge me a couple cents more for the product and do the right thing.

Gowanus-1851
The mouth of the Gowanus Canal 1851.
A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.
A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

From an environmental point of view it is a lot healthier for our society to legalize drugs. Tax the hell out of them, regulate them up the wazoo and strictly control where, when and who can consume them. And most importantly, control how and where they are made. Are they clear cutting mountains and drenching them in illegal pesticides to grow that marijuana or are they growing it in low footprint warehouses using solar electricity and city waste-water?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm...who's the biggest drug addict?
Global Drug Routes. Hmmm…who’s the biggest drug addict?
Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production. The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.
Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production, like the clear cutting for Marijuana growing in California above . The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

People are not stupid. Well, that’s not true. Many are. But it is my experience from having three kids that working with them is much better than against.

Why is alcohol legal and other dangerous drugs aren’t? Makes no sense to me. Why is is totally legal for my six year old to light a fire in our fireplace and yet I can’t legally buy some pot to light up on my back porch? Trust me, my son lighting a fire is a million times more dangerous to society than my addled brain on pot could ever be.

And I don’t even like pot. I want this stuff legalized – and meth and LSD and crack – because I am a New York green builder and I understand that burning down tropical forests in Burma to grow opium is going to directly affect my life in the big apple.

I want to see sustainably grown opium in my corner store. I want it to be really expensive and I want the profits to go towards Addiction Counselling and a new swing set for my local park. Now that is something I could get high on.

Green Roof Layers

Eco Brooklyn installs different kinds of green roofs but the basic technology is always the same: to replicate a normal soil environment in a very shallow depth and a harsh environment.

images
A green roof replicates a much deeper soil depth similar to normal planting.

The basic components are plants, growing medium and then an assortment of water retention, drainage, root barrier and soil retention. This can be one layer or a bunch of layers.

 


drainage_plate

We love doing slanted roofs and usually build our own soil retention structures but the general idea is like the image below.

This is a good product for slanted green roofs.
This is a good product for slanted green roofs.

Here are the basic steps:

These are the steps for a green roof installation. There are actually several different ways to do it but this one works.

Installing a green roof is really cool and pretty simple. The problem is that you are high up in the air on the main barrier between the building and rain. So lots of things can also go wrong. As a green roof installer we have learned a lot and thankfully haven’t screwed up too badly. Despite the fact that we are constantly pushing the barrier. Our latest installation involved a river on a roof. Pretty cool.

River on a Brooklyn Green roof.
River on a Brooklyn Green roof.

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available throughout North America on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program.

The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:
· Advanced Green Roof Maintenance
· Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture
· Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)
· Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites
· Ecological Green Roof Design
· Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects
· Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Tuition for each full-day course is around $400 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $200 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $500 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is available at select times throughout the year.

In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD.

Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers.
Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers with some low laying native sedum.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry is growing by over 100% each year, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC accreditation does require a financial commitment.

For standardization reasons, the green roof methods taught in the GRP program teaches industry standard techniques, usually involving brand name products. As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the waste of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials.

This means we often go outside the envelope of normal green building techniques. We’ve tried all sorts of green roof experiments using alternative salvaged materials. We’ve used bottle crates as soil stabilization on sloped roofs. We once saved 6,000 used diapers and used them as the base for the growing media. The plants loved that one. And we almost never use the traditional palette of non-native sedum, preferring to use native plants and grasses.

How to Maintain a Green Roof

Whenever we install a green roof we strongly recommend the client pay for ongoing maintenance, regardless of whether they do it with Eco Brooklyn. It is not like caring for a green roof is difficult, in fact it is very easy and pleasurable, but if you don’t there could be problems.

EcoBrooklyn's green roof with Strawberries
EcoBrooklyn’s green roof with Strawberries

Green Roofs, like all gardens, require some amount of maintenance and, like gardens, the type of green roof you have will determine the amount of maintenance it needs. Intensive green roofs (more than 6″) will require much more time and effort than extensive ones. So as there is no simple answer to the question of “how to maintain a green roof,” here are some general green roof maintenance tips.

