I think the New York and Brooklyn brownstones are ideal candidates for green renovations. They have all the ingredients that make for an easy and powerful green overhaul. I can’t list them without sounding like a sales pitch, but it’s more pride of Brooklyn than me trying to sell anything.
Firstly the greenest thing you could do in a building is reuse an old one, and what is more perfect than the shell of a beautiful brownstone. Usually all four walls are more than fine for keeping. They have been there for a hundred years and can last another hundred. Now that is green!
If anything you want to rip off the layers of lead laden sheet rock and expose the interior brick walls (at least the ones that aren’t external facing walls). This means no new sheet rock and studs, which means less resources used.
Just the mere fact that Brownstones share side walls with the neighbors means less energy lost to the outside and half the materials needed to build.
Another tenet of green is not taking up virgin nature. Brownstones are densely packed together, which leaves more of the world for uninhabited rolling hills and nature.
The bones of brownstones are solid. They have lots of old hardwood. NY isn’t called the Gotham Forest for nothing. We have more excellent old growth timber in this city than exists in the wild. That is a sad thought, but the good news is that it is sitting protected under cheap vinyl floors and cracking tiles just waiting to be reclaimed to its true beauty.
Whether you cut the old joists into siding, floors, studs, or new joists, the wood is good and strong. In our Brooklyn green show house renovation we have done all of that with the old wood.
Brownstones have plenty of bricks. They are strong and beautiful. We are using them for new walls, patios, walkways and fireplaces. likewise for slate, either on walls or walkways.
Brownstones have nice flat roofs that are perfect for gardens, solar and hot water panels and decks. For some reason they weren’t built for use and for the most part have spent a hundred years ignored. But their value is great. We are using the show house roof for all of the above plus a bee hive :). We have strengthened the roof with salvaged joists and it is strong as ever.
Brownstones are small. McMansions are a waste of everything. But New Yorkers, with our small apartments and large spirit, have been living green for years without knowing it. New York is one of the only places in the United States that shares an average house size with the rest of the world. Most of the United States has two or three times the house size as the rest of the world and wastes energy accordingly.
New Yorkers have much less cars than other Americans. There are even New Yorkers without driver’s licenses! Blasphemy! A Brooklyn brownstone is often within walking distance of good transport and amenities. This means less driving and specifically less asphalt for parking spaces, another feature many normal homes suffer from. Instead, a Brownstone has a great front yard area for greening.
New York is a center of commerce. This means most of the materials are local. Sand, glass, cement, wood, stone, metal…it can all be acquired locally. There is great economy of scale to be located in such a dense commercial and residential area. When a truck brings material to New York it is feeding a hundred houses, instead of only a couple in the countryside.
I am very excited to be doing a green renovation on a Brownstone. Because of all the in built green features of Brownstones it is relatively easy to turn a Brownstone into a very green and more comfortable home.