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

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

During Construction:

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

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

After Construction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is stuff that we can’t reuse.

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

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

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