General Green Roof Maintenance and Care

Keep the drainage areas clear of plants. The border around the edge of the roof and the areas around drain outlets and other roof penetrations should be kept clear of all plant life and vegetation. Plants growing too close to the drain will clog it up, causing possible leaks and in stress to the building structure. If plants grow near roof penetrations it could cause a leak, or it could make it hard for maintenance. Biannual weeding should suffice.

Add compost biannually. Organic mater in growing media decomposes over time. It gets absorbed by plants and gets washed away. Nutrient-rich compost should be added to the roof garden in spring and autumn. This provides plants with important nutrients and replenishes the soil. How much really depends. A rough rule of thumb we use is to add 1/4″ of compost, making sure it does not cover too much the existing plants.

Weed out unwanted plants, also known as volunteer plants. Being on a roof, seeds dropped by birds or carried by the wind inevitably find their way into your roof garden. Some of the seedlings are fine and can be left alone. It’s your call. Others, such as a budding oak tree, are not desirable for obvious reasons. Smaller bushes and plants are also not desirable because they may have aggressive roots that may cause leaks. Monthly walk-throughs should be scheduled to monitor the types of vegetation growing on your roof.

At the very least a thorough weeding should be done in the spring to get them as they are freshly coming out of the soil. And then another weeding should be done in the summer just before the weeds get a chance to spread their billions of seeds.

The best practice is to also just weed a little every time you see one. It takes two seconds. Be sure to remove the weed from the roof. Throwing it on the soil could release its seeds.

Roof maintenance is great fun.
Roof maintenance is great fun.

Green roofs should be watered as little as possible for ecological reasons. But there are times when it is so hot and dry that some water may save them. Experiment with plant types and, depending on how much rain you get, try to get to the point where you don’t have to water your roof at all. When it does become necessary to water your plants, err on the side of under watering. Also, if your roof garden is on a pitched roof, begin watering at the top of the roof to the water can trickle down through the plants at the bottom, which may not need any water at all.

Watch out for pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for pests and diseases that may come to your roof garden. While green roofs are designed to attract insects and increase biodiversity, sometimes unwanted insects come along. This is rare given the harsh environment up there. Pests can find much more pleasant places to bother.

If you are at all inclined, keep a detailed maintenance log/diary. Schedule when you’re going to do these checkups (and follow through!) and keep and detailed record of your findings. This will also help you see what plants do best in your roof’s environment. This is optional. Maintenance is really pretty simple and doesn’t need much except some common sense.

Shipping Containers as New York Buildings

If you are interested in green building, environmentalism, or architecture, chances are that you have seen some of the chic structures coming out of the shipping container building movement. These structures range from the Redondo Beach container home, which won an award for innovative design from The American Institute of Architects in 2007, to the 85 foot tall Freitag container structure located in Zurich.

Redondo Beach Container House
Redondo Beach Container House Shows Containers Can Be Luxe
Freitag Store is World's Tallest Shipping Container Structure
Freitag Store is World’s Tallest Shipping Container Structure

Closer to home here in Brooklyn there are several container structures.

5,000sq.ft single family residence in Brooklyn made out of containers
5,000sq.ft single family residence in Brooklyn made out of containers
Eco Brooklyn built this 1,500sq.ft container building as an art studio space for a client in Brooklyn.
Eco Brooklyn built this 1,500sq.ft container building as an art studio space for a client in Brooklyn.

Although these buildings are architecturally interesting, the reasons container homes really shine in the eyes of Eco Brooklyn are more practical: environmental, cost, and function.

A container home is environmentally sound because it is the product of reused materials. As the economy ebbs and flows and as import and export changes, there inevitably are shipping containers that fall by the wayside to gather rust and eventually become scrap metal.

In terms of time savings, re-purposing a shipping container into a home allows the supporting structure along with the ceiling to come with almost no new production, resulting in large savings in lumber. This process also cuts down on the energy that would be required to turn a container into scrap metal before that metal is reused.

It should be noted though that the biggest mistake people make is underestimating the extra work a shipping container requires. To turn a metal box into a cozy home takes a lot of cutting, welding and drilling. Nonetheless if designed correctly a shipping container can be cheaper than a normal structure.

The modular nature of shipping container construction allows for building the modules in a large warehouse for example. This creates savings on production materials, labor hours, and carbon emissions in comparison to conventional on-site building. These advantages are gained through the ability of shipping container home construction to be carried out in a central location free of things like weather, site constraints and delivery issues.

This allows for the project manager to easily have materials shipped to the assembly location so there is no reason to buy more material than is necessary, which is common practice for on-site construction. The laborers can work in a climate controlled setting with all of the necessary tools readily available, and it is not necessary to move large quantities of people to an obscure job site every day.

Of course getting the modules to the final site is not always easy. But keep in mind these are shipping containers, designed to sit nicely on trucks, trains and boats.

Shipping containers are extremely functional when it comes to use as a pre-fabricated building material considering their low price (as low as $1500 per unit). These functional advantages include strength, availability, stackability, transport ease, speed, and addition ease. Shipping containers are used as heavy cargo carriers with the ability to be stacked upon one another on sea-going ships. This means that the containers are far stronger than what is necessary for a home.

Their modular nature also means that building does not have to be done all at once. You can build one container, then add another one later.

In port cities (most of the biggest cities are port cities) used shipping containers are readily available in all kinds of sizes and conditions. Even if you are not located in a port city, shipping containers are easily transported by truck. This allows for the use of shipping containers in very remote areas, like the Australian Outback, because they can be built where the work is and then easily transported to where the remote home may be located.

Shipping container construction is inherently fast. This is because the relatively small amounts of site work including foundation pouring and landscaping can be done simultaneously with the container construction. This allows for about 50% shorter construction time. Unlike conventional homes, container homes can be easily added onto without needing to make large changes to the existing structure since the modules are individually supported.

Shipping containers have some inherent disadvantages regarding their design and previous uses. Since steel conducts heat very efficiently shipping containers must be heavily insulated in extreme climates. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being in a steel box when it is cold or very hot.

Used shipping containers have possibly been filled with food spills, pesticides, and lead paint. When cargo crosses country borders it is common for the border patrol to spray the containers with pesticides to reduce cross country contamination of rodents and invasive plant species.

Because of this, the container needs to be cleaned thoroughly before conversion and in some cases it is necessary to remove the wood floor that they come with and seal or get rid of lead contaminated paint entirely.

Since shipping container architecture is new, another hurdle is acceptance by local building inspectors. Steel is an uncommon structural material for homes and it can be difficult to acquire a zoning permit and for the structure to pass building code.

Aside from some easily fixable inherent disadvantages with shipping containers, and one very difficult to deal with issue concerning zoning and building code, container homes create an elegant sector of green architecture. Companies like Intermodal Design are creating simple and affordable housing solutions by taking advantage of these structures.

Other companies like Container Home Consultants Inc., run by Alex Klein, are finding ways to help families help themselves by showing them the relative ease of DIY shipping container (ISBU) home building compared to conventional home construction.

Eco Brooklyn is a shipping container builder and we are experimenting with new ways to make the containers more habitable. One technique is covering the roofs with green roofs, reducing the heat in the summer. We also like berming two or even three sides of the container, much like in Earthship construction.

We are currently working on a shipping container music studio for a client in Brooklyn. The challenge there is soundproofing, since metal is not a great material for that. But we think a green roof, some berming and lots of sound deadening cellulose insulation will work just fine. We’ll keep you posted when that gets started.